By Jack Alotto, MA, CFRE

Your study plan is the place where you will outline your learning goals and study times. More importantly, it is your accountability partner and roadmap to successfully achieving your CFRE.

How Do I Create My CFRE Study Plan?

First, assess your knowledge of the Test Content Outline topics.

There are several places where you can test your knowledge. I recommend beginning with the CFRE Practice Exam. It will inform you as to where to concentrate your study efforts and how much time you should spend reviewing each domain.

You can also use the self-assessment on page 11 of the CFRE Exam Compass Study Guide. I highly recommend this book, which can be purchased via the CFRE website.

Another option is to print the Test Content Outline and grab a highlighter. Highlight every bullet point that is an area you have not personally worked in. Also note any bullet points for topics where you do not feel confident you could answer an exam question.

Most successful CFRE exam test-takers study 40 – 80 hours. If you have fewer than five years in the field, plan to study at least 80 hours.

Learning Goals

Your self-assessment and the practice exam will help you identify your learning goals.

Concentrate your efforts to learn the domains where you need to improve. For example, if you determine your strongest knowledge domain is say Ethics and Accountability, don’t get overconfident and ignore it when you are putting your study plan together. Include it.


Next determine the resources you will use.

Look at the Resource Reading List. For my study groups, I recommend the CFRE Exam Compass Study Guide and Achieving Excellence in Fundraising. If you can access any CFRE review course materials, they can also prove incredibly handy.

These three resources are a strong starting point on your road to successfully achieving the CFRE!

Your Learning Style

Now it’s time to determine your learning style.

You may be wondering, “What is a learning style?”

Here is mine. As a morning person, I study early in the day for about an hour. I read a chapter, highlight what I think are the important points and then take notes on the chapter.

Typically, I read my notes aloud to further my understanding of the concept. For terms I am not completely clear on, I search the internet for their meaning.

Once I complete my hour of study, I reward myself. Maybe I spend time reading a novel, playing video games, or even watching my favorite TV show (right now I’m stuck on “Rick and Morty”).

After a refreshing break, I sometimes go right back to studying, with renewed energy.

I find it helpful to always study in the same place—my office. Don’t study while watching TV or think you can multi-task. You can’t!

How about you?
• Do you study for several hours straight or are you a piecemeal studier like me?
• Do you use a highlighter?
• Do you pair your study time with something you enjoy doing?
• How do you stick to your schedule?

Consider putting your study schedule on your calendar. Managing your schedule can be tricky. We all have other responsibilities like work, family, children’s activities, etc.

Prioritize your study time as much as possible. It is easy to think, “I’ll tackle it once my schedule calms down.” However, for many of us that just doesn’t happen.

A Solid Study Plan

Now it’s time to create your study plan. Work backwards from your test date and remember your study plan must be yours.

There is no universal study plan for CFRE candidates. It must be based on your learning style and schedule.

Next, commit your study plan to paper. I’ve seen CFRE candidates use an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document.

Tips for an Effective Study Plan

  • After several sessions, evaluate your study plan. Ask yourself if you are achieving your learning objectives. If not, it’s time for an adjustment.
  • Don’t memorize concepts. Know what they mean, but understand how you use the concept, when you use it and why you use it. For example, consider the case for support.
  • Take breaks. Cramming for countless hours often achieves little.
  • Your study plan is YOUR accountability partner. Review your weekly goals, make adjustments and move forward.

After you’ve been following your study plan, reassess your knowledge in each of the six Knowledge Domains. This reassessment will inform you about changing your learning goals, the schedule and maybe even indicate you need additional resources.

Final Words of Wisdom

Positive affirmations. Repeat and remind yourself that you will be a CFRE.

Self-discipline. You must manage yourself. Get an accountability partner—your spouse, your teenage son, your study buddy. But remember it’s all about your self-discipline.

Don’t replace important things with study time. For example, don’t replace cuddle time with your pet with study time. I would never deny Max or Coco (two German Shepherds) cuddle time. Those dogs need me and I need them.

Use several study methods. You heard me say it earlier—I highlight, take notes, and read aloud.

Leave unscheduled time for you. Time to recharge is vital.

Relax—you’ve got this! I hope this helps you on your way to your CFRE.

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


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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


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