In 1981, Dennis Meyer took the plunge and earned the newly created CFRE certification. Now, 41 years later, he is one of two CFREs from that year who still holds the credential and is in the fundraising game. Here we talk to Denny to learn how times have changed for the CFRE and the value the certification has had on his career.
How did you hear about the CFRE certification?
The development of the certification program began in NSFRE (National Society of Fund-Raising Executives) and took several years to establish prior to beginning the testing program. As a member of NSFRE and attendee at chapter and international conferences, I was well aware of the program and excited to participate.
What was the application process like in those early days?
The process was much like it is today. Recap at least five years of fundraising experience, volunteer activities, speaking engagements, professional writing, etc. with references available.
Exams were initially only offered in-person in several U.S. cities. Where did you go to take your exam and what was the experience like?
I was living and working in Wisconsin at the time and drove to Chicago to take the exam on a Saturday morning. I believe it was the first city to host an exam. As I recall, we were in an auditorium classroom with a testing monitor, using #2 pencils for a multiple-choice test. I believe the test was time-limited to two hours and I finished early. It was a very friendly atmosphere as I knew many of the others in the room, but there was a tension as no one had experienced the test before.
How long did it take to receive your exam results?
I learned I successfully passed the test after several weeks.
When it comes to fundraising, what is the biggest shift you’ve seen over the course of your career in the sector?
The biggest and most dramatic shift is in the diversity of those in the profession. Most significantly, the preponderance of women in the profession as compared to the 1970s when it was largely dominated by older white males. And in my opinion, the more diversity the better!
Secondarily, the impact of user-friendly donor database systems combined with the internet which has led to much easier and more efficient and effective ways of communicating with and stewarding donors. This compares to the prevalent use of 3 x 5 cards and other manual recordkeeping systems when I started fundraising in 1970.
Shortly after, organizations began using mainframe and stand-alone computers to maintain donor records…but online systems were not available until the 1980s. Then they were largely the purview of big organizations. Fortunately, online software systems were developed so all organizations, no matter the size, can properly and easily maintain donor records.
Surprising to many is the fact that some of the most effective communication strategies of 50 years ago continue to this day, namely direct mail and face-to-face fundraising. Neither have been replaced by online marketing, email, social media, etc. but they all work in concert as multi-channel fundraising when properly executed.
What does being a CFRE mean to you?
Being a CFRE means that I’ve invested the time and energy to develop the skills necessary to be an effective fundraiser in the various disciplines. It sets one apart from the thousands who claim to be fundraisers but decline to add certification by a professional association to their title and resume.
How has being a CFRE strengthened your fundraising practice over the last four decades?
The rigorous requirements have, to a certain extent, forced me to attend continuing education classes on a regular basis. This has enabled me to stay current with the latest developments in the field, but also encouraged me to be a teacher and mentor to others along with serving nonprofits as a board member and volunteer.
Some fundraising professionals say their careers and fundraising practice are fine as is. They don’t see the value in holding a certification. For anyone in that situation, what would you say to them?
If you want to be a professional you should be certified, and to top it off, surveys show that CFREs earn more than their peers without certification.
And finally, one should desire to raise the bar in the talent level of colleagues in your chosen profession.
Thank you for being one of the longest practicing CFREs!
It’s been an incredible journey so far and I’m honored to have the opportunity to fulfill my personal motto, “service to humanity is the best work of life” by being a consultant and a fundraiser.