By Julie Warren©2020 Community Associations Institute
COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION MANAGERS are called upon to perform and oversee a wide variety of jobs. An effective manager must have a solid understanding of the principles of human resources, contracting, accounting, psychology, insurance, maintenance, education, government relations, board management, basic construction, and law.
A manager implements the decisions of the association board; administers the services, programs, and operations of the association within the policies and guidelines set by the board; fulfills the terms of his or her contract or agreement; and provides information, training, and, often, advice and assistance to the board as it sets policies and makes decisions.
How can community association board members be sure that the manager they hire can fulfill each of these job duties and be well-versed in the varied responsibilities of association governance and operations?
For the past 25 years, the simplest answer has been to look for four letters after a manager's name: CMCA.
When the Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA) credential was established in 1995, it was intended to offer homeowners and their associations an assurance that their community's manager possesses the minimum knowledge and skill to perform the job.
“The CMCA is the first step a manager takes in declaring, 'I am a professional manager, and I'm going to uphold the appropriate standards for my profession and take my responsibilities seriously. I'm going to uphold a code of ethics and operate in the best interests of the community I'm responsible for,' " says Barbara Byrd Keenan, FASAE, CAE, CAI's chief executive officer from 1990 to 2002 who helped launch the program.
Today, as the CMCA and the organization that administers this important certification—the Community Association Managers International Certification Board (CAMICB)—celebrate their 25th anniversary, more than 20,000 professionals have launched successful careers in the community association management business by first earning and then maintaining this esteemed credential.
“The CMCA is a first step for anyone looking to establish a career as a professional manager," says John Ganoe, CAE, CAMICB's executive director since 2012.
In the early 1990s, as community associations in the U.S. became more prevalent and some management companies grew to have a multi-state reach, CAI leaders saw a need for a recognized and universally accepted manager credential.
CAI's Board of Trustees convened a task force in 1992, chaired by Stephen R. Bupp, CMCA, AMS, PCAM—a CAI past president and the now retired founder of Maryland management company Condominium Venture, Inc.—to explore the feasibility of a fundamental community association manager certification.
At the time, hundreds of seasoned managers already had been awarded the prestigious Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) designation since its 1982 inception. Nearly as many managers also had achieved the esteemed Association Management Specialist (AMS) designation since that credential's launch in 1990.
These CAI designations recognized professional accomplishment, accumulated experience, and dedicated volunteer commitment to the industry. But with the rapid growth of common interest communities throughout the U.S., CAI leadership wanted to set a national standard—a criteria if you will—for the basic knowledge required of anyone anywhere who was beginning a career in professional community association management.
Comprising nationally recognized industry leaders, the 25-member task force explored the feasibility of creating a certification program “with the credibility of a CPA or Realtor designation," Keenan wrote in a 1995 Common Ground article, referring to the programs for certified public accountants and real estate agents.
CAI's motivation was due in large part to some state legislatures that were considering enacting laws to protect homeowners and their communities through manager licensure—a reaction to several high-profile questionable incidents and practices in large common interest communities, according to Keenan.
“Many managers across the country … weren't regulated in any way, so (the credential) made a lot of sense," Keenan says. “I knew it was the right thing to do."
The task force ultimately concluded that a manager certification was, indeed, feasible and would be beneficial in a variety of ways. It recommended that CAI support developing a credential and an independent organization to administer it.
Once established, the certification process would be directed by a commission, called the National Board of Certification for Community Association Managers (NBC-CAM), of nine professional community association managers and three nonmanagers who would determine appropriate experience, education, and general examination requirements that aspiring community association managers would have to meet to be eligible for the CMCA credential.
With guidance from HumRRO, an organization that provides job analysis surveys and credentialing test development, the task force also would develop an examination that would be general enough to cover competencies that every state should require but thorough enough to meet a comprehensive licensing standard. If individual state governments saw the need, they could test for state-specific knowledge in a separate examination, says Keenan.
“The CMCA examination is the best alternative to licensing at the state level," says Dawn Bauman, CAE, CAI's senior vice president of government and public affairs and CAMICB's former executive director. “And it's a better alternative than government licensing because the criteria is an exam created by subject-matter experts … who understand the profession. … If you're not testing the proper knowledge, then you're not protecting consumers, and that's what a licensing program is all about. If (community association management) can self-regulate as an industry, if we can get as many people as possible to (display) and promote their CMCA credential, state governments won't need to do it."
