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Accidential EXECUTIVES.

How four association leaders found their professional niche--and the role education has played in their professional success.

WHEN THEY WERE YOUNG, MOST association executives dreamed of being a pilot...or a teacher...or a lawyer...or perhaps even a basketball legend or political figure. Few, however, at age 10, 15, or 20 dreamed of becoming the next CEO of the Red Cross or executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters.

As ASAE celebrates its 80th anniversary, it seems appropriate to reexamine how some association executives found their professional niches, what role education played in achieving success, and whether the experiences of association executives extend to the entire nonprofit sector.

Four paths to a similar destination

For insights into these questions, ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT interviewed four association executives, whose stories echo similar themes. Although they may have arrived on the association scene accidentally, these executives all eventually embraced their newly found professions and pursued the knowledge--through a master's program, professional certification, membership in professional societies, or a doctorate in the association's endeavor--that would drive their success.

He came to Washington--and stayed. The Vietnam War helped redirect Robert J. Dolibois's career path. With a degree in international politics, he planned to go into the foreign service; instead, he arrived in Washington, D.C., on an extended tour in the Navy, where he met his future wife. She held a secure--or so he thought--job in the Nixon White House. "Why not stick around through Nixon's term?" he reasoned.

"I ended up going into the association business as a transition move between the military and the private sector, really in a holding pattern," he says. "Twenty-six years later, I'm still here. I came in the back door, as a lot of people have."

Now executive vice president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association, Washington, D.C., Dolibois quickly became a member of ASAE to take advantage of its networking and educational opportunities, eventually earning his professional designation as a Certified Association Executive. "To be perfectly honest, I didn't come into association management thinking there was a career here," he admits. "About three years into it, I still didn't see where my future was. It wasn't so much an absence in education as it was a lack of vision for what it meant to have a career."

Partly because the association management career path is still not crystal clear, during his 1998-1999 term as ASAE's chief elected officer, Dolibois made no secret of the fact that the profession needs to develop a body of knowledge that can be delivered through a variety of different venues, including distance learning, Web-based programs, seminars, audioconferences, and universities.

He dreamed of being the number two. Don I. Tharpe was working in the field of vocation education when the American Vocational Association, Arlington, Virginia, recruited him to draft policies on youth unemployment. "I worked at the association for about three years until a light went on in my head, and I realized that association management was an occupation. I said, 'Wow. Wait a minute. This is a small business. There's a lot going on here.' That's what intrigued me about association management."

He began to aspire to be the number two--not the number one--at an asso-ciation. "I was a 26-year-old black man and had no idea I could ever become a CEO," he explains. "There were not a lot of black CEOs in D.C. then. There's still not a lot."

Now the executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International, Reston, Virginia, he says the "school of hard knocks" was instrumental to his ascent to the CEO position. "Nothing prepares you for association management like actually doing it. Most people come into associations through the back door, like I did. They either work for the industry or start working for an association and love it, often moving up to increased responsibilities from association to association.

Five years ago, Tharpe earned his doctorate in education. "I find that most associations that deal with education want their CEOs to have Ph.D.s.," he says. "Obviously, the more degrees you have, the smarter you are."

He smiles.

Her CAE complements her master's degree. Carolyn Lugbill, CAE, was already working for a nonprofit certifying and credentialing organization when a colleague suggested she take some classes at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., in association management. "He knew of my interest in the not-for-profit world and thought encouraging me to take classes was a way to figure out whether I wanted to pursue a career," says Lugbill, president, Going Global Matters, Fairfax, Virginia. "I wanted to learn more about associations--what [or whom] they represent, what their roles are, what their purposes are. I was very much interested in organizations that come together because they believe in something and are advocating a cause or mission.

After she began her course work in the 42-credit program, she "realized there was this whole world of associations that I wasn't aware of. I knew the names of some of the big ones, but I didn't have an understanding of what they did and why people belonged to them. I got a much more thorough look at what associations had to offer and how I could invest in a career." The master's program, which GW has since discontinued, also introduced her to a core network of peers with whom she still keeps in touch.

In 1995, Lugbill obtained her CAE to complement her masters in association management because "the CAE is much more widely recognized."

