In early 2020 Robert Shippey became a CFRE. Here, he shares his advice for preparing for the CFRE exam and maintaining a positive mindset throughout the process.
When you first started preparing for the CFRE exam, how did you determine what areas you would study?
I turned to the Creating your study plan for the CFRE exam outline on the CFRE website.
The template was my map for preparation beginning with familiarizing myself with the glossary terms followed by a weekly focus on the 8-week study plan. I also signed up for the practice tests.
How did you decide which book(s) to read and how did you acquire them?
Having had the opportunity to attend the Indiana School of Philanthropy conference on major giving, the textbook titled Excellence in Fundraising, 4th ed. (2016) by Eugene R. Tempel, Timothy L. Seiler, and Dwight F. Burlingame was a must-read.
How far from your exam date did you start studying and what was going through your mind as your exam date drew near?
I started studying for the exam approximately eight weeks prior to the test itself. I tried to commit to at least one hour per day of study with approximately 8 hours of study on weekends. For me, I found studying early in the day much more beneficial than studying late at night.
I do not like standardized tests. I much prefer to write essays, which created anxiety. As the test date neared, I had moments of doubt. I can’t recall where I picked up the following advice, but the words benefitted me greatly.
• Remind yourself of your skills and abilities. Think positively. Remember that your experiences are unique to you.
• Approach the CFRE as an opportunity to learn new skills.
• Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t think catastrophically.
By thinking positively about the test and the preparation for it as a learning experience, I was reminded that the activity was one that, regardless of outcome, was a learning experience. Thinking about the process this way helped me to celebrate the process of self-improvement.
Can you talk a bit about how you approached studying? Were you part of a study group? What do you think was the most useful resource you used in preparing for the CFRE exam?
I was an anomaly in that both my wife and I took the test at the same time. We formed our own study group, talked about theories, best practices, etc. We shared learning materials and encouraged each other.
I also created a spreadsheet with various categories including questions from the practice exam, Quizlet, the CFRE Glossary, and fundraising processes. I wanted a learning document to which I could also refer beyond the test itself.
I do recommend that individuals find someone or a group with whom to collaborate. The team approach and varied experiences of each team member helps reinforce the relationship between theory and best practices.
Did you receive any advice from current CFREs? If so, what wisdom did they share?
Be prepared for nuances in the questions, pace yourself, come up with a mantra to stay calm (mine was, Keep Calm and Carry On!), practice breathing, and be mindful that the exam is not a sprint but an exercise in mental endurance.
When you woke up on exam day, how did you feel?
Rested and ready. I reviewed the terms and my spreadsheet one last time on the evening before the exam.
On the day of the exam, I made sure I had a good breakfast. The exam is mentally and physically challenging, so one needs to be rested. Relaxing the evening before and going to bed early to ensure a full-night’s sleep was essential.
For me, I knew I had given my best in preparation. I was a better person and professional for having gone through the experience, so I was able to relax knowing that I was as ready as I could hope to be.
What advice do you have for others interested in becoming a CFRE but feel nervous about sitting for the exam?
Fundraising for me is a noble calling. Helping people learn the joy of giving and connecting them with causes that make our world a better place is significant. I think most fundraisers feel this way, as it is part of the ethic to which we ascribe.
If our work is significant, then there is a need to always learn and always improve.
Seeing the process of preparation for the exam as more significant that the outcome or score, was, for me, sufficient motivation. Even the test itself helped me to see areas where I can continue to grow as a fundraising professional.
I would encourage others to put fear of taking the exam in the context of the journey to improve oneself professionally and as a human being.
If becoming better is the purpose, the outcome and score of the text are simply byproducts of the larger success of self-improvement, learning, and growth.