Indeed, only eight states currently have some form of license laws: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, and Virginia. Some of these states are recognizing the CMCA as an acceptable standard. “And that is the win," Keenan says.
“Other states have said the business is doing a good job self-regulating, as demonstrated by the CMCA," says Drew Mulhare, CMCA, AMS, LSM, PCAM, chair of CAMICB's 2019 Board of Commissioners and president of Realtec Community Services, a management company in Williamsburg, Va.
CAI advocates for industry-developed professional certifications or designation programs for community managers, such as the CMCA and CAI's designations, so they can self-regulate. If regulation is bound, CAI supports a regulatory system that incorporates protections for homeowners, mandatory education and testing on fundamental community association management knowledge, standards of conduct, and appropriate insurance requirements.
“The CMCA is the first step a manager takes in declaring, 'I am a professional manager, and I'm going to uphold the appropriate standards for my profession and take my responsibilities seriously.' "
Although developing the CMCA credential was a CAI initiative, NBC-CAM was established as a separate corporate entity with its own budget, bylaws, and a governing board empowered to make all decisions related to certification.
It took nearly a decade from the first discussions about creating a basic certification to establishing a functioning organization and a viable CMCA examination, recalls W. Stephen Castle, CMCA (RET.), AMS (RET.), PCAM (RET.), another member of the task force and the first chair of NBC-CAM's 10-member Board of Commissioners for several years.
“As we created NBC-CAM, one of the highest priorities was to make it a staff-driven organization," he adds.
Renamed Community Association Managers International Certification Board in 2013 to recognize international interest in the profession and the certification, the organization is independently incorporated and independently governed. The CMCA's National Commission on Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accreditation requires that CAMICB function absent the undue influence of a parent organization, such as CAI.
“You can't separate CAMICB from the credential. CAMICB does one thing. That's why the organization exists," says Ganoe, who has led the CMCA certification through two of three critical accreditation cycles and the organization's 2013 rebranding and name change to reflect its burgeoning international reach in the past decade.
It took several years to develop the CMCA exam in part because the task force set out to create an assessment tool that represents a baseline of performance.
Hundreds of professional managers took part in an initial job assessment survey to identify the profession's “core competencies" that should be addressed on a qualifying examination. “You can see those core competencies on CAI's and CAMICB's websites," says Bauman. Finance, governance, laws, risk management, human resources, insurance, contracting, maintenance, meeting management, and ethics are all included.
“Then we put together a survey we sent out to everybody we could find— managers and other professionals, like attorneys, insurance and reserve specialists, and association board members— asking them to list all the tasks that managers do every day," Bauman says. “We also asked them to rate the importance of the different tasks."
Thousands of people participated in the job analysis surveys, Bauman says. Ultimately, the CMCA examination questions cover all the core “knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)" that the surveys identified.
A group of managers volunteered to take a pilot CMCA examination on Nov. 8, 1995, to test its cogency. The first exam leading to the CMCA credential was offered at CAI's annual conference in Honolulu in 1997. Today, the exam is available in a computer-based format; the final paper-and-pencil was offered in December. In the past few years, it's also been offered internationally, according to Ganoe, when there's a sufficient pool of candidates in a specific region.
The CMCA examination is application-based, adds Mulhare. “It's not just a question of selecting the right answer," he says. “It's more about how you would apply a particular concept."
Shortly before NBC-CAM applied for its first accreditation, “a number of individuals were awarded the credential without testing," Ganoe says. The criteria were very specific and the window for applications very narrow and early in the CMCA's development. “That's perfectly permissible until you move to a certain point," adds Ganoe. “In our case, it was the decision to apply for accreditation." Today, the CMCA credential is accredited by the NCCA, which maintains strict standards.
CAMICB conducts a new job analysis survey every three to five years to update and refresh exam questions.
“We need to write new questions and review or eliminate old ones," says John Lawton, CMCA, PCAM, CAMICB's second Board of Commissioners chair.
Now retired, Lawton continues to serve on CAMICB's 25-member CMCA exam development committee, which meets at least once, sometimes twice, a year. “At the most recent two-day committee meeting, we reviewed 70 questions," he says.
“It is not an easy process," adds Robert A. Felix, CMCA, LSM, PCAM, RS, current chair of the exam development committee and a member of the original task force.
Mulhare points out that more recent examination questions cover topics like technology and communications.
