Sydney-based fundraising professional Mahza Ahadiwand, CFRE, is the Individual Giving Manager at Children’s Cancer Institute. In 2019, she became a CFRE. Below, she shares her CFRE experience and what she views as the benefits of being certified.
How did you get your start in fundraising and what is your favorite part of your job?
My journey with fundraising started after I graduated university. Unsure of what to do with a degree in Language and Communications, I found myself working as a stop gap for a marketing agency that supported charities with their donor journeys.
I started to work with some great causes and the work felt so purposeful to me. At the time, I didn’t even realize fundraising could be a career. I stayed because the work aligned with my values and I found it hugely rewarding. I once said to my boss, in my naïve early 20s, that I loved my job so much, I would do it even if he didn’t pay me.
I realized then that fundraising was more than a job to me. It made my soul happy.
I had the privilege every day to help people experience the joy of giving, to experience the impact generosity and love could have, an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world. To me, that is the best part of my job and such a gift.
You have worked as a fundraising professional in the UK and Australia. Between the two countries, what would you say is the greatest difference in how charities approach asking supporters for gifts?
It’s been a long time since I left the UK, but the biggest difference I first noticed when I moved over was how the tax incentive motivated giving. In the UK, this is managed differently through Gift Aid and the tax benefit is provided to the charity not the donor.
How long had you been in fundraising when you decided to undertake the CFRE process and what made you decide to go for it?
I had been working in fundraising for around 10 years before I undertook my CFRE. Across that period, I found myself having to justify fundraising as a professional career, time and time again.
As a lifelong learner, I wanted a formal recognition that demonstrated the standards and skills required to work in the sector. For me, the CFRE did just that.
It is a much-needed way to help build respect, trust, and accountability for the sector.
Why do you believe it is important for fundraising professionals in Australia to hold a globally-recognized certification?
Two reasons. Firstly, I think it’s important to demonstrate fundraising is a skilled profession and to help anyone in the sector work to a high standard and to be proud of what they do.
Secondly, it shows our donors we are qualified to know how best to invest their generosity. I hope this will only increase to help donors build trust in the sector and start shifting the perception of what it means to be a fundraiser and their value and worth
How did you go about completing the CFRE application?
I started the application a year before I submitted it. I was the first person in my organization to apply so it was all new territory.
It wasn’t until I attended a CFRE session run by the Fundraising Institute Australia that I finally applied. The application itself was a proud moment for me. It’s the first time I had ever reflected on the impact my work had had over the last 10 years and the investment I had made in professional development over those years.
When it came time to study, did you study on your own or with a group? What do you feel is the benefit of the approach you took?
I did it on my own. In hindsight a group would have provided a lot of value as I felt a little lost in the dark. I am not ashamed of saying, I learnt A LOT through the process!
It was a humbling reminder that no matter how much you know or how much experience you have, don’t get complacent. There is so much more out there to learn.
For how long did you study and which materials did you use?
I started studying around four months before the exam. I used the recommended books and CFRE Practice Exam (that was a life saver). I also listened to podcasts and read articles.
I was a sponge for those four months. I quickly realized I needed to go in with a beginner’s mind as this was an opportunity to expand upon my knowledge.
Can you describe what was going through your mind the morning of the exam?
I must admit, I have never been so nervous. I have taken a lot of exams in my life, but this was directly linked to something I was so passionate about and I felt the stakes were so much higher.
I went in with the attitude that pass or fail, I had grown from the process either way.
When you passed the exam, who was the first person you told?
I will never forget the feeling of seeing on the paper that I had passed. It was a huge personal and professional achievement for me. In that moment I felt so proud to call myself a CFRE. I could have exploded with happiness, pride, relief!!
I have never felt like that after any other qualification/accreditation, and I think it’s because this meant so much to me. It represented a career of justifying that fundraising was a profession. It was a badge of honor.
I actually didn’t call anyone straight away; it was around 2 p.m. and I took myself to get the biggest piece of cake and glass of champagne. I must have sat at that table for around two hours, smiling from ear to ear.
For fundraising professionals in Australia contemplating pursuing their CFRE, what would you say are the benefits to undertaking the process and attaining the certification?
You are not only showing that you are committed to professional growth and operate at a high standard, but you are helping to professionalize a career in fundraising and demonstrating a credible and respectable path to those in the early stages of their career.