Emma Watts, CFRE, has a lot on her plate.
She leads a team of 15 staff at Parks Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. In fact, she launched the organization’s first foray into fundraising and continues to head up nearly all aspects of development.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, in 2021 she set her sights on a major professional milestone—earning her CFRE.
During lockdown, she buckled down. It was a move that saw her cross the finish line on her certification goal in March 2022.
Here, she tells us just how she did it.
In what year did you enter fundraising? What is your favorite aspect of your role?
Initially in 2013 and then again in 2019. I love being able to bring joy and meaning to people’s lives by enabling them to connect and contribute to a cause they’re passionate about.
What was happening in your career at the time you decided to pursue your CFRE?
I have a strong background in communications and have headed up fundraising twice in my career. I decided I wanted to focus the next part of my career solely on fundraising.
I felt undertaking my CFRE would give me more credentials in this space, should I want to apply for future development director roles. Since I hadn’t undertaken any formal fundraising study, I felt the CFRE would provide a best-practice theoretical knowledge base to underpin my experience.
Some fundraising professionals don’t believe they need a certification. They feel they are doing their jobs just fine and it seems like unnecessary work. What would you say to those questioning the value of pursuing the CFRE?
The CFRE is not just a certification.
It’s an opportunity to learn new techniques and consolidate your existing knowledge. Joining a study group also enabled me to connect with a community of like-minded individuals from all over the world and learn about their challenges and successes.
While preparing for the CFRE exam, did you feel you learned any new tools or concepts that you were able to employ in your day-to-day work?
Most of the study prep covered ground I was already knowledgeable about. However, it provided me with a reminder of best practice, which sometimes goes by the wayside when running a busy function.
As a fundraising professional working in Australia, what value do you see in holding an internationally-recognized certification?
I definitely see that fundraising recruiters are looking favourably on CFRE candidates, so hopefully as more Australians gain their accreditation, the value to the marketplace will grow.
While embarking on your CFRE journey, did you approach any CFREs for advice? If so, what words of wisdom did they have?
The consistent message was that the CFRE exam is a test of best-practice knowledge, not necessarily of the actual practices you currently apply in your workplace. I think this trips many people up, especially when undertaking a multiple-choice exam with more than one feasible option.
It’s important for Australians to know it is an international exam. Joining a North American study group, I was concerned the terminology being used didn’t apply in Australia.
The Australian CFREs I spoke to (thanks Leo Orland, Grainne Tierney and Pamela Sutton-Legaud!) assured me the questions were universal and not country-specific.
Which tools did you use to prepare for the exam? Which was most useful?
I used just about every tool in the book! I purchased several books on the Resource Reading List. I recommend buying the books in hard copy, rather than on audiobook, so you can go back to them easily as a reference.
There were no study groups being offered in Australia at the time, so I dialed in every week to a North American-based session, which was at 5 a.m. Sunday my time.
Pretty proud of myself for not missing one session—even when I attended a wedding the night before!
How did you feel when you learned you passed the CFRE exam? Who was the first person you told?
I told my husband who was pleased he would get to see his wife on weekends again!
What was the most unexpected piece of your CFRE journey?
Connecting with fellow fundraisers from the U.S. and Canada who I still reach out to—and am hoping to visit one day!