Betsy Mehlman became a CFRE in 2019, with the added distinction of being the first fundraising professional in Israel to earn the certification. She shares the A to Z of her CFRE journey.
What made you decide to pursue your CFRE?
I heard about the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) exam during my annual attendance at APRA International Prospect Development Conferences. I decided to pursue the certification because I admire CFRE’s focus on setting high professional standards within the field of fundraising. I think a commitment to best practices and ongoing learning is critical in today’s philanthropic market.
As an independent professional certification, CFRE is raising the professional bar within our industry by promoting the knowledge, tools, and skills for professionals to excel in fundraising.
How many years were you in the profession when you decided to go for it?
I have been involved in Resource Development for JDC, the leading global Jewish humanitarian organization, in a variety of roles over the past 18 years. As an organization, we place great importance on professional excellence.
In my view, CFRE was and is a desirable step to enhance my skills to further the good work we do around the world, so it was only natural that I should pursue it.
CFRE provided a concrete and carefully thought out framework to both deepen and broaden my knowledge of the industry while enhancing my professional skills.
Did you speak with your boss about becoming a CFRE? If so, were they supportive? Did they offer to cover any/all of the initial certification fee?
My organization consistently supports professional education and development, so I had a willing and open-minded partner. They generously offered to pay for the initial certification fee and covered the cost for the educational materials.
In addition, they were supportive of my efforts to juggle my normal responsibilities so that I would be able to set aside time to study and prepare for the exam on my own.
How did you determine what you needed to study? About how many hours did you study?
The CFRE website and professional staff provide helpful information and invaluable guidance in preparing for the exam.
In addition to guidelines regarding the content and knowledge areas on the exam, CFRE offers access to multiple study resources such as a Resource Reading List, virtual forums, and a practice exam.
I studied intensively for about 8 to 10 hours a week over the course of two months prior to the exam.
What study advice do you have for others?
Establishing and following a study schedule is very helpful. I was able to do this thanks to my participation in a CFRE virtual study group.
The weekly calls on Skype motivated me to focus on each of the six knowledge domains and the encouragement and advice from successful exam takers was valuable and relevant.
What book(s) did you find to be most valuable?
I read six of the books on the Resource Reading List, all of which were useful. “Fundraising Basics” was an excellent primer. It left no stone unturned. I really appreciated the organized and well thought-out approach used in “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising” featuring different experts offering a deep dive on various issues.
Another book I used is “Strategic Fund Development.” Simone Joyeaux is a natural-born educator as she shares her immense knowledge of and considerable experience in fundraising in a practical, no nonsense manner.
What was your mindset when you sat for the exam and what advice would you have for others who are preparing for it?
I was ready to take the exam, but I would have gladly studied more if I had had the time. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to teach others about a knowledge domain while studying. I did this for three out of the six domains and the time I invested in learning the relevant material really made a difference. I received higher scores in those areas
How did you feel when you learned you passed the exam?
I was proud to learn I passed the exam. It’s such a professional achievement! The exam questions are challenging and it is very gratifying to succeed.
You have the distinction of being the first person to earn their CFRE while working as a fundraising professional in Israel. How does it feel to make CFRE history in this regard?
I am honored and excited to pave the way for other fundraising professionals in Israel to do the same. Israel has a vast NGO landscape and I hope to share my knowledge and experience with my colleagues going forward.
What advice do you have for any fundraising professionals who are considering whether or not to pursue their CFRE?
The certification process is intensive and requires a serious professional and personal commitment, but it’s worth the effort. It is a truly significant accomplishment.
I’ve been able to advance my professional knowledge and it has connected me with like-minded individuals who strive for excellence. It is uplifting to be in the company of professionals who view philanthropy as a noble and meaningful endeavor.