To CFRE or Not to CFRE

So after 20+ years of working in the nonprofit sector and fundraising with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, I applied for and took the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) exam. And I am so relieved just to have passed….

However, after more than a month waiting for CFRE to validate the test results and some reflection, I am more than relieved to have passed. Now I am excited by what those letters mean after my name.

When the Association of Fundraising Executives (AFP), then called the National Association of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE) began offering the certification In 1981 I was still in college. By the time I was eligible to take the exam, I thought it was a way for the Association to make money through application and re-certification fees. After decades of work in the sector, I didn’t see the need to pursue the certification. I had plenty of work, no one actually asked me if I had a CFRE and what would a 225 question, multiple choice test prove?

What I wanted to share here is the sense of accomplishment I feel after applying for, studying, taking the exam and passing. Honestly, I went after the CFRE because I was asked to do so. I have been presenting workshops to great evaluations for years. I am an AFP Master Trainer and always proactively seek out continuing education opportunities, which I thought had more value than four letters after my name and renewal every two years. For the past two years I have been an approved provider of CFRE continuing education credits.

As regulations have grown, I see the importance of self-regulation within the sector and profession. Over the years, I have met many colleagues, too numerous to list here, whom I respect who have their CFRE and some with the ACFRE designation who I call friends.  I applied, a task unto itself, studied when I could, on planes, at night, weekends. I didn’t have time to join a study group or take the review course, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in taking the exam.

So what’s the moral to my story? If you think you don’t want or need CFRE, you could be right. I am skeptical about higher salaries and if the sector even knows what it is or means, even after all these years. I still see job postings asking for candidates with CFRE or preferred but they are only requiring three to five years of experience. You can’t apply for your CFRE with less than five years of experience. Clearly there is a disconnect between what CFRE does and means to potential employers.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article about certification in the March 20 issue. The article talked about the normal stuff, getting paid more for a CFRE, regulation etc. And there was some discussion of pros and cons. But more importantly the test content changes effective April 1. More information about the CFRE application and test can be found here.

If you want a sense of personal and professional accomplishment of a job well done. If you want to learn more than you knew yesterday about fundraising, or about a practice within our profession that is not something you do every day (like perhaps planned giving), study for and take the exam. Get your CFRE for you, not for others. Yes I was asked or encouraged and I would not have pursued it otherwise. But I don’t think I realized the how personally satisfying it would be. Now I know and encourage you to think or re-think certification.

12 thoughts on “To CFRE or Not to CFRE

  1. Barbara, I didn’t apply for my CFRE until I’d been in fundraising 17 years. I was put off from it when a colleague said the test was so hard that she walked out crying. Now that I’ve taken it, and recertified more than once, I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner. You’re right, it’s a good feeling to pass. I also find that it helps to establish me with others — even if they don’t know what it is, I can tell them that it means that my fundraising peers have reviewed my credentials and I passed, and that I’ve raised more than $1 million, and that I continually update my knowledge. I also think it’s important that CFRE requires continual volunteer service, that we’re not just making a living from fundraising, we’re supporting the nonprofit sector. So congratulations on passing and becoming a CFRE!

    1. Katherine,
      Thanks for your comments. It is an interesting process for sure. And if CFRE could get their customer service in better shape it would appear to me more than a money maker. There was, however, an interesting article in the Nonprofit Times about a friend, Lynn Cronenberger, CFRE, and how CFRE impacted her job search – it didn’t make a difference at all. So I stand by my post – CFRE is about personal satisfaction – not professional growth.

  2. Michael,
    Thanks for your comment and taking the time to write your own well informed post. Personally I am not a “club” member person. I like being as inclusive as possible. And as my post and some comments on your blog indicate personal satisfaction should be the reason for certification – employers are not aware of the value and CFRE is not doing anything to help their or our cause. I believe a Masters is worth more in the market place and shows a different level of learning and commitment as well as working with a cohort of colleagues thinking and solving challenges. Certainly more readily recognized in the independent sector. I am not sure either results in higher pay – and don’t care – both provide a level of personal satisfaction which is the reason anyone pursuing either should put first in their decision making. Not to join a club, earn more, hope employers notice or get their resume noticed. And I won’t go into the lack of customer service provided by CFRE International.

  3. Barbara, thank you for sharing your personal feelings about CFRE and your motivation to seek the designation. Congratulations on becoming part of the “club.” While I personally value my CFRE, I’m not convinced others do and, therefore, I question whether CFRE has much of a future; I’ve explored this issue in my blog post (

  4. Personally, I have and encourage my staff to pursue the certification. Highly believe in it and the AFP Ethical Code!!

  5. Congratulations Barbara. I agree with the perspective that this is an investment in yourself, not necessarily in a higher salary. This is a well deserved accomplishment for you! Cheers!

  6. Thanks for the discussion points, Barbara. You touch on some interesting issues on both sides. Glad I got mine, but it is hard to quantify the actual value.

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