Char Manlove-Laws, CFRE, knows hard work and determination pay off. That’s exactly what happened when she earned her CFRE designation in October 2022.
Three months later, she looks back on her experience and what led her to set her sights on attaining the CFRE early in her career.
How did you find your way into the fundraising profession?
Through an internship at a theater company in Washington, D.C. I was interning for the executive office and frequently accepted small research projects for the fundraising team.<\p>
By the time my internship was complete, a Development Assistant position opened up at the organization and the Chief Development Officer took a chance on me.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
The most influential people in the world are still simply people at the end of the day. Don’t let a person’s prestige and power overwhelm you when discussing fundraising opportunities for your organization.
You’re an Annual Giving Officer for the National Aquarium in Baltimore, USA. What a cool job! What drew you to the role and what do you like most about working there?
Thank you, it’s incredibly cool to hang out with fish all day!<p\>
I came to the National Aquarium because I reached a moment in my career where I wanted to have a bit more impact with my fundraising. I previously worked in the arts and loved every minute of it but was feeling like I wanted to make a bigger impact through fundraising.
The National Aquarium’s conservation work and commitment to our oceans makes me feel like I’m a part of saving the world.
You earned your CFRE while in your early 30s. Some people view the CFRE as a credential to achieve far later in their careers. What motivated you to earn it when you did?
I wanted to advance quickly in my career. I met with my supervisor to share this desire and she quickly suggested the CFRE to grow professionally at a fast pace. She had candidly shared that my master’s degree from 2014 had taken me as far as it could.
What value do you think the CFRE process has for those with 5 – 10 years’ professional experience?
I’m grateful that I began this process when I did because my test-taking and studying skills were certainly fresher than some others that I’ve encountered in the process. Additionally, the career advancement opportunities that come with the certification are worth it, especially if you’re interested in learning about different sectors of fundraising.
Did your employer contribute to any of the CFRE costs? If so, could you describe how you asked for your employer’s support?
Yes, my employer has been great at offering me new and exciting professional development opportunities every year.
When I expressed interest in completing my certification, my superiors were thrilled to support me in all aspects of the CFRE requirements.
Could you tell us a bit about how you decided what you’d study when it came to the CFRE Exam and which preparation materials you found most useful?
I took the guidance of the official CFRE Exam Study Plan Template and studied the Glossary of Fundraising Terms in the first weeks of studying. While creating flashcards of the terms, I read “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising (4th edition).”
I also used the CFRE Practice Exam to understand the questions’ structures. That allowed me to focus more study time on Domain 3.
For about how long did you study? Did you join a study group or study on your own?
I gave myself a little over two months to study. I joined a study group that I found via a former colleague. The group was great because we each had the chance to present on a domain and then give a quiz on the domain topics. The group enhanced the studying I was already accomplishing on my own.
What was your experience like on exam day? What was going through your mind when the exam began?
I was incredibly nervous leading up to and on the exam day. I began to doubt my studying. Once I walked into the testing center, the folks there made me feel at ease and I knew that I had studied as recommended.
About how long did it take you to complete the exam?
Around four hours. I wanted to give myself enough time for each section and be confident in my answers. I had plenty of time to go back and look over my answers for a final onceover.
When you found out you passed, what was your reaction and who was the first person you told?
Excitement for sure! It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I sat in the parking lot and called my husband first and probably spent around 30 minutes calling other family members and friends.
What is your advice for others contemplating earning their CFRE?
To attend a CFRE webinar and hear the advice from the leaders at CFRE. I had no idea how attainable certification was for me until I attended a webinar on the topic.