The CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) is a professional certification for fundraisers, which is quite well known in North America. To qualify to write the CFRE exam – professional fundraisers must have a minimum of five years’ experience (among other requirements).
Over the last six months, an internal debate has been raging: should I get a CFRE? Do I need a CFRE? Do I want a CFRE?
I’ve asked and interviewed hundreds of fundraisers from around the world and heard a range of responses on the topic, including:
- “It wasn’t life changing”
- “There are other, better, professional development programs out there”
- “I wouldn’t have gotten my current Director role without it. It shows full fundraising competency for fundraisers.”
- “Have you met some of the CFREs out there? It means nothing”
- “The CFRE indicates a dedication to the profession and the advancement of skills, standards and practices.”
- “I felt that at as a young professional early in my career it was definitely worth it…an achievement I can carry forward.”
- “Ha! Don’t waste your time.”
- “I got my CFRE and was immediately given a raise”
- “It only matters to a small group of people”
These are broad and diverse answers ranging from positive, to apathetic, to negative. Everyone seems to have a unique view on the designation – let’s explore the arguments…
- Increased credibility: I’m 25. I chose fundraising as my profession when I was 17. Unlike many fundraisers, I didn’t have a career as a banker or real estate agent or journalist before finding fund development as my profession. That means that I have the same level of experience as many of my peers – but with far fewer grey hairs. While I have never faced outright discrimination, there have been times when my age has been a disadvantage. The promise of “increased credibility” and being taken seriously as a fundraising professional is the most compelling and appealing reason why I would pursue a CFRE.
- Studying and learning: One of the most valuable parts of having a CFRE is studying for the test. I like the idea of forcing myself to spend time on learning and professional development. It can be an easy thing to put off – especially in the hectic world of fundraising. One of the benefits of having a CFRE is going through the process of getting a CFRE: reading amazing books by smart fundraisers and discussing them with my peers who are also studying.
- Commitment to the profession: This is a theme that came up time and time again in my discussion with fundraisers. Having a professional designation for fundraising legitimizes our profession. Pursuing and maintaining a CFRE demonstrates your commitment to fundraising, the body of knowledge around fund development and to industry best practices.
- Continued professional development: Learning is lifelong. A CFRE is a way to make sure you continue developing and growing as a fund development professional. Maintaining a CFRE certification requires training, study and keeping up with changes and trends.
- Expanded career opportunities: A number of fundraisers I talked to reported making more money, or getting new jobs because of their CFRE.
- Confidence and pride: One fundraiser told me “I feel a great deal of pride in having those four little letters after my name.” In a profession that is constantly misunderstood and undervalued, having the confidence to stand up for yourself and for fundraising best practice is a huge advantage.
- Not all CFREs are good fundraisers. Not all good fundraisers are CFREs. This is a theme I heard over and over again. There are many, many excellent fundraisers who are raising tremendous amounts of money and who don’t have a CFRE. A number of people I spoke with expressed their disappointment with CFREs they had hired and worked with. It certainly isn’t regarded as a seal of quality. While a CFRE won’t hurt your reputation as a fundraiser, there are many more factors considered when hiring. It’s no magic bullet.
- It doesn’t mean anything to donors. A CFRE doesn’t make more donations magically fly in through your window. If you are expecting it to be like a fairy godmother you’ll be disappointed.
- The test is flawed. Someone remarked to me that the better you are at fundraising, the harder the test. It is multiple choice – which rewards memorization. In real life, fundraising is so much more than choosing one of four choices. It requires critical thinking, intuition and emotional intelligence.
- There are other (maybe better) options out there: There are now a multitude of fundraising education programs on the market. The CFRE is not your only option for professional development and credentials.
These aren’t arguments against getting a CFRE but rather things about the designation that are a bit troubling and I think need to be discussed.
My main problem with the designation is that the CFRE isn’t an inclusive and accessible designation for a number of reasons. It largely legitimizes people who I would classify as belonging to advantaged groups, reinforcing dominant culture power dynamics that exist in our sector. Some of these issues include:
- Language: The CFRE is only offered in English. There is some amazing fundraising happening around the world, and an English-only designation is extremely limited.
- Parents: many parents I spoke to express their frustration with the 5 year credit system. If you’ve taken a year off for parental leave, it can be almost impossible to keep up with the professional development and volunteering needed for the application.
- Country: Canadian fundraisers expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of Canadian content on the exam. Overwhelmingly, I heard that it is a more valuable designation in America than anywhere else.
- Size: many small shop fundraisers face barriers pursuing a CFRE when the professional development budget at their organizations simply isn’t enough to cover the AFP sessions needed for the application.
So what to do?
Quite honestly, I go back-and-forth every day between wanting to get a CFRE and not. At this moment, I am building my credits to apply. But every time I ask a new fundraiser, I get a new piece of information that changes my mind.
So, what do you think? Do you have a CFRE? Why or why not? Would you recommend it? Are there other professional development programs or credentials you recommend in its place?
Let’s keep the debate going…