From the outset of his development career, Josué E. Hernández set his sights on becoming a CFRE. Once he met the eligibility requirements, the California-based fundraising professional hit the ground running on a six-month study plan.

His hard work paid off when he earned his CFRE before his 35th birthday.

Striving always for greater impact, Josué led an incredible matching gift campaign at the hospital where he worked. The campaign not only achieved stunning results, its success helped Josué become one of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy’s 2022 40 Under 40 Awardees.

Here, Josué talks about the matching campaign’s record-breaking results and how he approached becoming a CFRE.

How long have you been fundraising and what drew you to the profession?
I have been working in the nonprofit world since 2014 and as a professional fundraiser for over five years.
I focused my career in health care philanthropy because I understand first-hand how having access to quality health care can save lives. I lost both of my parents to cancer, a cousin to the AIDS epidemic, and I live with a chronic illness. My lived experience has shown me how critical access to quality health care is.

I want to use my skills to help make compassionate health care accessible to those who need it most and be part of the healing in my community.

In 2022 you were named an Association for Healthcare Philanthropy 40 Under 40 Awardee. You were selected for this honor for many reasons, including helming a campaign that established a matching challenge grant for a year-end appeal that raised over $600,000. Could you talk a little about how that appeal came to be and why it resonated so strongly with donors?
In the planning phase of the year-end appeal that year, I brought the discussion of having a matching challenge to our major gift officers. The idea of a challenge to support the hospital’s heart and vascular center made sense at the moment.

The center helps meet the region’s needs with its state-of-the art heart program that brings heart services and the latest technologies under one roof. A major gift officer identified a family who had the linkage, ability, and interest to make a $200,000 gift.

The matching challenge allowed the major gift officer to engage a family interested in supporting the hospital. The family’s generous support also helped give the year-end appeal a boost in support of the heart and vascular center while encouraging the community to give. The family was thrilled to make a gift and know it would motivate the community at large to give, too.

The matching challenge goal was to reach $200,000 in gifts. Every dollar would be matched to invest in much-needed equipment. The community response was heart-warming. The matching challenge yielded well over $600,000 total and surpassed any previous matching challenge to-date at that hospital.

You have spent a large part of your career in the health care philanthropy space. What personally fuels your passion to raise funds for health care?
My greatest passion is witnessing the positive impact philanthropy has on people’s lives. I’m always amazed at community members’ generosity when they help make compassionate care accessible.

When I see how patients and their families greatly benefit from receiving extraordinary health care and I witness their priceless smiles, I am reminded of why I chose the work I do.

What do you see as three important traits fundraisers should have to excel in their jobs?

  1. Passion for the mission
  2. A collaborative mindset
  3. Stay focused on the future

You became a CFRE in 2021. What made you think, “This is the right time to pursue my CFRE?”
Becoming a CFRE was one of the first goals I set as soon as I decided to pursue a career in health care philanthropy. I felt proud and accomplished when I scheduled the CFRE Exam because it had been exactly three years since I started my fundraising career.

To take the CFRE Exam, you must have at least three years of professional experience.

In the summer of 2020, I was working from home, like many people were. Not having to commute freed up some time. I decided to dedicate that spare time to preparing for the CFRE Exam.

I identified an online certificate program that helped me fulfill the educational hours required. Once, I completed the minimum educational hours required, all I needed was to fulfill the minimum three-year professional experience requirement to sit for the exam.

As soon as I became eligible to sit for the CFRE Exam in January 2021, I submitted my application and scheduled my exam for the earliest date possible.

In health care philanthropy, you’re interacting with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and many other people who have achieved various credentials and invest in ongoing education. Why do you feel that it is important for fundraising executives to earn a credential and participate in ongoing education?
It’s important for fundraising executives to earn a credential to help them perform at their best.

Becoming a CFRE has many benefits. Preparing for the CFRE helped me develop expert knowledge in fundraising. Also, becoming a CFRE has helped me connect and create a sense of community with other dedicated professional fundraisers. Finally, having the credential inspires confidence and increased credibility with colleagues and donors.

Just like I trust my health care provider to be a qualified expert in their field with their demonstrated credentials, I, too, demonstrate my commitment to my profession with the highest standards of ethics and professionalism by holding the CFRE.

