Today, after the culmination of some 5½ years of preparing, I earned an international credential:  the CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive).

So what?

That's a fair response for the vast majority of the world that has never heard of the CFRE.  After all, most fundraisers we know are not certified.  Unlike many other professions, you don't need to be certified in order to practice this craft.  From accountants to lawyers to medical doctors to social workers to teachers and many more professions, you need to pass an examination (often multiple examinations) to be able to legally practice your trade.  But not fundraisers!  Any old schmuck can fundraise, right?

Well, truth be told... yeah!  Nonprofit organizations of all sizes have professional staff that are not certified.  In fact, these same organizations rely on volunteer fundraisers as their lifeblood - certainly these volunteers should not require certification!  We even have our own children fundraise by selling candy bars, cookies, and calendars!

And yet, here I took the time - 5½ years as cited above - to become a Certified Fund Raising Executive.  Why would I waste my time with something that literally anybody can do?  I'm glad you asked!  I hereby introduce you to the "3s" of becoming a certified fundraiser!

First of all, what exactly is this "CFRE" you speak of?

  1. Since 2013, the CFRE is the first globally-recognized credential for fundraising professionals.  The Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential was first awarded in 1981.  Its accrediting body, CFRE International, was founded in 2001 to unite other certifying bodies for a stronger credential that would be recognized in more areas around the world.
  2. There are about 5,500 CFREs around the world.  In the most recent annual report offered by CFRE International in 2014, there were 5,451 CFREs.  Between now and then, it is likely that the number is closer to 6,000.  With demand gradually increasing and the nonprofit arena becoming more professional, membership in the CFRE is also growing at a greater speed.
  3. Membership in the CFRE is gradually becoming more diverse and global.  One interesting demographic is that 72% of CFRE holders are women!  Wow!  Now, at the same time, membership is also 92% white at the moment, which obviously is not reflective of the global philanthropic community!  Nevertheless, this ratio is increasing.  Nationalities of CFREs are mostly American (which partially makes sense because the United States has the strongest private philanthropic sector in the world), but more countries are gaining representation.  In 2014, CFREs also hailed from Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom.

So, what does it take to become a CFRE?

  1. Raising money in your career!  That may seem obvious, but still...this must be a quantifiable prerequisite.  To simplify a bit, you need to be employed in a full-time fundraising job for a minimum of three years, either as a staffer in a fundraising office or as a fundraising consultant.  To oversimplify a bit, you need to raise the equivalent of about $1,375,000 within the past five years.  This could be by major gifts, grants, net revenues from special events, direct mail, and a variety of other infrastructural methodologies applicable to your organization.  You can click here to learn more about application requirements for initial certification.
  2. Devote yourself to continued education.  You need 80 points of continued education.  If you hold accredited academic degrees, you can apply 5 points of this for an associate's and 10 points for each bachelor/master/doctoral degree.  Beyond that, you can earn 1 point for each hour you spend attending fundraising conferences, workshops, classes, etc.  You can also earn more points if you teach classes or publish your own work.  But beyond the point system?  This requirement encourages a spirit of learning which is important to continuous professional growth and staying on top of trends in the philanthropic sector.  So if you've got these points, as well as the requirements I mentioned above in my first point, you can submit your application with your application fee and prepare for the last step...
  3. A rigorous CFRE examination.  Now that you've proved that you have raised significant funds in your job and that you devote yourself to continued education, you need to prove that you have the knowledge base to pass the CFRE examination.  The test is a four-hour, 200-question multiple-choice marathon.  It focuses on six overarching domains within the body of knowledge for fundraising:
  • Current and Prospective Donor Research;
  • Securing the Gift;
  • Relationship Building;
  • Volunteer Involvement;
  • Leadership and Management; and,
  • Ethics, Accountability, and Professionalism.

There are plenty of prep courses you can take, as well as valuable suggested reading, but this test is really designed to test whether or not if you have the knowledge base to answer many of the challenging questions it takes to engage donors effectively, ethically, and for the greater good.  In other words, you really must have learned many of the principles of running a fundraising program over the course of your career in order to pass the exam.  You can take the test multiple times if needed; overall, about 70% of CFRE candidates pass the test.

What benefits are there to becoming a CFRE?

  1. Certification reflects achievement.  Full disclosure:  I'm pulling three reasons out of the Top 10 Reasons to Become Certified, as promoted by CFRE International.  But this one was a great one over the course of the past 5½ years.  With the requirements to becoming a CFRE set so high, this gave me specific attainable goals - far beyond the goals of any organization I work with/volunteer for.  The pursuit of the CFRE itself led me to achieve something wonderful in the name of philanthropy and the greater good of the missions I'm involved with.
  2. Certification can improve career opportunities and advancement.  As mentioned above, literally anybody can - and should - engage in fundraising.  But to put these four letters behind your name indicates that level of achievement we talked about in the first point immediately above.  I should note that I have met non-certified professionals that excelled beyond their non-certified peers, but overall, possessing the CFRE credential illustrates a mastery of fundraising which is then verified by the certification process.  (By the way, more job listings for development director positions are listing "CFRE Preferred," as well!)
  3. Certification may provide for greater earnings potential.  Nonprofit staff, on average, are usually underpaid.  There's a pretty interesting debate revolving around nonprofit compensation I hope to get into in a future blog post, but in the meantime, let's just state the fact that most nonprofit workers in the United States (about 10% of the entire workforce) are not compensated fairly for their talent.  However, CFRE International reports that "Studies show that on average CFRE certificants earn 17% more than their non-certified counterparts.  In addition, CFRE certificants are in high demand internationally."  And yes, that said internationally!  For me, personally, it feels cool to know that I have a voluntary certification that is internationally recognized in something as culturally sensitive as philanthropy/fundraising.

So, should you look into being certified?

If you want to excel in fundraising, I say a resounding yes.  The pursuit of the CFRE alone will set specific goals that will make you a better fundraiser, even if you later decide not to certify.  But for the sake of a relative brevity, I have simplified a lot of the process, benefits, and history of the CFRE.  I encourage you - whether if you are hoping to get involved in fundraising or are looking to hire a fundraiser - to explore more about the CFRE and CFRE International by clicking the link below.

What's my next step?

I'd be lying to you if I said that I wasn't already thinking the next step.  As if the rigors of attaining the CFRE weren't enough, I am already beginning to look at the ACFRE (Advanced Certification as a Fund Raising Profession) accredited by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  Its another international credential in fundraising but far more exclusive.  There have only been a couple hundred fundraisers to ever attain such a high credential.  Its requirements would limit me from obtaining it for a several more years, but nevertheless, the requirements help set specific and attainable goals to which I can aim.

Beyond that, I'm still focusing on finding the right doctoral program that suits my goals.  This is a more difficult decision than I thought; I've been investigating and applying to numerous programs for over a year now!  Hopefully I'm just a few months away from finding the right program for me!  Nevertheless, I am still delighted to know that I have - finally - attained this significant credential of the CFRE!  Learn more by clicking the button below!