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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. Candidates 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.

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