CFRE: Raising the bar for fundraising in Austin

No doubt that Austin philanthropy is in its adolescence. And equally true: It’s going to take trained, professional fundraisers to mature the nonprofit sector.

On some level, anyone can be a fundraiser. In fact, volunteers commonly are tasked to help raise money for a nonprofit. But a volunteer cannot raise the serious money it takes for a nonprofit to be sustainable or grow. For that, you need a professional.

One way to ensure a fundraiser has some experience and knowledge as a professional fundraiser is to look for the “CFRE” after his or her name. While some in the field dispute it’s bearing as a mark of distinction, being CRFE certified means that the fundraiser has at least met the requirements of an assessment of her professional fundraising knowledge and agrees to uphold a code of ethics.

This Thursday and Friday, Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Austin Chapter will offer an intensive review course to help prepare for the CFRE exam, and the preparation alone is a worthwhile endeavor. We talked to six CFRE professionals in Austin to find out what they value about it — and why Austin needs more CFRE pros now.


christine_kutnickChristine Kutnick, CFRE, executive director of Kids in a New Groove

What is the significance of CFRE?
It tells donors that we are non-profit professionals that have a high standard of ethics and are trusted advisors. We are committed to the donor and helping them make a difference. I consider our certification similar to having a CPA. It makes donors more comfortable that we know what we are doing.

What are some things a fundraiser will be tested on?
As a CFRE candidate, you have to understand all the different aspects of fundraising; everything from how to identify potential donors to helping donors leave a legacy by making a planned gift. You have to show management experience, marketing experience and fundraising experience.

Why does Austin need CFRE professionals now?
The Austin area is inundated with nonprofits, and because our donor pool is younger than many cities, our donors expect professionalism. It behooves us to all raise to a level of professionalism that will help our community become more generous. When unethical things happen at a nonprofit, it affects many organizations.

Dawson-Clark_sd_02202014Dawson Clark, CFRE, vice president for mission advancement, Children at Heart Ministries

What is the significance of CFRE?
Achievement of the certification demonstrates a level of competence in the technical application of best-in-class standards of philanthropy along with a personal commitment of the professional to uphold a defined set of standards in ethics and accountability.

What are some things a fundraiser will be tested on?
It’s a rigorous process, which requires five years of relevant professional experience coupled with the successful preparation for and passing of a comprehensive exam. Unlike some certifications, which are required for practice of a profession, the CFRE is a voluntary certification, so it’s a great indication of a candidates desire to operate at the highest standards. Though we hold the certification in high regard, the absence of the CFRE is not a negative indication on the competence of a professional fundraiser. It just means that fundraiser hasn’t taken the time and expense to seek certification.

First, I’ve always stressed that the process of preparing for the CFRE certification begins long before you’re studying for the exam. A candidate must have five years of relevant fundraising experience, so that preparation begins from day one. I actually took the CFRE Review Course in the first six months of my work in fundraising. It proved to be a tremendous overview of the profession and full breadth of the fundraising activities.

As time for the exam neared, I took the exam again for specific focus in the areas where I needed help. Since the exam covers every area of the fundraising profession, it’s very common for those seeking certification to have areas where their experience isn’t rich. For instance, most fundraisers who have five or fewer years of experience have not had extensive exposure to estate planning activities. So the process of preparing for the exam stimulates the candidate to broaden their knowledge beyond the specific areas of focus in which they may be working day-to-day.

Why does Austin need CFRE professionals now?
CFRE underscores everything that’s important in elevating the role of the professional fundraiser, and in turn, that fundraisers practice of excellence. It’s an objective process, which recognizes those who have made the commitment to the highest standards of conduct. That helps everyone from the nonprofit, to the philanthropist, to the corporation seeking avenues of giving back.

Mike BaconMike Bacon, CFRE, principal, Bacon & Lee Associates
What is the significance of CFRE?
The CFRE came about as our profession of fundraisers was working to establish its legitimacy. This was a big step for fundraisers; many people end up in the professional by accident, meaning they didn’t get any professional training and found out they were just good at it. We needed standards and the CFRE has brought those to the profession. It has become a mark of credibility. Not that people with a CFRE can’t be as unethical as those without the certification, but at least they have been trained to know the difference!

