After holding his CFRE for a year, he reflects on his CFRE journey and how the credential has powered his international career.
1. What took you to the States and how did you enter the fundraising profession there?
I used to work in politics so I originally moved to the U.S. in 2012 hoping to hitch a ride on a national campaign as I wanted to advance my knowledge and experience around building social movements.
When the dust settled on that, a great opportunity was extended to me to run the Civic Leadership Fund at the San Diego Foundation. From that moment on, I saw civic engagement in a totally new light, beginning to understand that philanthropy can (and must) play a role in solving some of the most critical social issues of our time.
2. When was the moment you thought, “I want to make fundraising my career?”
To be honest, I went through a few peaks and troughs in my thinking around “a career in fundraising” over the first few years.
I was motivated by the change I was seeing through funds being raised. With no clear pathways in the sector, I was concerned about the constant job hopping to get into leadership. Of course, that’s what happened.
It’s why I’m dedicating time to fight for more professionalization in our sector. There was a point where I actively considered spinning out of the profession and it was because I failed my CFRE exam by one question.
I’m glad I sided with my values rather than my test results. I’m dyslexic, so that would’ve been a reactionary measure.
3. In 2021, you published a book, “Future Philanthropy.” What prompted you to write the book? What has the reaction been?
I have been writing about philanthropic futurism for a number of years now, simply because it was fascinating to me and no-one was writing about it.
I found writing about the social sector’s future both fun and cathartic. It kept me optimistic about what we might achieve collectively in our lifetime. Much was happening in the U.S. during COVID and the lead up to the 2020 elections.
I thought capturing my ideas and making them more personable by highlighting the emerging leaders in our field could contribute to a more positive discourse, ideating both a roadmap for change and a blueprint for tomorrow.
The reaction has been simply overwhelming. The book has gone on to win national and international awards and hit the top of the charts on Amazon.
The best part by far is the people I have since connected with or been connected to—folks building and designing the things I predict will be gamechangers for our profession in the next decade.
4. Why do you believe it is important for fundraising professionals’ work to follow globally-recognized best practices?
Most professions require some sort of formal training to begin work. However, fundraising is currently quite unique in that anyone can become a fundraiser from day one, technically knowing very little about it.
Another unique element of the profession, and main contrasting point to many, if not most other professions, is that many people never made a conscious decision to become fundraisers.
They ultimately picked up the skills and competencies needed to be successful. They’ll tell you they fell into fundraising “by accident.”
The independent fundraising think tank Rogare shares that these and other characteristics of the occupation of fundraising (one might even call them quirks) have various implications.
They impact the types of people who become fundraisers (and just as importantly, those who do not). They affect how fundraisers become knowledgeable and competent at what they do. They touch on the respect and esteem in which fundraisers are held by their colleagues, donors, and other stakeholders (and how they are treated by those other stakeholders).
This influences how fundraisers see themselves and identify as members of a profession (or not). Globally-recognized best practices ground our work in theory, evidence, and ethics—which are essential in giving us identity, purpose, and ability to continue growing our sector.
5. What made you decide to pursue CFRE certification?
I had been in the sector for a decade and came to the conclusion that if I wanted to level up, I had to earn a credential or I would crater.
I have been successful in my fundraising career as a generalist. It equipped me well to hold conversations with donors and to know how to connect the dots.
However, folks with my skills are prone to become a jack/jill-of-all-trades and master of none/some. It’s the career equivalent of being put in the friend zone.
I once met up with a board member I served with on a San Diego nonprofit. He sort of took me under his wing and was adamant that I take my master’s degree, stating it was the passport to career success.
Today, however, graduate studies are largely trending toward being simply a professional credential due to a range of capacity constraints. These degrees from leading universities are more “paying into a professional network” than accelerating your career trajectory.
So, getting your CFRE or a professional certificate in the social sector is beginning to support your career aspirations just as much as getting an advanced degree in non-profit management or an MBA. In my case, the CFRE was my passport to leadership.
6. Did your employer put any funds towards the cost of your certification? If so, how did you approach asking for their financial support?
Yes. My previous organization paid the full certification cost, which showed they believed in my potential and were willing to invest in my continued education, but I appreciate that is not always an option.
I like to think of solutions. The first time I went for my CFRE and was told no I couldn’t add to the budget, I pitched to my boss to reimburse me if I passed. That one still stings.
When COVID hit, I thought it was a good opportunity to think beyond the traditional professional development offerings and focus on something more tangible.
When you attend lots of conferences, they start feeling more transactional than transformational. I wanted something that hit the sweet spot of what institutions want (retention) and what I wanted (to become better in my job).
Don’t hold off (or back) on your career aspirations. If you say you will complete your CFRE in two years because you are too busy right now, you will still be in the same place in two years. You’ll be potentially just as busy but looking back with some guilt knowing you could have already obtained it.
If it’s important to you, just make it happen.
7. You’ve said before the CFRE fast-tracked your career by 10 years. How so?
These four letters after my name show I am committed to the fundraising profession and the best practices that will support my success.
These are things that go beyond a job description and, in my opinion, help you stand out from the pack. There are only 100 or so people that have the CFRE credential in Australia. It would be remiss of me to say the CFRE didn’t help me stand out as a candidate, especially as an Australian in the U.S. looking to come back.
Committing to that undertaking of recruiting from overseas is no mean feat. I feel the CFRE helps alleviate some of those concerns. It would’ve taken 10 years to get into the role I am in now if I had stayed in higher ed fundraising in the U.S. I feel compelled to champion the CFRE as a way to grow our profession here.
8. The number of CFREs in Australia has steadily grown over the past five years. For fundraising professionals working in Australia, what value can the CFRE bring to their career and fundraising practice?
We currently see a two-speed challenge with the fundraising profession in Australia. The first is the demand for fundraisers continues to outstrip supply. This has been the case for a long time.
The second is a real need to see further professionalisation of fundraising to ensure we continue to achieve new levels of industry excellence and best practice. It is critical to ensure we have the ability to support and retain our best and brightest fundraising talent.
Increasing the number of CFREs is going to be pivotal to this from a both a trust and retention perspective.
9. Could you take us through how you prepared for the CFRE exam and which study method you found most beneficial?
I highly recommend you join a study group. They are often run by CFRE Ambassadors. Best of all, they have your back. I joined one of Jack Alotto’s groups. He is amazing and has made it his personal mission to help 1,000 people gain their CFRE.
As I mentioned, I have trouble with exams. Understanding that it’s about finding the best answer really set me up for success. I doubled down on this approach by subscribing to the CFRE Practice Exam.
10. As you studied, did you learn practices you were able to apply to your work?
I think the best part of studying for the exam is that it essentially reaffirms what you know and delivers it in a way that underpins best practice rather than says what best practice is.
It also rounded the edges of the more foundational theory and training I had learned over the years, understanding that our work is indeed both an art and a science.
11. You’ve held the CFRE for over a year. What has been the number one benefit you’ve experienced from it?
It has instilled in me a new confidence in my abilities which ultimately led me back home to Australia. It has also focused me as a critical fundraiser, constantly reflecting on my own best practices, ethics, and opinions around major issues that affect my work.