By putting newfound free time during the pandemic towards her professional goals, Liz Marafino Fiola became a CFRE in late 2021. Here, she shares her road to become a CFRE and advice for others contemplating the journey.

How did you enter fundraising and what is your favorite aspect of the profession?
I discovered fundraising as a profession when I was pursuing a degree in theatre with a management focus. I took a fundraising class, and I realized it could be a pathway to a sustainable career in the arts. I’ve since worked in other types of organizations and am now at a university, but the initial spark and my favorite aspect of my work is still there—being the conduit for people to make positive change in the world.

What was happening in your career at the time you decided to pursue your CFRE?
I had always intended to pursue my CFRE since first entering the profession but wanted to wait until I had the time to truly devote myself to studying and raised enough funds to qualify for the Professional Performance credits. I found the time during the pandemic, of all things, because many of my other commitments were on pause. You definitely need to be disciplined in setting aside time for yourself to study; it’s very easy to put it off because of other things.

Before embarking on your CFRE journey, did you ask any CFREs for their advice?
I reached out to a number of CFREs in my local AFP Chapter with different ranges of experience. I also attended the chapter’s CFRE Refresher Course, which gave me the opportunity to learn from my instructors’ experiences.

Did you speak to your employer about supporting your CFRE journey?
I funded my journey through a scholarship from my local AFP chapter (Greater Philadelphia) and the consulting firm Schultz & Williams. If you’re an AFP member, I recommend checking your chapter’s website for these types of opportunities.

How long did you take to complete the application and how did you approach earning the needed education credits?
Once I pulled all my paperwork together, I spent about 30 minutes a day for a week working on the application. For tracking, I recommend setting up a Google Sheet where you can plug in information on events you’ve attended right after so you don’t have to do as much digging through old emails.

For the educational credits, I went to events hosted by my local AFP chapter and found some free online events through FreeWill. I also helped plan events, conferences, and the chapter’s CFRE Refresher Course to cut down or eliminate costs. People are always looking for help. Be sure to see if any scholarships are available to you through AFP or a similar professional development organization.

How did you prepare for the exam? Which book did you find most useful?
I read “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising” and the book from my Refresher Course. Other members of my course and I set up a Zoom study group to keep each other accountable and support each other through the application and exam process. I also attended Jack Alotto’s free study groups (he hosts six weekly sessions quarterly) with people across the U.S. and Canada.

Finally, I used Quizlet to review flashcards made by other CFREs. I spent my summer immersing myself in something CFRE at least once a day. “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising” was the most useful book for me.

Roughly how many hours did you study?
Probably around 70 – 80 if you include my study group meetings.

Did you take the exam at an in-person testing center or from your home? How would you describe the experience?
At a testing center. It was straightforward, but make sure you know the rules about how the center operates.

I thought someone would come if I raised my hand for assistance or to use the bathroom, but they didn’t at this center. They also administer many different types of tests, so don’t assume the person guiding you through it is familiar with CFRE. Review the route and the parking situation the night before so you aren’t flustered before walking in.

You earned your CFRE in September 2021. What benefits have you experienced so far as a CFRE?
I got a new job at my alma mater as a major gift officer (with a nice pay bump)!

It’s been really great, and I’m sure the credential was a factor. I’ve also joined my local AFP board. I know many people debate on whether or not to go for their CFRE, but I truly believe it signals to others your commitment to fundraising as a profession.

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