The path of education, community, and growth the CFRE has offered me has been key to my professional development.

Since you’ve become a CFRE, what kinds of benefits have you experienced as a result of holding the credential?
Holding the CFRE credential has provided me with three primary benefits:

1. Confidence in my career journey.
It boosted my confidence in pursuing a fundraising career. A career in fundraising is multi-faceted and there is no one way to do it. However, one of the first goals I set for myself early in my fundraising career was to achieve the CFRE.

The path challenged me. It helped me stay focused on a goal and build my fundraising toolbox. It allowed me to grow my confidence that I can do my job and that I’m doing it the best way I can.

2. Access to a network of fundraising professionals.
Becoming a CFRE expanded my professional network incredibly. I met other CFRE-certified fundraising professionals through my journey of becoming certified. They provided me with great tips on preparing for the exam.

I have been able to meet and reach out to CFRE-certified fundraising professionals when I need advice. I trust their advice, as I know they are also continuously learning best practices and staying up-to-date with industry standards.

3. Improved skills and knowledge.
Regularly attending webinars, professional conferences, and any training sessions around fundraising allows me to continuously improve my skills and knowledge and do my job the best I can.

The CFRE requires recertification every three years. My goal to keep my certification active indefinitely motivates me to be on the lookout for webinars, conferences, and any training sessions that provide CFRE credits on a regular basis.

Sometimes people think, “I’m an honest fundraiser. I meet targets. I don’t need a credential.” What is your advice to fundraising professionals in that situation?
Reach out to a colleague who has become a CFRE and ask them about their experience. I am confident that, like me, they will share their personal satisfaction and professional growth they have experienced as a result of pushing themselves to achieve the CFRE credential.

When it came to the CFRE Exam, for how long did you study and which materials did you use?
I created and followed a study plan for six months before taking the exam.

  1. First, I created a CFRE account profile to track the qualifications required to become eligible to take the exam: Education, Professional Practice, and Professional Performance.
  2. I read the section called Preparing for the CFRE Exam, reviewed the Study Aids section, and printed out the Test Content Outline.
  3. I signed up for the Practice Exam.
  4. I read “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising” three times front to back. I also read “Beyond Fund Raising” once.
  5. I created flashcards for all the Glossary terms.
  6. I reviewed the Candidate Handbook to learn what to expect about taking the exam.
  7. I kept up with and connected with others who were preparing for the exam through a CFRE study group.
  8. I watched a CFRE webinar on YouTube to learn more about what to expect in preparation for the exam.
  9. During the six months, I would study for two hours each day Monday through Thursday. One day I would focus on flashcards, another day on reading, and then the Practice Exam.

Closer to the test date, I focused on the flashcards. I especially spent time on the concepts I had the hardest time learning and any Practice Exam questions I found challenging.

Did you take the exam at a testing center or from your office?
I chose to take the exam in my office on a Sunday afternoon. The great benefit of having the remote exam option was I could take the exam from my office where it was quiet and there were no distractions.

When you found out you passed, who was the first person you told?
I rushed home and told the person who has been there for me all along, my number one supporter throughout the CFRE certification journey and my professional journey—my husband.

We celebrated this great accomplishment by opening a bottle of champagne.

What advice do you have for fundraising professionals in the health care space wondering if the CFRE is the right step forward?
My advice would be to, “Go ahead and do it–get your CFRE certification.”

Becoming a CFRE was a personal and a professional goal I set for myself. It was my way of committing and formalizing my decision to pursue a career in health care philanthropy. Not only did I learn a lot about fundraising while I prepared for the exam, but as a life-long learner, my goal to keep my CFRE certification active helps me stay motivated to continue to learn every day.

Fundraising is multi-faceted and there is no one place you can go to get all the answers on how to do your job well. To anyone seriously considering pursuing a career in philanthropy, go out and create opportunities for professional development.

Seek out resources and books on fundraising, make a list of personal and professional goals, network with other fundraising professionals from similar and different experience levels, and find mentors who can guide you along the way.

Becoming a CFRE is a great way to advance your career in philanthropy and to learn all the fundamentals when it comes to fundraising.

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