He tried it and liked it. In the case of Henry L. Ernstthal, CAE, president, Ernstthal & Associates, Washington, D.C., association management won as a career choice through a process of elimination. He went to law school and clerked for a year. "I didn't like that," he says. So he worked for a corporation. "I didn't like that either."

So he tried association management and presto--"Within 48 hours of starting the job, I knew I had found a home." Armed with a law degree, trying to accumulate the knowledge he needed to succeed at the California Dental Association, Ernstthal read everything he could to supplement his on-the-job training. It wasn't until after he nabbed the executive director vacancy that he joined ASAE.

In 1979, he interviewed for a top job and was asked "How come you don't have your CAE?" Stumped, he couldn't think of a good answer. He obtained his CAE two years later.

A more direct route

A quick and random survey of 300 association executives, all members of ASAE, seems to substantiate the career path that the four interviewees describe. Of 57 respondents, 55 said that they had not planned to enter the association management profession. (Despite that fact, 40 of those surveyed have remained in the profession for 10-25 years or more and the other 17 range in tenure from 1 to 10 years.)

The exceptions? Those executives who are pursuing careers in foundations charities, or other nonprofit groups. They are more apt to follow the traditional path of education followed by career--not the other way around. This may help explain why advanced degree programs in association management have sputtered over the years, while those covering the broader field of nonprofit management have proliferated.

"Nonprofit organizations encompass a much bigger market, and you get students in those programs who are committed to doing good," explains Henry L. Ernstthal, CAE, who was the director of George Washington University's association management program from 1989 to 1995. "Working for a trade association and professional society does not have the same cache as working for a philanthropy or charity."

Take for example Diane L. Schweitzer, director of management assistance, Robin Hood Foundation, New York City, who earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1991 with a concentration in nonprofit management. A student with a mission, she actively sought a higher degree with an emphasis on both the nonprofit and public sectors.

"I've always been interested in public service," she says. "My dad worked for the government his entire career. My family has a strong tradition of public service, whether it's volunteering for the Girl Scouts or the library. Public service is something that I knew I would be involved with at some point in my career."

Paul Connolly, vice president, The Conservation Company, New York City, also earned an MBA from the Yale program so that he could obtain the analytical and quantitative skills necessary to work in the nonprofit and public sectors. The benefits, he explains, were numerous. "First of all, it gave me the skills I was looking for. It exposed me to a broad toolbox of analytical skills and frameworks for understanding management situations and organizational contexts ranging from finance and accounting to marketing and organizational behavior. I gained confidence--and a better understanding of what it was that I didn't know. I also learned how to get help from people."

The program also allowed him to tap into an alumni network very active in the nonprofit sector and to become acquainted with nonprofit leaders who spoke at classes. These networking opportunities, he says, proved helpful in his career planning.

"The growth in nonprofit management programs over the past 10 years at the graduate level is in response to the growth of the nonprofit sector," Connolly continues. "There are more jobs available. It also reflects the increasing professionalization of the sector. Nonprofit groups are expected to be managed better. Donors, regulators, and other stakeholders want nonprofits to be more accountable. Because management skills and techniques are becoming more important for nonprofit organizations, it increases demand for the programs.

Better directions

By accident, and partially by the design of certain association leaders, the profession of association management is making headway in establishing itself as a recognized profession with a career path. ASAE recently announced a partnership with Virginia Tech to establish a master of science degree concentration in association management (see sidebar, "Concentrating on Association Management"). The CAE certification for association executives has also done a lot to identify the core competencies of the profession and recognize those who master the understanding and practice of the competencies (see sidebar, "Certification Underscores Credibility").

ASAE President and CEO, Michael S. Olson, CAE, is confident that the recognition of association management as a profession is increasing and that "what's going on at Virginia Tech is just the beginning. We plan hands-on involvement in bringing the association management curriculum into the university environment. And what we hope for, when it comes to the subject of specifying a clear career track in the profession, is that we'll start attracting to programs such as the pilot at Virginia Tech some young students who may not have been completely aware of association management. By networking them with people who have been in the business, we'll really help them develop fulfilling careers in association management."

