Why Professional Designations Matter

They’re stepping stones on your journey to being the consummate association professional.
Young businessman standing in an office with his colleagues in the background.

© Mikolette / E+ / Getty Images

When Meighan Harris, RCE, joined Bonita Springs-Estero REALTORS® as education and events director in 2014, she had 15 years of experience in management and education in the dental field, but none with associations or the REALTOR® world. However, as someone identified by her soon-to-retire CEO as a potential replacement, she was immediately encouraged to work toward the REALTOR® association Certified Executive designation. This put her on a path of professional development, resulting in eight different designations or certifications.

Now CEO, she’s working on number nine: Certified Association Executive.

Though the National Association of REALTORS® actively encourages professional development through industry-specific offerings like the RCE and applicable certifications outside the association like the CAE, everyone’s professional development journey is going to be unique. The important thing, Harris and other association executives agree, is to be committed to the journey.

“I think if you’re going to be in your industry, you need to be a part of it,” she says. “I enjoy learning and bettering myself in my profession. I feel like if you’re not constantly learning, you’re going backward.”

Separate Designations, Shared Objectives

RCE and CAE are the tentpole designations for AEs in the REALTOR® association world, and many choose to earn both.

The RCE is the only professional designation specifically for REALTOR® AEs, and it provides enhanced skills for association management through education, professional development activities and professional achievements within the REALTOR® world. The CAE credential is awarded by the American Society of Association Executives and is open to AEs in a variety of industries.

For Kevin Juliano, RCE, CAE, chief growth officer of the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®, one of the primary benefits of the RCE is its comprehensive look at all aspects of REALTOR® association functions. He understood early on that working at the state organization did not expose him to many of the issues faced by AEs in other associations.

“Learning about the MLS, professional standards, the Code of Ethics, arbitration and grievances—all the stuff that I don’t do—has certainly given me a baseline knowledge and helped provide some context for other areas of the association,” says Juliano, who oversees his association’s membership, marketing and IT departments.

A local CEO’s job can be quite varied. “I joke that one day I’m the plumber, the next I’m cleaning up the breakfast from an educational meeting, and the next I’m working on a $2 million budget,” Harris says. “You really have to be a jack of all trades and a master of them, too, and I feel the competencies that are in the RCE body of knowledge give us a good outline of what our job entails, from doing RFPs to event management to growing global partnerships.”

On the other hand, the broad perspective offered by the CAE provides an additional layer of understanding regarding general association operations and can help expand an AE’s professional options.

“I have no intention of leaving the REALTOR® organization, but having that CAE credential and knowing that you can apply that skill set to a different association outside the REALTOR® world certainly opens up that opportunity,” Juliano says. “The CAE has become recognized as the credential of the tried-and-true association executive.”

And because the RCE acknowledges the value of the CAE, those with that credential enjoy an abbreviated RCE experience. “They basically recognize that you’ve gotten your general association management practice out of the way, which allows you to focus on just REALTOR®-specific things when you take the RCE,” Juliano says.

A Matter of Choice

While many choose to earn both designations, the order in which they’re done can be a matter of personal preference as well as professional circumstances.

Because Harris was new to the world of REALTOR® associations, her decision to pursue the RCE first was sparked by her desire to quickly and thoroughly understand the specifics of her new profession.

“In doing the RCE, you learn all the designations, all the acronyms we use and all the intricate ways we work together with our three-way agreement with local, state and national associations,” she says. “It was a way for me to take a deep dive into everything that would encompass a future role, and it helped set me apart from others in my field who maybe hadn’t taken the opportunity or been given the opportunity to get all that education.”

Equally important for her was the foundational knowledge about running the association. “I came from a small-business background where there was a business owner and that’s who you worked for,” she says. “So, it was a complete 180 to having to know how to operate a board of directors and committees and budgets and all of that—and these components are built into the RCE.”

Unlike Harris, who came from outside the industry, Juliano started out as his association’s “social media guy” in 2013. Though he has earned both the RCE and the CAE, he chose to pursue the CAE first—and not just because it reduced the duration of the RCE.

“The CAE gets you to change the mindset of ‘How would I do it?’ to ‘How would a professional in a similar-sized organization outside the REALTOR® world do it?’ ” he says. In many cases, he adds, those will be different processes.

Margy Grant, RCE, CAE, who’s in her fifth year as CEO of Florida Realtors®, chose to earn her CAE early in her career, when she was associate general counsel at Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®.

“As a young attorney at the Massachusetts REALTORS®, my responsibilities quickly expanded beyond just legal counsel,” she says. “I developed education curricula, worked with my executive committee on products, tools and services, and then expanded into working on many programs associationwide. As my role expanded, I elected to pursue the CAE designation to further understand all aspects of nonprofit management.”

Later, she earned her RCE, and though she encourages her peers to pursue both, she acknowledges that for some, the RCE can be a better starting point.

“Because the RCE is industry-related, it fine-tunes your understanding and expertise in all things involved in managing and working at a REALTOR® association,” she says.

Expanded Benefits

Beyond the value of the knowledge itself, Juliano says pursuing the designations expands your tool chest of experiences and enhances your résumé. It’s also a great way to build a network of professionals who have similar skill sets and encounter similar situations.

“That’s one of the great things about continuing education,” he says. “You start to interface with other like-minded individuals who have a growth mindset centered on staying on top of industry trends and changes.”

