Ashley: I’m Ashley Gatewood the Communications and Marketing Manager at CFRE International. Today we’re talking to Cherian Koshy, CFRE, about the value of CFRE certification. First, I’ll ask Cherian, how did you get into the fundraising field?
Cherian: I actually was a street fundraiser back in the day, 20-some years ago in the UK. I would go door-to-door raising money for groups like the Sierra Club and Human Rights Campaign and other organizations. That’s how I got my taste of fundraising.
I’ve been in fundraising in different ways, whether it’s political fundraising or for nonprofit organizations, ever since.
Ashley: That’s fantastic. That’s quite a while in fundraising.
Cherian: You learn how to deal with rejection very quickly when you’re dealing with people on the street or at their doorstep. It’s a good life lesson.
Ashley: That is a good life lesson. What do you see as the biggest hurdles fundraising professionals currently face in being successful?
Cherian: I think the challenge today, more than ever, is that nonprofit fundraisers have a lot of information being thrown at them.
It’s harder to sift out the good information from the bad information or to be able to even know there is good information out there.
On one level, some fundraisers are really keen on figuring out what the solution is or what the best practice is. But there is so much information that it’s hard to figure out what the right information is.
Unfortunately, I think we have a lot of fundraisers who have no idea there is academic, scientific, peer-reviewed information that they can go to and learn how to do their jobs better.
Ashley: That is some very good insight there. What prompted you to earn your CFRE?
Cherian: At a previous job, my CEO, executive director, and board really prompted me to do it. I had some fundraising mentors before, but it was really the way for me to advance in my career in that organization, to be able to demonstrate that I had a certification and a body of knowledge that was recognized.
The CFRE really validated the knowledge base I had. I’m glad I did it and it was certainly advantageous to my career.
Ashley: Very good. We hear from many CFREs that they were prompted to become a CFRE by their boss or the fundraiser thought, “Becoming a CFRE sounds like a lot of work” and don’t pursue certification at the time.
Down the road, they then get hired at a new organization or they get a new boss who says they want becoming a CFRE to be a professional goal for all fundraisers on the team.
We see directors encouraging their staff like that most often when a director is a CFRE and they know how rigorous the process is because they’ve gone through it themselves.
Once people earn their CFRE, even if they weren’t particularly excited to pursue it, they say, “Wow, I’m really glad I did it.”
Cherian: I had been told my career and salary could be somewhat limited if I wasn’t a CFRE.
It was good foresight from the executive director who encouraged me to get my CFRE. When I came to my current job, one of the things that I encouraged was exactly that, with other members of my team, was to say one of your professional goals should be to become a CFRE.
I’m proud to say two of my teammates have gotten their CFREs in the last six months. We’ve been able to do that and everyone else has a My CFRE account and is keeping track of their continuing education credits.
Honestly, more than having my own CFRE and recertifying, I’m just proud other people have their CFRE so they have that security with them wherever they go.
Ashley: That’s the thing about having your CFRE, is that as long as you continue to recertify, you will have it throughout the entirety of your career. Can you share how what you learned while preparing for the CFRE exam helped support your day-to-day fundraising work?
Cherian: My first certification was in 2014. I recall having bits and pieces of knowledge I had cobbled together but not really understanding systematically how the body of knowledge was put together and why it existed in the subsectors of fundraising.
CFRE has these Knowledge Domains that you don’t really think about as a day-to-day fundraiser. But once you categorize knowledge into those domains, you can say, “Oh, these are the overarching areas where I need to have practical knowledge.
It really rounds out your understanding of fundraising as a complete practice and system and not just, “How do I write an acquisition letter? How do I ask for a major gift in this very tactical way?” It’s more, “How do I put everything together?”
I will say, going back to my teammates, one of the things that continues to encourage me about these two women who have their CFRE is that their ability to understand now how all the pieces interact in our fundraising strategy and our fundraising shop lends itself to their ability to speak to many of the different things we’re doing.
From my perspective as a team leader, I love the fact that we can really debate and discuss from a knowledge base whether these strategies are good or bad or what can be amended.
Personally, aside from rounding out my fundraising knowledge, it is really the continuing education that helps me with my practice.
I’m forced now, in a good way, to be accountable to continue to learn. I think that is an important piece of getting better at the craft of fundraising and in being of better service to our donors and, ultimately, to our beneficiaries.
It’s this continuing evolution of lifelong learning for me.
Ashley: That’s excellent. What is the strongest benefit you have personally experienced since earning your CFRE?
Cherian: The easiest one is my job. I probably wouldn’t have the job I have today, which I absolutely love, and the team I have today, which I also absolutely love, if I didn’t have the CFRE.
As I mentioned, my old job asked me to do it as a matter of career progression. When this job became available, if I didn’t have my CFRE, there was probably little chance that I would’ve had the confidence to apply for the job.
I felt like I had the tools through the initial certification process and ongoing education to be able to lead a team, to be able to talk to board members and say, “This is the right thing to do.”
Plus, I felt able to share with our leadership team, “These are the right strategies,” and to affect change in those ways.
I’m grateful that my current employer, Des Moines Performing Arts, has really opened the door to have fundraising at the decision-making table and to be able to be part of critical organizational decisions, whether it’s in the overarching organization strategy and messaging or culture of the organization or some of the other pieces we have, like budgeting, in particular.
I don’t think I would have the capacity, confidence, skills, or knowledge to be able to come to the table and have something meaningful to say in those conversations.
Ashley: That’s fantastic! Thank you, Cherian, so much for sharing your viewpoint today. It is much appreciated.