CFRE – Does It Make A Difference

Every so often I hear a colleague question whether the CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) credential really makes a difference to the fundraising profession. My view is YES, it makes a difference. And after 37 years as a practicing professional I’m more convinced of that today than when I first started my professional journey.

If you visit the CFRE International website you will find their ‘Top Ten list’. A great list, and one worth reviewing. But I believe their list misses where the CFRE has some of its greatest impact … namely in the strengthening of the profession and in enhancing public trust.

Here is my ‘top 10 reasons’ for why CFRE ‘makes a difference’:

  1. JOURNEY vs DESTINATION. When discussing the CFRE program, many people focus only on the final result (i.e. the credential) and not the process to get the credential. The CFRE credential is as much about the ‘journey’ towards getting the credential as much as the ‘destination’ of getting the credential. The journey of completing the application, and preparing for the exam are important professional growth experiences for the individual and speak volumes to the type of professional available for hire.
  1. PERSONAL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. One of the standard questions I ask of any potential fund development officer applying for work in my organization is, ‘What significant professional growth activity have you engaged in during your career to advance yourself as a fund development professional?” It’s amazing to watch the responses. Many professionals don’t consider life-long learning as a priority. That point of view may be fine for them, but they are not the kind of professional I want working in my shop.
  1. STRENGTHENING THE PROFESSION. What’s in it for me? Will CFRE make a difference to me? How will I benefit? These may be important questions for us to consider, but no more important than the question, “How will pursuing the CFRE credential strength my profession?” Ask not what the profession can do for you, rather ask what you can do for the profession. The greater personal benefits will come to us all if we continue to build and strengthen the foundation of our profession. And the greater sustainable benefit always comes back to those who invest in their profession. The CFRE credential clearly strengthens the profession and brings benefit to us all.
  1. FUND DEVELOPMENT AS THE CORE. Fund development is often associated with many other professions which are important to the context within which we operate. This includes volunteer management, marketing, communications, strategic planning, etc. While understanding and mastering these elements is critical for us to succeed in fund development, we must not lose sight of the ball. Fund development has a unique body of knowledge outside of these other important elements which must be understood and mastered. The most effective fund development professional is someone who understands these elements and had taken time to master them. Those who engage in pursuing their CFRE demonstrate that they ‘haven’t lost sight of the ball’, and that they are prepared to fully develop an expertise in the fund development elements.
  1. AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS. Fund development professionals have always been good at sharing best practice and engage in informal mentoring as a matter of course. Pursuing the CFRE credential is an excellent way to demonstrate an example to others in building a growing a personal professional career.
  1. PERSONAL BENEFITS. Yes, there are personal benefits as well. Certified professionals earn, on average, 17 percent more than their uncertified counterparts.
  1. INTERNATIONAL TRANSFERABILITY. The CFRE credential is also one of the very few examples of where the international community has come together in a tangible way to support a common professional goal in fundraising. With CFRE member organizations representing Canada, the Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA (and other countries), the CFRE credential is truly emerging as the universal baseline credential in fundraising, worldwide. An important test for any profession is to test the universality of the credential, and CFRE passes this test. In these times of increased international travel and shrinking national borders, a CFRE credential offers you another ‘leg up’ when pursuing work elsewhere in the world. The CFRE credential helps us be less ‘North American centric’ and more global in our focus.
  1. STRENGTHENS PUBLIC TRUST. Effective philanthropy can only exist in an environment that enjoys public trust in the non-profit sector. Maintaining public trust must remain a key priority for our professional organizations, and pursuit of the CFRE credential is an excellent way to demonstrate this to donors and the public at large. There is nothing more powerful than engaging in a conversation with a donor and explaining what the CFRE credential stands for and what is represents. It’s a powerful way to demonstrate your commitment to public trust and to your ability to professional steward a donor relationship. The CFRE credential is a great door opener to this conversation about public trust.
  1. DEMONSTRATES LONG-TERM COMMITMENT. The CFRE is an excellent way to demonstrate that you are committed, long term, to the profession of fund development. Let’s face it, our profession suffers at times from the influx of professionals who come from related fields who feel that because they are good communicators, they will be good fund development professionals. Many of these new professionals don’t last very long and are not committed to pursuing in depth the knowledge necessary to effectively round themselves out as fundraisers. Pursuit of the CFRE credential demonstrates that one ‘intends’ to stay around for some time (although we all face professional transition at one time or another)
  1. IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Shame on the ‘naysayers’. Those that argue the CFRE credential “hasn’t reached a critical mass to be effective”, or that “it’s premature to pursue supporting the CFRE credential” are people who generally see the glass half empty. Those with vision regarding what the profession ‘can be’ and who are willing to work with others around the world to strengthen the profession and philanthropy is the process, don’t need to be convinced. Pursuing the CFRE credential speaks to the desire to build, and to strengthen, and to commit … pretty good attributes if you ask me.