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Monday, October 20, 2014

"Life is just a pale imitation of high school"

My Alma mater, West High School, Madison, WI
In the 1980's series, thirtysomething, one character utters the line, "Life is just a pale imitation of high school." Obviously, this quote has stuck with me for a long time, among the many random verses, song lyrics and trivia trapped in my brain.

Even the most enlightened adults continue to label people for one facet of their personality--"the geek," "the jock," or "the popular girl" now replaced with "the IT guy," "the former quarterback," or "the real housewife of (fill in the blank city)." We still make decisions about a person based on who their friends are, or essentially what "clique" the person is in. We still let petty differences create big rifts that can never be forgiven. And of course, there's interpersonal drama because someone didn't do what they said they were going to do and now there's a huge blow up because you didn't get voted class president, or homecoming queen, or most likely to succeed.

But it wasn't all bad in high school, right?

Here are thoughts on things from high school to apply to adult life:

  • Some people are unexpected friends. Senior night, I ended up hanging out on the bus back to the school with a bunch of people I didn't normally spend a lot of time with. My "close" friends were no where to be found. Singing "Celebration" on the bus with people who were mostly just acquaintances was the most fun I had all night. I'm still connected to some of them 26 years later, and wonder sometimes why I didn't spend more time with them in high school. Who are people now who are those unexpected friends? 
  • Some people are not really your friends. I know I have my share of friends who at best, didn't keep in touch or at worst, totally abandoned me. Friends ebb and flow. Some people are more interested in your position in the clique than you personally. Let them go.
  • No clique lasts forever. Cliques are based on a power balance. As cliques grow, they start to lose their influence over the members. Eventually, the power shifts and new cliques form. Sometimes you just need to wait it out.
  • It might be time to graduate. You can't stay in high school forever...maybe it's time to move on to a new adventure.
  • It will seem rosier when you look back on this than it feels like right now. The nostalgia card is powerful, isn't it? Someday, with the passage of time, this will not seem like a total disaster. You'll want to go back and celebrate it, for old time's sake.

Monday, September 29, 2014

CFRE and ACFRE: Why certify?

"What do all those letters mean?"

I've been teased for having more letters after my name than are in my name. (For the record, there are actually 14 letters in my full name and only 12 letters after my name, so there.) I received my CFRE in 1999 and my ACFRE in 2010, and I proudly display those letters after my name on my business cards and email signatures.

So why should you care? Why do I care?

First, some definitions.
CFRE: Certified Fund Raising Executive, a credential for fundraising professionals worldwide with 5 or more years of professional experience in fundraising, is a practice based certification. The parallel I sometimes use is that the CFRE is like a CPA, in that you must be currently active in the field. The CFRE must be re-certified every three years and demonstrate ongoing professional practice and professional development over that period. The certification is administered by CFRE International, an independent, accredited organization based in the US.

ACFRE: Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive, is a credential for those with 10 or more years of experience in the field. Unlike the CFRE, the ACFRE is a permanent designation demonstrating a senior level depth and breadth of knowledge in the sector. I have called this the "PhD of fundraising," in that you go through a four stage process that takes 1-2 years and is designed to determine the level of sophistication and nuance of your understanding of the profession and your ability to apply critical thinking techniques to best practices. While historically the ACFRE was tied to the CFRE, this credential is completely separate from CFRE, and is administered by a volunteer committee of AFP International, with advice from the Professional Examination Service.

Voluntary credentials
There are many professional arenas that provide certification for those committed to that career: human resources, public relations, meeting planning, interior design, software support, real estate, etc.

Professional credentialing is, in most cases, voluntary. You do not have to have a credential to practice in the field, but it is sometimes considered a competitive advantage, depending on how established the credential is. You may, however, be required to have a license; professions that require licensure are legally mandated by government entities to demonstrate a baseline level of proficiency.

