Many prospective CFREs wonder if the certification is worth it and if donors care whether or not you’re certified.
Here, Logan Thompson, a CFRE since 2021, sheds light on how attaining certification led to a promotion, increased donor confidence, and more tangible benefits.
Do you manage any development staff and, if so, how many people?
Yes, at the CFCC Foundation, I manage anywhere between eight to 12 people.
What was your first job in fundraising?
It started as an internship while attaining my master’s in public administration at Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.
My supervisor, the Development Director of Cape Fear Habitat, was an exceptionally skilled fundraiser. She showed me how impactful and meaningful this work can truly be. After my internship, I was offered a part-time job in fundraising, followed by a full-time position.
What drew you to fundraising?
I originally got into nonprofit work because of my personal experience with struggle. I am a cancer survivor and got involved as a volunteer with Relay for Life, along with other American Cancer Society initiatives, even while completing chemotherapy.
During this time I determined I wanted my work to be that of service, especially service to those experiencing life-changing situations who simply need someone to care about them.
My goal was to become an executive director, which I was for a number of years, for a small local nonprofit. Of course, fundraising was more than half of the work I did to ensure those we served were served well.
I realized I have a knack for fundraising. I love to hear other people’s passions and stories. I find great joy in matching their interests with a funding opportunity. The joy people exude when supporting something they truly care about is a beautiful thing.
Though I am in an executive position and spend a portion of my day managing staff, planning, etc. I enjoy time spent with donors and prospects the most. When donors get the chance to give and change a life, we all win.
How long had you been a fundraising professional when you decided to pursue CFRE certification?
I was in fundraising for over 10 years before feeling ready to pursue CFRE certification.
What was the deciding factor that made you say, “I’m going to do this”?
Our local AFP chapter has an incredible CFRE, Jane Birnbach. She was one of maybe six in the region who had a CFRE. Jane was passionate about the certification and professionalization of the fundraising sector in our region.
She offered a scholarship to pay for not only the exam, but the practice exam and study materials. This inspired me to go for it. A CFRE is expensive to attain. Jane gave me the opportunity to spend my time worrying about studying instead of worrying about paying for it.
As you went through the CFRE process, did you seek out advice from CFREs? If so, what words of wisdom did they share?
Absolutely! I was advised:
- Take the practice exam. Focus your studying on areas where you didn’t score well.
- Every question has one totally wrong answer and three decent answers. It’s your job to figure out which is the BEST one…not just the right one.
- Stay calm. If you’ve been in the field and done as much as I have in fundraising, you know what you need to know. Don’t overthink it.
How long did it take you to complete the application?
I completed the application about two years prior to actually applying. I don’t recall exactly how long it took as I pieced together everything I needed to include…but I know it took quite some time to go back through my records regarding gifts solicited, trainings taken, etc.
When it came time to prepare for the exam, how long did you study and which resources did you use? Which resource was most valuable?
Achieving Excellence in Fundraising was a WONDERFUL book for my studies. That and the practice exam are what I spent time with. I studied for at least a few hours, if not more, a week in the months leading up to the exam.
Did you take the exam from home or at an in-person testing center? How was the experience?
An in-person testing center. It was intimidating, as you can bring NOTHING in the room with you. But it was quiet with minimal distractions. I was able to focus and get it done.
Why do you believe ongoing professional development is important in the field of fundraising?
Ongoing professional development is everything in fundraising. If you sit down with a donor and don’t know anything about the gift-in-kind changes this year or tax deduction changes over the past few years, you’ll lose some major gifts.
Major donors must have faith you know what you’re talking about. If you don’t, they’ll give you a gift if they care for your organization, but not a large one, because they don’t trust you to see it through.
I regularly have donors whom I speak with who are visibly satisfied and assured by the way I talk about their gift, options for giving, and impact. It’s not all about telling great stories; you must know the nuts and bolts to get the big gifts, in my experience.
Did you let your boss know you were working towards becoming a CFRE? If so, how did that conversation go and did your workplace support the initial certification cost in any way?
Absolutely. My workplace did not support the costs, but only because I got a scholarship. I do believe they would have. They do support my annual attendance at the AFP ICON conference and all-staff professional development, as it’s within budget.
You became a CFRE in early 2021. What impact has being a CFRE had over the past year?
I received a promotion from Director of Philanthropy to Director of Advancement, which came with a raise.
I also began teaching courses at the undergraduate level and graduate level at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
On a day-to-day basis, I regularly have donors ask me about the CFRE. When I explain what it is, they appreciate both my effort and what the certification means. Again, I can tell they feel assured knowing they are working with a true professional.
Despite COVID, our fundraising has been incredibly successful. I like to think part of that is due to my CFRE.
For those contemplating becoming a CFRE but aren’t quite sure it’s the right path, what advice do you have?
Before you get too excited, make sure you have the experience and work output to go through the process.
I’ve spoken to many new fundraisers who see it as the equivalent of other certificates—take a course, get the certificate, add it to your resume.
The CFRE is special because it isn’t that. You must have three years’ fundraising experience. If you don’t have that experience and passion for this work and you haven’t put in the time, you won’t qualify to even sit for the exam.
For those with the experience, I say DO IT NOW. Don’t wait. Sign up for a date to sit for the exam today so you have it officially on your plate. From there, make time each week to study.
Definitely take the practice exam, at least twice. It gives you insight into how questions are asked and what they’re looking for.
The CFRE is gaining popularity, at least in my region, and you will be heads and tails above others if you have this credential, in my book.