A fundraiser’s ultimate test

I love fundraising.  I see it as a matchmaking opportunity to connect people with meaningful ways they can make a difference.  And, it doesn’t matter how much money they have to donate, because as we know – everyone deserves to be asked. For the past ten years, I’ve been “making the ask” as a fundraiser at various nonprofit organizations.

But, it was just this year that I took my fundraising to the next level and sought my CFRE certification, or Certified Fund Raising Executive certification. As with many professions, the CFRE is a credentialing process for professional fundraisers.

Two Step Process
There are two steps for the CFRE certification process: an application and an exam.  To my fellow fundraising friends thinking of pursing the CFRE, here are some tips to guide you through the process:

  • Application: The application requires individuals to demonstrate experience and success in four areas:  education, professional practice, professional performance and service.  Through submitting experiences in each of the four areas over the past five years, applicants are awarded points, and must acquire a minimum amount of points in each area.  CFRE.org has a great online application that applicants can use as a tool to track accomplishments towards the application.  However, I urge you to also keep supporting documents for everything entered online, as randomly selected applicants are asked to provide verification of the items listed on the application.
    The most obvious tip here is to start keeping track of everything now… it is easier to track along the way that educational workshop you attend and the fundraising projects you lead, instead of trying to pull that information together years later.  Start tracking now!
  • Exam: After submitting an application, and upon approval of the application, applicants are invited to sit for the CFRE Exam. The exam can take up to four hours and is administered via computer testing facilities throughout the United States.  To help applicants understand the information covered on the exam, CFRE has developed a test content outline.  And, the CFRE study wizard can help applicants identify ares that skill areas that need to be strengthened before the exam.  CFRE has also pulled together a reading and resource list that provides a list of resources to help you strengthen the  areas identified as weaknesses in the study wizard.

So, how did the process go for me?  
I loved the online application option provided by CFRE.  I found it very helpful in documenting my previous educational and professional experiences.  I loved how it tracked the points earned and notifies you when you meet the minimum requirements in each of the four application areas.  Also, the information you enter online is saved for your next visit. It is a very user friendly process!  If you are looking into the certification, be sure to check out the online application.

Although CFRE doesn’t have any official review courses for the exam, I found that reviewing materials from workshops I previously attended at The Fundraising School at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University was a great refresher for me on fundraising fundamentals.  Also, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has published a series of articles on the CFRE, including a list of sample CFRE exam questions, which really helped me understand the format for the exam.

The most important thing for me with the exam was getting a good nights sleep and not letting my nerves get the best of me for the exam.  Lets face it, if you have been a professional fundraiser for at least the past 5 years and have been attending professional development sessions during that time, chances are your fundraising skills are pretty sharp.  But, when was the last time you sat at your computer for up to four hours without any disruptions or phone calls?  Being in the right frame of mind to sit for the exam was key.

The Result
Am I a better fundraiser today than I was last week, before the CFRE?  Not so much.  But, I have four little letters after my name (C-F-R-E) that signify to myself and others that I have experience, knowledge and a commitment to advancing the profession.  And, to my fellow fundraising gurus out there, I know you can do it, too!

To learn more about CFRE, visit www.cfre.org.

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About Dr. Sarah Wolin Mackey

Putting theory into practice at nonprofit organizations.
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7 Responses to A fundraiser’s ultimate test

  1. John Burke says:

    I love your opening lines: “I love fundraising. I see it as a matchmaking opportunity to connect people with meaningful ways they can make a difference. And, it doesn’t matter how much money they have to donate, because as we know – everyone deserves to be asked.”

    If nonprofit execs could get board members to understand the simple, majestic truth of that statement – they could/would create an enormous uptick in the stability of their own organizations and in the productiviey of the entire public service sector.

    Well said!

    • Thanks for the comment!
      I agree, sometimes “fundraising” gets a negative perception, but I do believe that it is an amazing opportunity to connect people with causes they care deeply about. As a fundraiser, I see it as my role to provide meaningful opportunities for donors to support issues they care about. There is nothing better than the joy on a donors face as they have the opportunity to realize the magnificent things they can accomplish through their donation.

  2. Sarah,

    Congratulations on the credential and the tenacity to put in the hard work required.

    I never knew such a certification existed, and I guess I don’t know much about fundraising other than from my old colleges (where I am on the receiving end of the process) and the volunteer efforts we do on behalf of a local Chicago organization that helps Downs syndrome and other developmentally challenged adults and kids, but somehow I do not think standing on a street corner handing out candy for donations or a golf outing is what you are talking about.

    Raising funds from banks or investors? Well, being a finance guy, that’s a whole different story!


    • Thanks for the comment, David! Yes, the CFRE certification has evolved as a certification to strengthen the fundraising profession. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on my thoughts on “professionalism.”

      Thanks for reading!

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