He points to additional offerings the ASAE provides, along with the fact that both designations require recertification. That ensures designees continue to pursue educational opportunities.

Relevant professional development opportunities exist outside the two organizations as well. After earning her RCE, for example, Harris worked on her Institute for Organization Management certification from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which provides education in nonprofit management.

“I’m invested in my career, so I want to be part of all aspects of it and be aware of what’s up and coming,” she says.

The Importance of Support

Harris says she’s grateful to her former CEO for not only encouraging her to seek the RCE but also providing the tools and financial support to undertake the designation. “I think you definitely need to have the backing of your board—or your boss, if you’re staff and not the CEO,” she says. “I was lucky that we had a staff training budget that allowed me the opportunity.”

Not only are both designations costly, but they require a significant investment in time as well. Harris’ predecessor encouraged her to time-block her schedule so she could whittle away at her RCE. “I kept a spreadsheet that showed what I needed, what I was doing to get it and where I was in relation to those goals,” she says. “Because you can get creative.”

The RCE operates on a point system, and applicants use the Applicant Data Form to track them. Because points can be accumulated in different ways, Harris devised a plan with the help of her CEO that allowed her to work as efficiently as possible. “I think it’s definitely good to have partnerships that can help you get what you need done,” she says. “If you don’t have that support, then it’s either going to be something you do at your own expense or there are going to be opportunities you’re just not going to be able to pursue.”

Juliano received similar support. “I was fortunate that my association does invest in professional development for staff,” he says. “This was one of those options that I was able to utilize as a human resource benefit: They would support me financially and allow me to carve time out of my workweek to study. If you’re going to take the extra step of education, our association is going to support you with that.”

Returning the Favor

Grant recognizes the value of her designations and is keen to support those in her association who wish to further their careers by going after them.

“I encourage all my employees who are managers to pursue their RCE,” she says. “Even if a staff professional does not pursue the full designation, we want our teams to always learn and grow.”

Mentorship can help. Harris says she has peers and colleagues who come to her for advice on their point strategy. It also helps to know what scholarship programs are available. She encouraged one of her employees to apply for a Florida Realtors® scholarship so he’d be able to attend a state AE workshop that counted toward his RCE points. “It helped to stretch the funds in my budget and take him somewhere else as well, kind of paying forward what my predecessor did for me,” she says.

NAR also offers the Judith Lindenau RCE Scholarship, which covers the application and certification fee.

Making the Investment

Professional development is a key investment in yourself, and one that can have a positive impact on our association.

“I would encourage anybody to speak with their supervisor or their board to see what offerings exist—or could exist—within the association,” Juliano says.

Harris agrees. “Don’t leave opportunities on the table,” she says. “And don’t wait—start working on it now.”


Six Steps Toward Your RCE

Earning the RCE designation is a journey that will carry with you throughout your REALTOR® association career. Here’s the path to getting started:

  1. Review the RCE website.
  2. Start the RCE Applicant Data Form.
  3. Complete one of two required self-study courses: the REALTOR® Association Management Self-Study Course (free) or the Advanced REALTOR® Association Management Online Self-Study Course ($150).
  4. Print or purchase The Answer Book.
  5. Gather other available online references.
  6. Prepare for the exam by reviewing the AE Competencies.

C2EX Celebrates Five Years

If the RCE designation signifies a REALTOR® association executive’s dedication to professionalism, completing the REALTORS® Commitment to Excellence program, or C2EX, does the same for members of the National Association of REALTORS®.

Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the National Association of REALTORS®’ C2EX program is not a designation or certification—it’s an endorsement from NAR, giving REALTORS® an opportunity to evaluate, enhance and showcase their commitment to professional behavior and development.

The voluntary member program is open to participants at all levels of the REALTOR® organization. Participants complete a series of assessments and actions that lead to earning Excellence Badges. Once a participant achieves excellence in all the competencies, a C2EX Endorsement is awarded, and the renewal cycle occurs every three years.

While C2EX does not qualify for continuing education credits through state licensing bodies, the program is helpful to members in other ways. The endorsement provides 10 credits toward RCE education requirements and fulfills NAR’s Code of Ethics requirement.

Many AEs—like Jill Beck, CEO of the North Dakota Association of REALTORS®—have earned the endorsement and encourage their members to do so, too. Beck is a three-time C2EX Association Challenge winner. That means she has achieved member participation numbers that reflect her personal enthusiasm for the project. “Our brokers really try to encourage their agents to take the program, and we strongly encourage our local board association executives and staff to take it as well,” she says.

According to Beck, C2EX has helped her in committee meetings and board meetings by providing a general understanding of what professionalism should look like across all levels of the association.

“Some modules may help association executives more than REALTORS® and vice versa, but to get the endorsement, you have to take all the modules, so it helps everyone understand what everyone else does,” she says.

More than 140,000 members are participating in the program.

“We feel our members need it and recognize that it’s a good thing,” Beck says. “I strongly encourage everybody to take it, whether you are staff or a member. We can all use growth in our industry.”


About AExperience

All state and local REALTOR® association executives, association communication directors, regional MLS executives, and Government Affairs Directors receive AExperience at no cost. Issues are mailed to the address found in NAR’s M1 system. To update your AExperience subscription preferences, update your mailing address in M1.

Update your address