I started my fundraising career almost 25 years ago. Like most people during those days, I learned on the job. It was something that I “chose” to be or to do. It was a necessity to keep the organization operating. Back in those days, one did not have access to such detailed and informative training. In fact, we didn’t even have databases; we still used index cards.
Over the years, I progressively took on higher and more significant development positions. I decided that fund development was my career by default and that I might as well become credentialed.
The Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) certification was first awarded in 1981 and was the only credentialing program of its time. So, I naturally turned my attention to the CFRE application process. After meeting all practical experience requirements, and then taking the exam, I was awarded the designation of CFRE in 2008. I have been re-certified three times since.
Over those years, I have been asked countless times, “Is the CFRE worth obtaining?” This question has arisen more lately, as the variety of credentialing programs has increased, and the emphasis on the CFRE as the sole, professional credential designation has changed.
I recommend the CFRE process and, in my opinion, it does make a difference in fundraising. Here are eight reasons why all fundraisers should at least consider it.
1. The CFRE Is a Renewable Practice Credential
Often mistaken as an educational program, the CFRE is not. It is, in fact, a practice credential that places significant emphasis on not only education, but also on professional practice and professional performance.
In the education category, the CFRE awards points for continuing education, authoring, academic degrees and service learning—both related to fundraising and for relevant and applicable non-related fundraising content. Only CFRE-approved educational sessions count toward the application or recertification process.
As we all know, fund development is a changing and evolving science and art. Just as art has well-refined techniques, so does fund development regarding basic principles and practices. Just as science depends upon continued and robust research, so does fund development. Those in the field, such as Dr. Adrian Sargeant and others, continually focus on providing state-of-the-art practical study and implications for the future. Staying on top of emerging trends remains critical to being the best “artist” possible.
The professional practice and performance requirements ensure that candidates have hands-on experience in the field through employment and money raised and through projects initiated and completed.
Additionally, the three-hour-plus exam is rigorous and comprehensive, with the aim of assessing one’s mastery of the body of knowledge concerning both practice and higher level principles, such as ethics, management and leadership.
To even be considered for certification, a candidate must have at least five years or more of progressive fundraising responsibility.
2. It Reflects Commitment to the Profession of Fund Development.
Through its training standard and requirements, this certification program is a method that ensures you are investing in yourself as a professional in the field. It demonstrates to yourself and others that you are committed to learning best practices and staying on top of current research, applying this toward the missions that you represent.
There is no better indication of someone’s dedication, commitment and passion than someone who seeks out a credential. Much like I did, you are declaring that philanthropy is your chosen career.
3. It Sets You Apart as a Job Candidate or Consultant
The rigorous application components, the exam and the fact that recertification must occur every three years ensure that fund development professionals stay current and fresh.
Additionally, they are considered to have a firm grasp on the professional body of knowledge. It provides credibility to prospective and existing employers that their professionals have met specific practice requirements in the field, have proven substantial long-time work in the field and have, in fact, raised significant amounts of money. These all set you apart as a stronger job candidate or even a practicing consultant.
I say so because the name of my business is “Hire a CFRE!” and that has set me apart.
4. The CFRE Is a Personal Achievement
Applying for, studying for and receiving your CFRE demonstrates a personal commitment to the profession and, given your investment in the process, also to yourself. For some, it is a “mountain climbed”—a personal milestone accomplishment.
You have achieved a significant goal! My CFRE designation is hung on my wall, directly above the desk in my office. I am proud of it.
5. It Ensures That You Do Not Operate in a Silo
Being awarded the designation of CFRE ensures that you know about organizational systems and that you can act as a strategic leader and competent manager.
The test content is extremely comprehensive and ensures that one understands the depth of the entire philanthropic process, as well as how organizational systems impact the effectiveness of fund development. As a result, a CFRE can conduct fund development and, also, lead it at increasingly higher levels within an organization.
CFREs can do more than secure a gift. Since they understand the breadth of philanthropic fundraising, they are strategic leaders and managers who can help your organization’s fundraising prosper.
6. It May Help You Earn More
An AFP salary survey shows that fundraising professionals who are certified typically earn more than their non-certified counterparts.
For example, the 2003 survey showed that on average, CFREs make 23 percent more than their non-certified counterparts. From experience, most jobs that I have applied for and been hired all have preferred the CFRE designation and, as a result, tended to have been higher-paying positions. Whether or not this is the case, it appears as if employers do place a value on this certification.
7. It Ensures Continued Growth in the Profession
The rigorous recertification process every three years ensures that you continually grow in the profession. While you are not required to retake the exam, you must demonstrate that you still meet the requirements of the educational, practical and service components. Through this process, you must grow as a professional and seek out best practices in fund development.
8. It Is Not Just About You
The CFRE demonstrates to donors and funders that you are an ethical fundraiser who understands and cares deeply about the profession, the gifts that are secured and how they are directed. Donors can trust in the knowledge that CFREs pledge to uphold the Donor Bill of Rights and the International Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising and feel secure that their philanthropic vision will be honored and fulfilled.
Some readers may feel that these points are contrary to their beliefs. I uphold that the desire to obtain certification is a very personal decision and that it may or may not be a good step for everyone. Just as there are different motivations for donors, there are also many different motivations for wanting the CFRE designation.
For me, it was about commitment to the field, continual growth and professionalism. For you, it may be something else—or not. I hope that, at least, your interest in an exploration of the CFRE process demonstrates your commitment to the profession one way or the other and ultimately ensures your achievements and contributions to the field.
Robin Cabral is “Hire a CFRE!” the one and only outsourced development professional with close to 25 years experience providing value-added consulting services with razor-sharp monthly result objectives and benchmarked deliverables.
She works with mid-sized nonprofits that want to position themselves to build capacity and generate more fundraising prospects, better donor relationships, and bigger fundraising dollars. She specializes in providing outsourced, interim development services and assisting smaller organizations in their first campaigns (annual, capital, and endowment).
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