Feel nervous about the CFRE Exam? Wondering if becoming a CFRE really moves the career needle?

Rich Basler knows exactly how you feel.

He achieved his CFRE credential in 2019. In 2020, he became a CFRE Ambassador. In this role, Rich has spoken to numerous future CFREs and shared his tips for a successful journey.

By working with candidates from a variety of backgrounds and nonprofit settings, he helps fundraising professionals feel prepared to take the leap to become a CFRE.

Now it’s your turn to benefit from his wisdom.

CFRE International: Becoming a CFRE is a big professional step. What made you decide to pursue earning the credential? 
Rich: When I entered the fundraising profession, my incredible mentor held her CFRE.

Initially, I didn’t entirely grasp its significance, but I deeply respected her expertise. She had a remarkable ability to build relationships with donors and achieve incredible success. Her principles and achievements inspired me deeply.

Opting to attain my own CFRE relatively early in my career marked a turning point.

I deliberated over whether to pursue another degree or certification. None of the fundraising degree programs quite piqued my interest.

However, the values personified by my mentor closely mirrored those upheld by the CFRE credential. Discovering this alignment made my decision crystal clear—following her path through this credential felt like the most natural choice.

Did you speak to your employer about supporting your CFRE application cost? If they assisted, how so? 
My employer and I discussed my professional aspirations, including the CFRE credential and associated costs. Unfortunately, budget constraints couldn’t accommodate the expense of the exam at that time.

Despite this, my employer was incredibly supportive and still encouraged me. She provided time off to sit for the exam and offered flexibility as needed to study.

While she couldn’t cover the costs, her support meant a great deal.

How many hours did you study for the CFRE Exam?
I studied about 20 hours over a few weeks leading up to the exam date.

Walk us through how you studied.
I bought two books from the Resource Reading List and subscribed to the CFRE Practice Exam.

A CFRE recommended a smart strategy: Start by taking the Practice Exam to familiarize myself with its format.

Then, dive into the Resource Reading List to refresh my knowledge. Right before taking the actual exam, sit with the same Practice Exam one more time.

He cautioned against solely relying on the Practice Exam. I found that advice valuable.

Which study aid/approach was most helpful? 
Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, 3rd Edition, proved to be immensely valuable.

Having checked the Resource Reading List recently, it looks like the book continues to provide valuable information to aspiring CFREs. It is now in its 5th edition! It’s impressive to see how the book continues to evolve with changes in the industry and remains a relevant and useful resource for CFRE candidates.

How did you keep your exam anxiety in check?  
While I’ve never been the best test taker, I felt very well prepared. Reminding myself of what I did to prepare minimized much of the anxiety during the exam.

The morning of the exam, what was going through your mind?
I was excited I finally got to that point.

Deciding to pursue the CFRE credential requires a decent amount of time. The exam was that final hurdle toward the credential.

When you passed, who did you tell first? 
I texted my husband: “Rich Basler, CFRE.” I couldn’t have been more elated!

When thinking about your fundraising practice before and after you became a CFRE, what impact has the CFRE credential had?
It not only gave me an added level of confidence in my own skill set but has been a rewarding talking point with donors.

Explaining the credential certifies experienced fundraisers committed to the highest ethical and professional standards has strengthened many relationships with donors over the years.

We hear from CFREs that having an industry credential is especially important when working in higher education advancement. Have you found that to be true? If so, how do others in the higher education space view CFREs?
This is so true. Higher education has a lot of fundraising professionals working in it.

The credential helps fundraisers stand apart from one another.

While I continue to surround myself with some exceptional fundraisers that don’t hold the CFRE, I am confident that if there is a CFRE on my team, they have committed themselves to the fundraising profession and the highest ethical standards.

You’re a CFRE Ambassador who speaks with prospective CFREs about earning the credential. What is the most common question you receive and how do you respond?
It is a variation of “What’s your best advice?”

I often share the study plan passed down to me by a fellow CFRE: Strategically use the Practice Exam but avoid depending on it too heavily. I recommend bookending studying with the Resource Reading List around the Practice Exam.

For anyone weighing up becoming a CFRE, what words of wisdom do you have?
Take that next step. The CFRE credential is for anyone working in fundraising with the required experience, not just front-line fundraisers. It truly is a generalist exam that tests knowledge around every domain within the field.

I encourage anyone working in the field that wants to move forward in their career to consider the CFRE credential. It remains one of my proudest professional accomplishments.

Are You Ready to Connect With a CFRE Ambassador?

Email share@cfre.org with your country and city.

At no cost, we match you with a CFRE Ambassador that can share their tips and advice with you for a successful CFRE journey.

American Public Gardens Association (APGA)


United Negro College Fund



Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance


Nepal Center for Philanthropy and Development


BBB Wise Giving Alliance


Korea Society of Philanthropy


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Habitat for Humanity




Boy and Girls Clubs of America


China – CAFP




Brazil Fundraising Association


European Fundraising Association


Japan Fundraising Association


North American YMCA Development Organization


New England Association for Healthcare Philanthropy


Kenya Association of Fundraising Professionals


International Catholic Stewardship Council


Fundraising Institute New Zealand


Fundraising Institute Australia


Association of Philanthropic Counsel


Association of Fundraising Consultants


Educate Plus


The Giving Institute