A fundraising professional currently based in Colorado, USA, Kevin Mullin has been a CFRE for more than a decade. He was in his mid-career with 15 years’ experience when he decided to take the plunge and earn the only globally-recognized, accredited certification for fundraising professionals.
Here, he shares his CFRE experience and how being a CFRE has assisted with job hunting and demonstrating his work’s validity.
What were the reasons you decided to pursue your CFRE?
As a black man, I needed to differentiate myself from other job candidates and give myself some sort of an edge when job hunting, to give myself a better chance of getting jobs. At the time I did not have my bachelor’s degree (I got it soon after passing the test). My CFRE was the first step to obtain and part of my overall plan.
Why do you think it is important for the fundraising profession to have its own certification?
Anybody can be a “fundraiser.” It doesn’t require a license, degree, experience, or certification. The CFRE is a means of setting oneself apart from the rest.
The CFRE exam covers six knowledge domains. Sometimes prospective CFREs see the Test Content Outline and think, “There’s a lot of items in here that aren’t relevant to my current job so why would I spend time learning these concepts?” What advice do you have for people in that situation?
Most of us don’t stay in the same job forever. What is not relevant today could be very relevant next week.
You’ve been a CFRE since 2011. What are the main benefits it has had to your fundraising practice?
Honestly, it has mostly assisted with job hunting, as near as I can tell. I had 15 years of experience in 2011 when I received my certification. Getting the CFRE itself didn’t really teach me anything.
It was more about demonstrating the validity of the work I had already done and the practice that I already developed.
What are the top benefits being a CFRE has had to your career?
Job hunting and enhanced professional credibility within fundraising circles. Most people outside of philanthropy are not aware of it, based on my anecdotal experience.
When interviewing for jobs in the past, how have you spoken about your CFRE to prospective employers in terms of how it makes you a stronger team member?
No, it seems to be just something that helps me get into the “interview” pile. There is a sense that if you have it, the prospective employer can make certain assumptions about the value you would bring to their organization. Most don’t mention it in the interview process but may say in the announcement “CFRE Preferred.”
When you earned your CFRE, did your employer provide any financial support towards the application fee or time off to study? If so, how did you approach the conversation requesting their support?
No, I didn’t request it. I didn’t study that much and I don’t think it really occurred to me that my employer might pay for it. I have always paid for it myself at recertification but am fortunate to be able to do that.
You’ve been in the fundraising field for two decades. For someone in a senior leadership position like yourself, what do you see as the benefit of ongoing professional development and keeping your skills sharp?
There are always new things to learn. A lot of fundraising today is the same as 50 years ago, but some of the tools are different. It was beneficial in the 70s to get a donor to advocate about your organization to their network. It is also important in 2022, but in 2022 you can use Instagram.
Some of the ways we practice are different, so continued professional development can help us stay current with some of these new tools and trends. I teach fundraising at a local university. If I were to walk in with an overhead projector, they would look at me funny. We need to stay current to stay relevant.
For anyone unsure if earning their CFRE is worth the financial and time investment, what advice would you give them?
If you are serious about a career in fundraising, the CFRE is the gold standard to publicly demonstrate your commitment, competence, and capability and to enhance your personal brand.