Margo Vanover Porter is a freelance writer based in Locust Grove, Virginia E-mail:

ConcENtRaTiNG on Association Management

Virginia Tech and ASAE recently teamed up to create a new master of science degree concentration in association management. The one-year pilot program, with an option for renewal, will be offered in the fall of 2000 at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church, Virginia. "This strategic partnership and cooperative project between ASAE and Virginia Tech's Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management is an excellent opportunity for ASAE to reach academia and further the profession of association management," says Michael S. Olson, CAE, ASAE president and CEO. "This alliance also offers the opportunity to cooperate in such areas as ASAE research projects, undergraduate and graduate student internships, association management employment opportunities, joint continuing education opportunities, and facility sharing for educational purposes."

The program is one of several strategies recommended by the ASAE University Studies Task Force, for which Todd Wurschmidt, CAE, executive director, Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, Dublin, served as chairman in 1998-1 999. in the task force [which submitted its recommendations in August 1999], we focused on university studies development for the next several years. We have also brainstormed about all the various ways we could be recruiting people into the profession. It's not always on the tip of a young person's tongue--to become an association manager or executive."

But perhaps someday...

Certification Underscores CREDIBILITY

"Professional certification provides a definitive measurement for recognizing demonstrated professional skills and knowledge without being influenced by government or licensing agencies," explains Timothy D. Kent, CAE, executive vice president, American Institute of Architects, North Carolina Chapter, Raleigh. Serving his first year of a three-year term on the CAE Commission, Kent says, "Certification is the ultimate form of self-regulation for an association--along with a viable code of ethics."

Credentialing is also an area in which the field of association management has made tremendous progress, starting at ground zero in 1950 with ASAE's founding of the CAE program to seeing the voluntary certification of more than 2,800 association executives, or 21.5 percent of all eligible ASAE members, by 2000. The proliferation of certifications related to association management in other countries (see sidebar, "Related Credentials Abroad") reflects similar expansion.

The CAE program began as a peer recognition program for association executives--and candidates were nominated for the designation. "What has changed over the years," says Cookie Cottrell, CAE, ASAE director of CAE services, "is the way association executives arrive at the distinction." In 1912, the program changed to an examination process. "By 1997," says Cottrell, "a professional examination service funded by the ASAE Foundation worked with association CEOs to determine what they considered the key things they needed to know in order to be effective in day-to-day activities." Their responses helped to develop domains of knowledge that are the basis for the CAE program." Other efforts are being made to keep the knowledge domains current, including the first CAE Item Writing Conclave to be held in Fall 2000. According to Cottrell, "The gathering exclusively for CAEs will facilitate networking and help identify emerging trends in the association management profession."

Janet Bray, CAE, executive vice, president, National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), Gaithersburg, Maryland, served on the CAE Examination Committee from 1996 to 1998 and was involved in the development of the examination adopted in 1997. "The multiple-choice exam grew out of the foundation study," says Bray. "In a pilot program, we administered the test, evaluated the responses, and then reviewed the questions to see if they were misleading or difficult to understand. We worked with a psychometrician every step of the way. I am convinced," says Bray, that the exam more clearly identifies that those who pass do know and understand the body of knowledge that is association management."

William Howell, CAE, CEO of the Insurance Education Foundation, Indianapolis, and chair of the CAE Commission, notes that it is the goal of the commission and its examination committee to constantly reevaluate the examination, undertaking every several years studies that will continue to monitor the body of knowledge and make sure the examination is testing the relevant criteria. He also says that with the transition to the new examination, "there's been a certain amount of debate over how to clearly communicate with candidates the kind of experience they need and the material they need to know to adequately prepare for the test." Howell says, "The commission is committed to working as a team with the allied societies of association executives--who really are the linchpin in the CAE process--to establish clear communication on the preparedness issue."

The CAE program has been so popular that ASAE has expanded the program's support staff. Cottrell, recently named director of CAE services, says, "The added staff reflects ASAE's recognition that this is a program of growing importance that needs resources to support it."


Those who hold the CAE designation cite a number of benefits that the program provides.

COMPETENCE. "The CAE forces you to develop a broad-based knowledge of association management," says NAEA's Bray. "What's so great about that," she notes, "is that people with in-depth knowledge of a few areas--in my case, education and training--are exposed to activities in finance, membership, communication, and so forth. I came away with a broad spectrum of knowledge that makes me much better at the day-to-day operations."