Six international and 19 U.S. CAI members comprise the committee, and the group spends a significant amount of time at each meeting discussing and reviewing how to compose appropriate exam questions based on a blueprint HumRRO provides.
Each exam includes 120 questions, 100 of which are testing the candidates who are taking the exam, while 20 of the questions are prototypes that are being evaluated as viable based on the candidates' responses. Ganoe says that, in addition to creating and refreshing the questions on the exam, the committee also determines the cut score—the exam's passing point.
Although a handful of four-year colleges offer courses and even majors in community association management, there is no stipulated educational program for anyone who wants to become a Certified Manager of Community Associations. Even five years of experience in the field can prepare and qualify an astute manager to take the exam.
“It never got to where you had to go to school first before you could do the job," says Castle, who holds the 51st PCAM designation. “We hung our hat on the examination."
CMCA candidates can prepare for the exam in a variety of ways, according to Felix—who like Castle and Lawton is a past president of CAMICB—including taking and passing CAI's Essentials of Community Association Management (M-100) course or a few other courses that are approved by CAMICB and offered by independent companies.
“But to preserve the credential's accreditation, CAMICB has to be totally independent from anyone developing education for the exam," Felix adds. “CAI couldn't do both education and certification. If we didn't have an alternative to the M-100, then it wouldn't give us separation."
Importantly, you don't need to be a CAI member to achieve the CMCA— further proof of CAMICB's independence. Indeed, one of the task force's goals was to establish a credential that— unlike CAI's PCAM and AMS designations— was based only on a widely recognized core knowledge base and not on CAI education.
Today, nearly 2,500 CMCA credentialed professionals are not CAI members.
However, the CMCA has become a stepping stone to CAI's designations.
“Attaining the CMCA is now the gateway to CAI's designations. They all require the CMCA first," says Ganoe.
Notably, not all of those who have earned and maintain their CMCA credential are association managers. More than 1,400 reserve specialists, bankers, attorneys, and even volunteer homeowner leaders are CMCA credentialed.
And while the requirements for sustaining it are demanding, the CMCA's retention rate is quite high—between 85% and 90%, according to Ganoe.
From the first discussions of a manager credential in the early 1990s to today, the success of the CMCA has become evident.
Castle, for one, has been pleasantly surprised to see the number of CMCA credentials awarded in the past 25 years grow beyond 20,000.
“Our dream number was 4,000 or 5,000," he says. “I'm delighted that the concepts are consistent with where we started."
Many large management companies now require entry-level managers to achieve their CMCA credential within a few months or a year of being hired. Well-informed community association boards also look for CMCA-credentialed managers when hiring a manager directly or signing a contract with a management company.
“The more professional, high-level managers we have highlighting their CMCA credentials (to their client associations), the more the certification is recognized," says Bauman. “And the more homeowners and their communities are protected."
Julie Warren is a Virginia-based freelance writer and former editor of Community Manager newsletter.
COMMUNITY MANAGERS interested in obtaining the CMCA credential can do so by following these three steps.
1) FULFILL AT LEAST ONE PREREQUISITE REQUIREMENT.
Option 1: Education. Complete and pass one prerequisite course on community association management.
Option 2: Experience. If you have at least five years of experience as a community association manager, you may receive a one-time waiver of the prerequisite course. The experience must be as a community association manager—not as an assistant manager. If you do not successfully pass the examination the first time, you will be required to take the prerequisite course prior to retaking the examination.
Option 3: License or Credential. Hold an active Arizona CAAM, California CCAM, Colorado CAM, Florida CAM, Illinois CAM, or Nevada CAM.
2) COMPLETE AND SUBMIT THE ONLINE APPLICATION FOR THE CMCA EXAMINATION.
3) SUCCESSFULLY PASS THE CMCA EXAMINATION.
For more information, visit www.camicb.org.
THE CERTIFIED MANAGER OF COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS (CMCA) exam tests participants on governance, legal, and ethical conduct; budget, reserves, investments, and assessments; contracting; financial controls; risk management and insurance; meetings; and human resources.
The CMCA exam is a standardized multiple-choice exam consisting of 120 items: 100 scored and 20 pilot-test items. Each question is meticulously designed with the following parameters:
▮ Tests knowledge outlined on the exam blueprint
▮ Is complete, straightforward, and clear
▮ Has one correct response and three incorrect distractors
▮ Has a valid source reference that can be used to justify the key
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