What are some things a fundraiser will be tested on?
In the process, you learn the best practices around annual fundraising, cultivating and stewarding donors, how to talk about planned giving. Fundraising is such a mix of art and science. The CFRE really focuses on the science part of the profession — the techniques and the process. It’s a lot harder to teach the art part, which is intuition and knowing when to make an “ask” of a donor.

Why does Austin need CFRE professionals now?
Austin needs more certified fundraisers. Just in the past year, there have been several cases of people masquerading as fundraisers and receiving gifts but not using those gifts in an appropriate manner. I can promise you those folks did not have CFRE’s.

In our recruitment work, we are hearing nonprofit board ask more and more about the CFRE. It has not yet become a requirement of a job, but more and more we are seeing it be a preferred characteristic. Recruitment of talented and experienced fundraisers is increasingly competitive. The CFRE helps differentiate candidates from one another and represents an achievement in one’s career.

Marion MartinMarion Martin, CFRE, director of development, Goodwill of Central Texas
What is the significance of CFRE?
To me, a CFRE demonstrates commitment to fundraising as a professional endeavor. A CFRE is someone who not only has the skills and experience to be a professional fundraiser, but as important, an allegiance to a strict code of ethics.

What are some things a fundraiser will be tested on?
There are many aspects to fundraising — identification, research, strategy, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. Generally the fundraiser’s work involves some of these elements, but not all. Preparing for the CFRE exam involves learning about each of these important components.

Why does Austin need CFRE professionals now?
As the awareness and importance of philanthropy grows in our community, it is critical that we have credentialed professionals embedded in our nonprofit organizations who have the skills, background, training and experience to help donors make the greatest impact through their giving.

Fayruz BenyousefFayruz Benyousef, CFRE, Fayrouz Benyousef Consulting
What is the significance of CFRE?
The CFRE certification itself is not a training in the field. It is a measure of how much a fundraiser knows from the history of philanthropy to the day-to-day mechanics and best practices, all the way to developing knowledge of how to strategically plan and conduct the most successful fundraising practices.

What are some things a fundraiser will be tested on?
The exam and the certification/re-certification focuses on the areas of annual giving, cultivation, solicitation, major gift and capital campaigns, planned giving and communications and marketing in fundraising or special projects.

Why does Austin need CFRE professionals now?
As Austin’s nonprofits grow in number and in depth, the need for talented fundraisers grows as well (those who wear the Development Director hat as well as others who are executives in the organization). Most organizations rely on philanthropy as a major portion of their budgets and therefore we need to further professionalize the talent in our community through courses like the CFRE prep course to provide fundraiser and nonprofit executives best practice learning about what it takes to develop and maintain long-term donor relationships.

erica ekwurzel headshotErica Ekwurzel, CFRE, founder and principal, Advocacy in Motion Consulting
What is the significance of CFRE?
In preparing for my CFRE exam, its due diligence illustrated the diversity of the fundraising practice (whether it be building trustworthy relationships with donors, identifying and cultivating donors, grants management, special events, major gifts and planned giving, running a successful annual campaign, working with volunteers, particularly board members in fundraising endeavors, etc.). I particularly appreciate the strong emphasis on ethics and high standards of practice, particularly as fundraisers are entrusted by donors to facilitate their philanthropic intentions.

What are some things a fundraiser will be tested on?
A quote that remains with me today and was shared from day-one of my fundraising career was to embrace fundraising as “connecting need with resources to create a community of opportunities”. Similarly, I believe this resonates with the CFRE accreditation and firmly believe CFREs aspire to practice this in our professional and volunteer endeavors.

Why does Austin need CFRE professionals now?
Austin is poised for continued growth, which is nothing short of exciting to view the trajectory of our fine city; but on flipside of this same coin, there lies pressing and expanding needs. As a city who nurtures the spirit of entrepreneurship, in business and social sector practice, why settle for anything less than social change agents, such as professional fundraisers, to aspire to the highest standards of ethics, competence, and service to the philanthropic sector and to its community of which we serve

It’s not too late to sign up now for AFP’s CFRE review course. Learn more about the course here.

Support for our coverage of Fundraising comes from Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Austin Chapter

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