Kent refers to it as "filling in the blanks." I came into the field with core competencies in communication and government relations," he says. "I learned a tremendous amount about other areas from the study courses--and, of course, through some trial-by-fire situations as an association executive."

Henry Ernstthal, CAE, president. Ernstthal and Associates, Washington, D.C., had a similar experience. "Most people come to association management from one particular profession. The process of preparing for the CAE examination program gives you the opportunity to learn what you don't know and to gain a greater breadth of information. You have to look at the pieces of the business other than the ones you've experienced."

CONFIDENCE. When Ernstthal earned his CAE in 1981, he did so "partly because when I interviewed for a job in 1979, one of the questions was, 'How come you don't have your CAE?'" By the time Ernstthal became a CAE he had been an executive director for more than five years. "But it was still helpful," he says. "It gave me confidence and knowledge that made me a better manager of people who had expertise in different areas than I do."

CREDIBILITY. Bray says. "I firmly believe in the CAE designation as a way of identifying those who know and understand the body of knowledge, and I tell my staff that if they plan to remain in the profession, they really ought to earn the CAE. It's true also that many associations are requiring the CAE, particularly for the CEO level. Of course, it's how one uses the CAE that really counts. It's up to each of us to be very clear that as professionals in association management this is an important distinction."

Howell backs up Bray's conviction: "By maintaining a certification program that sets standards for measuring minimal competency and practice," says Howell. "the credential serves to demonstrate that not only have designees earned a seal of approval, but that they consider association management a career."

COMMITMENT. Despite the best efforts of all involved, no certification program is perfect. Says Ernstthal, "The CAE designation is not a guarantee of excellent performance, but it does indicate a commitment to the field and a willingness to get information about a broad range of issues."

For Bray, the CAE definitely represented a way to show her commitment to association management. "After working in my third association position, I made a conscious decision that I would stay in association management. That included the desire to earn the credentials that came with the field. I also knew that I wanted to be a CEO and that the CAE would help prepare me--and would help me be recognized as someone who understands the broad spectrum of association management."


Bray also notes: "Those who detract from the CAE have the perception that the multiple-choice test is easy. There is also some confusion--or distinction--between recognition of the mastery of the body of knowledge versus competency in the profession. This keeps some people from embracing it."

"There are certain associations and professional societies," says Kent, "that seem wed to the concept of having an industry professional head up the organization. And there are certainly industry professionals who can be--and are--skilled association executives. But I would contend that association management requires a much different set of core competencies and skills than those required to be a leader in a specific industry or profession. I also actively encourage any and all of them to engage in the process of preparing for and taking the examination. It can be an excellent growth experience--and a personal validation of professional commitment."

Howell sums it up: "What the CAE Commission wants the CAE designation to say--to the public and to the association community--is that as an association executive you are serious about your craft, and that this is your profession not just your job. We want it to show that CAE designees have gone the extra mile both in terms of achieving a background in education and in taking that extra step to study and make sure their knowledge is kept current."

Related CREdENtIALS Abroad

Since the inception of the CAE program, a number of other association management certification programs have taken root elsewhere around the world.

The Canadian Society of Association Executives has offered its C.A.E. program since 1915, based on the completion of an association management education program and an examination. The educational program consists of courses based on the association management core competencies and is now available in an electronic distance education format.

Ed Potter, CAE, director of ASAE's Global Resource Center, notes that the European Society of Association Executives has offered a professional designation since 1986. In contrast to the CAE offered by ASAE, the European Certificate in Association Management (ECAM) is validated through ESAE's own board of directors with the support of the International Academic Validation Panel. The panel is composed of representatives from several European universities that maintain programs in association management. Potter also reports, "The Task Force on Certification initiated by the Global Forum of Societies of Association Executives has begun to evaluate and compare various certification programs. Their goal is to learn from each other and through certification programs continue to enhance the quality and reputation of the association management profession."
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Article Details
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Author:Porter, Margo Vanover
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Previous Article:ACHIEVING Authenticity.
Next Article:Eighty Years of Leadership.

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