To credential or not
Rory Green has written a good piece about her own debate over getting the CFRE, and I think she has some valid points. For me, credentialing is important because...
  • Desire to show long term commitment to the field. I was 28 years old when I decided to pursue my CFRE. Given that the average tenure in a fundraising position is 3-5 years, I wanted to show that I intended to stick with my career for the long haul.
  • Differentiating myself from others. I believe that being credentialed in fundraising has provided me a degree of competitive advantage in my overall personal brand. I'll admit, I have not experienced dramatic financial increases because of my certifications. The "What is a CFRE or ACFRE?" question, however, has triggered many interesting discussions about my professional fundraising philosophy with employers, donors, volunteers and other fundraisers. Regardless of their knowledge of the credentials, they remembered my commitment to fundraising.
  • Investment in the sector. The evaluation structure for either credential is intentional. For example, CFRE International goes through a review of fundraising practice every five years to determine if the exam is testing for the right domains of knowledge and to see if there have been changes in our fundamental practice. We just completed this process and, as someone who has served twice on this task force, it is an intellectually challenging exercise to look at the sector globally and hone in on the core body of knowledge. This whole process not only guides the construction of the exam questions, but also determines where there are gaps in research within the sector.

    Sometimes people get frustrated because they feel that the exam doesn't cover current practice, but the challenge is that current practice doesn't always have literature and research to back it up for testing purposes. It's not that CFRE is ignoring current practice; it's waiting for research to catch up.
  • Investment in myself. As they say, sometimes it's the journey that's important, not the destination. In my case, the ACFRE process was an intense, in-depth self examination. I had to showcase what I had learned and accomplished throughout my career to date. I had several moments when I almost gave up (ahem, three tries to pass the written exam), but in the end, had gone successfully through an evaluation process that helped me articulate how proud I am of what I have contributed to our sector.
Bottom line
Yes, some incredible fundraisers will never pursue a credential. Yes, there are people who are credentialed who aren't very good. A fundraising credential is not a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval"--you should always evaluate a person based on your own knowledge, not because some outside group applied a label. I am very proud to be both a CFRE and an ACFRE because of my personal values about investing in myself and the overall body of knowledge in fundraising. It's not for everyone, but it's certainly important to me.

Full disclosure, I serve on the ACFRE Credentialing Board for the Association of Fundraising Professionals and also serve as a volunteer for CFRE International. These opinions are my own and not an official position of either of these organizations.

A good reference guide about the difference between a certification and an academic certificate is on the CFRE website here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dear Charity: I'm So Over You.

Dear Charity,
I could beat around the bush on this, but I probably should just get to the point.

I'm breaking up with you.

I could say, "It's me, not you," but let's be honest. This is about you.

You were really nice in the beginning. I gave you a modest donation and I got a great and prompt thank you note. I thought, "Wow, good manners." There were other charities that weren't so quick to respond...I only gave to them once.

Then, you were really good about communicating with me. You sent me emails, newsletters, and invitations to parties. You even checked in with me personally every now and then. Even when I didn't respond to everything, you kept in touch. I liked that I could learn more about you and what you were doing. I felt like I knew you.

After a while, I thought, you know, I'm ready for a more steady commitment with this charity. I don't make these decisions lightly, but I thought you were a keeper. So I increased my giving to join your ongoing monthly giving program.

At first, you showered attention on me. You thanked me for increasing my commitment. You gushed about how valuable I was. You even gave me a little gift for joining the club.

And then, after about a year, the attention stopped.

I didn't get any letters or special communication. You didn't personally call on me. It was like I didn't exist. Oh sure, you charged my credit card every month, but I didn't hear from you like I did before.

I invested all this time and resources in you. I demonstrated that I cared. And I got pushed aside for the newer donor.

It's hard feeling washed up in our relationship so soon.

So in spite of the fact that I really still care about what you do and how you change the world, I simply can't be in this relationship anymore. It's too hard for me to give so much and get back so little.

I'm sure you'll find others like me who are willing to support you. But please, don't let my relationship with you be in vain. Spend a little more time with them. Make sure they know that they are appreciated and wanted. Always deliver what you promise. Make them feel valued. Don't push them away like you pushed me away.

You'll always have a special place in my philanthropic journey, but it's better for both of us if I move on.

Good luck,
Your Former Donor

PS: Have you talked to a long-time or monthly donor recently? If not, do it NOW.


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