Lillian Bui, CFRE, earned her certification in late 2020.
When did you enter the fundraising profession and how did you know it was the right career for you?
My mom would tell you I entered the fundraising profession as a Daisy Girl Scout getting our friends and family to buy way more cookies than they ever needed. She would have me write thank-you letters to each purchaser and report back later in the year about the impact their support had made. As if the sugar high alone wasn’t enough to build donor loyalty!
So, it was no surprise to her when I began fundraising full-time in 2014. I love working in nonprofits because I know that what I do everyday makes a difference.
I love fundraising because of the variety of skills required: creativity, analysis, planning, and relationship building.
What was the moment you decided you would pursue becoming a CFRE?
I decided to pursue my CFRE shortly after passing the five-year mark in professional practice. I knew my success was a result of time spent learning best practice, and I wanted a designation that spoke to both the professionalism and growing science of fundraising.
When did you begin filling out your application and how long did it take to complete?
I began filling out my application in early 2019 and completed it in September 2020.
How did you approach earning the education points?
I’m always attending trainings, so when I began my application, I found I was already more than halfway to fulfilling the education points. I earned the rest by attending conferences and lunch and learns. I also took a four-week online course that dove into an area where I’d had the least experience.
To prepare for the CFRE exam, how did you determine the areas where you would focus your study time?
I took the CFRE Practice Exam and reviewed the Test Content Outline to determine where to focus my study time.
Which exam preparation tools did you use and which ones did you find to be most valuable?
I started with studying the Glossary of Fundraising Terms to make sure I was speaking the same language as the test.
I also listened to the entirety of “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising” and then read and annotated selected key chapters. Creating color-coded diagrams and visual aids of central concepts helped boost my recall. Finally, the CFRE Practice Exam was helpful for understanding the structure and logic of questions.
All up, how long did you study?
I spent about 50 hours across six weeks reviewing study materials.
Did you study alone, with a study buddy, or with a study group? What do you think was the advantage of the method you used?
I primarily studied alone so that I could fit studying around an already packed schedule. I enjoyed the community and encouragement that came with an online study group and would have attended more if I had been studying over a longer period of time.
What was going through your mind while you sat for the exam?
Sitting for the exam was nerve-wracking. I focused on not rushing and staying calm throughout. When I left the exam room, I felt confident I had done my best.
How did you feel when you learned you had passed?
My answers were in-line with my own professional practice, so I felt incredibly validated when I learned I had passed the exam. Knowing that the decisions I make every day as a fundraiser are backed up by the best practice of the field is a point of pride.
What value do you see in fundraising professionals earning their CFRE early in their career?
Many organizations are not practicing donor-centered philanthropy, so it’s easy to learn bad habits.
Earning your CFRE sets you apart in terms of your commitment to professionalism and ethics, continuous learning and improvement, and knowledge of the many aspects of fundraising.
For young professionals in particular, pursuing your CFRE is an opportunity to boost your understanding in areas where you may not have had as much professional practice.