Ellaine Hislop, CFRE, is a fundraising supervisor in Western Australia. She became a CFRE in 2019 and shares how she approached the exam.
How did you first hear about the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification and why did you decide to pursue it?
I’ve been a fundraising professional for over 20 years in New Zealand and Australia. Over this time I’ve endeavored to continuously increase my knowledge and strived to be a best-practice fundraiser.
Part of that was being a member of my local fundraising professional body. When I moved to Australia and joined Fundraising Institute Australia I had the pleasure to meet wonderful career fundraising professionals, some of whom were CFREs.
When I looked into what certification meant, I knew it was definitely something I would aspire to.
Many people feel nervous about studying for and taking the exam. What were your feelings? If you had any voices of doubt, how did you overcome them?
I started feeling nervous as soon as I submitted my application. I had been studying for a few months by then, but after my submission those feelings definitely heightened.
That just strengthened my determination to stick to my study plan and be successful in the exam. I think that nervousness just confirmed how important this was to me.
The more I studied the more comfortable and less nervous I became. But to be honest, those nerves didn’t leave until I was actually sitting in the exam.
What resources and books did you use to prepare for the exam? Which do you feel was most useful?
Over the years I’ve read a lot of fundraising books, followed and learned from amazing fundraising professionals online, and committed to hours of professional development.
They all helped me gain knowledge and brought me to a point in my career where I felt I was ready to take the CFRE exam. However, the book I used as the basis for my exam preparation was “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising.”
Rather than just reviewing chapters, I spent time on the discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which really helped me explore my understanding of each topic.
I also used the CFRE Practice Exam. This helped me see what exam areas I needed to spend more time studying. It helped me get used to the format of the exam and how the questions would be worded.
By far, the most beneficial piece was having a study partner. We had a detailed study plan that helped us stay on track.
We reviewed and discussed chapters every week by phone or in-person when possible. And we shared our professional experiences. We helped each other stay focused, motivated, positive, and on schedule.
From beginning to end, about how many hours would you say you studied?
I’m sure this is different for everyone. For me though, the time to specifically study for the exam would have taken at least three hours a week for six months.
That included reading the text, answering chapter discussion questions, and meeting weekly with my study partner.
Closer to the time I spent more time reviewing previous chapters and taking the practice exam whenever I had a free moment.
How did you keep yourself motivated during the study process?
My biggest source of motivation was my study partner, Susan.
Having another person who was studying to sit the exam at the same time and on the same schedule was my biggest influence.
What thoughts were going through your mind the night before the exam?
I didn’t do any last-minute cramming and directed my thoughts towards how well-prepared I was. I was nervous but pleased with the effort I had already put in.
At this stage I was really looking forward to finding out how I had done the next day.
What is your top study tip for others who are preparing for the CFRE exam?
Connect with other fundraising professionals. Study with a partner or study group. Talking to CFRE professionals to share experiences is a big help.
Thank you, Ellaine, for sharing your insight and advice!