History and Milestones

Founded in 2001, CFRE International is an independent nonprofit organization, the sole mission of which is dedicated to setting standards in philanthropy through a valid and reliable certification process for fundraising professionals.

CFRE’s start

Between 1981 and 1996, two leading professional associations had their own separate certification programs. The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy offered the CAHP and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, formerly the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE), offered the CFRE.

In 1997 for the betterment of the entire profession, those two organizations merged their programs to form the independent CFRE Professional Certification Board, now CFRE International.

Following the creation of CFRE International, other leading philanthropic associations joined in support of the program.


In 2017, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited the CFRE certification program under the ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 standard for certification of personnel, making the CFRE credential the world’s only internationally recognized, accredited certification for philanthropic fundraising professionals.

ANSI accreditation is the hallmark of a rigorous, high-quality certification program. ANSI accreditation confers independent, widely respected national and international validation of both the CFRE certification program and the credential.

Research shows that accredited certification programs are consistently preferred by employers because they drive quality and improve results. Accreditation by ANSI also means that the CFRE credential’s global significance is recognized by other worldwide accrediting bodies with which ANSI has established multilateral recognition agreements.

Key milestones

Below are some key milestones in the history of the CFRE credential.

  • March 1977 – Lyle E. Cook is selected to chair the Ad Hoc Committee on Certification by NSFRE (now the Association of Fundraising professionals – AFP). The Committee’s charge is “to develop standards and criteria for and methods of implementing a program for certifying the competence and experience of fund raising and development professionals, and for maintaining certification.”
  • December 1980 – Robert Pierpont is elected first Chair of the Certification Committee for NSFRE.
  • October 3, 1981 – First CFRE examination given in three cities (Chicago, Los Angeles and New York)
  • December 1981 – 166 individuals from the United States and Canada take the first CFRE exam, and the first CFRE certificants are notified of their certification.
  • 1983 – The National Association for Healthcare Development (now the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy – AHP) launches its first certification program, awarding a designation of “Accredited.”
  • July 1987 – The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) notifies the first class of its new certification programme, CAHP, of their certification.
  • October 1987 – CFRE program reaches 1,000 certificants.
  • 1993 – First CFRE examination offered to professionals in Australia.
  • 1994 – First CFRE examination offered to professionals in New Zealand.
  • July 1996 – The Board of Directors of AHP and the Board of Directors of NSFRE vote to merge their certification processes into a single, baseline credentialing program to be administered by the independent Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) Professional Certification Board, which will award the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation.
  • October 1996 – First Board meeting of newly formed CFRE Professional Certification Board.  Ted D. Bayley, ACFRE, is elected the first chair.  The Association of Lutheran Development Executives (ALDE); the Council for Resource Development (CRD); and the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) become the first Participating Organizations, signing on in support and endorsement of the CFRE credential.
  • 1997 – First fundraising job task analysis (including both the United States and Canada) is conducted by the CFRE Professional Certification Board.
  • 1998 – First fully Canadian CFRE exam is offered.
  • June 1999 – International Catholic Stewardship Council (ICSC) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • February 2000 – Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • August 2000 – North American YMCA Development Officers (NAYDO) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • November 2000 – Philanthropic Service for Institutions (PSI) becomes a Participating Organization
  • 2001 – Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) supports the evolution of the CFRE Professional Certification Board to an independent corporation with the sole mission of certifying fundraising professionals.  Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE, is elected the first chair of CFRE International
  • December 2001 – Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • June 2002 – Association of Fundraising Consultants (AFC), based in the UK, becomes a Participating Organization; Association of Christian Development Professionals (ACDP) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • July 2002 – Fundraising Institute New Zealand (FINZ) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • January 2003 – Association of Philanthropic Counsel (APC) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • 2003 – First international benchmarking of fundraising practice is conducted by CFRE International through its new job task analysis.
  • September 2003 – United Way of America (now United Way Worldwide – UWW) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • 2004 –First fully British CFRE exam offered in the United Kingdom; new, fully Australian CFRE exam is offered.
  • 2005 – First fully New Zealand exam offered.
  • January 2006 – New England Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (NEAHP) becomes a Participating Organization; the Institute of Development Professionals in Education (IDPE), based in the UK, becomes a Participating Organization.
  • April 2006 – CFRE International launches computer-based testing (CBT), making the CFRE exam available in 325 cities during twelve weeks throughout the year.  This coincides with the launch of an online application format allowing candidates to store applicant data.
  • August 2006 – Association of Alumni and Development Professionals Australasia (now Educate Plus) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • October 2006 – CFRE International launches 25th Anniversary Celebrations with over 4,800 certificants around the world and eighteen (18) professional associations signed on in support and endorsement of the CFRE credential.
  • October 2006 to September 2007 – In a program of activities, the profession celebrates the establishment and evolution of voluntary certification for  fundraisers (1981-2006).
  • May 2009– The CFRE program is granted accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCCA, the accrediting arm of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (now the Institute for Credentialing Excellence) grants accreditation to a select group of organizations that demonstrate compliance  with the NCCA Standards for the Accreditation of Certification  Programs. 
  • January 2013 – The CFRE exam for the first time is a single, global exam focused on best practices in ethical fundraising worldwide.
  • June 2013 – The CFRE credential is offered as a global credential for the first time, with availability in more than 80 countries worldwide.
  • June 2013 – Partnership for Philanthropic Planning (now the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • September 2013 – Boy Scouts of America (BSA) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • November 2013 – A new online application for the CFRE credential makes the credential more accessible by eliminating the need for certificants to send their application materials through the mail.
  • 2014 – Japan Association of Fundraising Professionals (JFRA) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • 2015 – A new testing center network makes the CFRE exam available in nearly every country in thousands of testing centers around the globe. Testing window availability increases to eight months of the year.
  • 2016 – European Fundraising Association (EFA) and Brazilian Fundraisers Association (ABCR) become Participating Organizations.
  • June 2017 – American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredits the CFRE certification program under ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 standards for certification of personnel. CFRE certification is the only globally recognized, accredited certification for fundraising professionals.
  • 2017 – Korea Society of Philanthropy (KSOP), China Association of Fundraising Professionals (CAFP), and National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers (NACCDO) become Participating Organizations.
  • 2018 – Texas Association of Community College Foundations (TACCF) becomes a Participating Organization.
  • 2018 – There are 6,300 CFREs across 25 countries/territories worldwide.