Certified Fund Raising Executive | A Personal Journey

“I’d like people to remember me for a diligent expert workman. I think a poet is a workman. I think Shakespeare was a workman. And God’s a workman. I don’t think there’s anything better than a workman.”

Sir Laurence Olivier, English actor (1907-1989)

I came late to securing the Certified Fund Raising Executive – or CFRE – credential. I had worked “in the trenches” with nonprofit organizations as a volunteer and staff member for nearly twenty years before doing so.

The truth is, with many years of hands-on experience and quite a bit of success, I felt I did not need to secure the credential. But at the suggestion of several fundraising colleagues who held the CFRE in high esteem, I decided to move forward.

I soon discovered by taking a CFRE review course (preparatory course), that I had not yet mastered the comprehensive information covered in the certification exam. I set about to study – and in some cases to “re-learn” a few fundraising fundamentals – in order to prepare. Being fairly quick when it comes to taking standardized tests, I thought I would surely finish the standardized test in less than the four hours allotted. But it took me every minute of those four hours to answer the test questions and double check my responses. It was not an easy test.

I secured the credential in 2004, and I have been continuously recertified since then. When I learned I had passed, I was elated! This was quite a change of attitude from when I first began to ponder the idea.

Part of the certification process involves documenting one’s professional experiences on the job as well as one’s continuing education activities. That alone was eye-opening. Writing down my experiences since I began my career in the nonprofit sector helped me recall my personal accomplishments, many of which I had admittedly forgotten. By the time I finished, I felt quite proud of my work.

I helped teach the CFRE review course in Austin last summer, the second occasion I have been invited to do so. What fun it was to see those raised eyebrows at some of my more colorful experiences! But in the end, instructors must caution those about to take the examination that in order to pass, one must review the documented course materials closely. While it is fun to share personal “survival” stories to liven-up the discussion, prep course teachers must focus on content and on what CFRE International requires applicants to comprehend. Personal experience sometimes varies from what the test requires; CFRE credential seekers must be mindful of this important fact.

Fabris Photography

In the end, I agree with Sir Laurence Olivier. I am just an “expert workman.” I like the humility that such a great artist has shown by that statement. It helps level the playing field, especially for those of us who are less well known, but who work very hard at perfecting our craft.

Freddy Fabris‘ photograph from his Renaissance Series is the perfect counterpart to this discussion: two humble shop mechanics performing invaluable work, placed in poses that recall a famous Renaissance painting. In this case, Freddy has likened his mechanics to God and man in Michelangelo’s painting, “The Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel.

If you are a nonprofit fundraising professional – or one of the world’s most celebrated English actors – you know that great achievements do not happen by accident. They require proper training and real work. And when you have noteworthy accomplishments to report (at least five years in the profession), I urge nonprofit fundraisers to set aside time to document their work and to secure accreditation from CFRE International.

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