How long had you been in fundraising when you decided to pursue your CFRE and when was the moment you decided you’d go for it?
I have worked in the nonprofit sector for about 15 years, with about five years working directly in development. I have known about the CFRE for several years, but it was pretty recent when I felt that I had the experience to qualify.
Since all of the conferences and educational opportunities had to go virtual in 2020, it made it a lot easier to earn the final education credits I needed to qualify.
How long did it take you to fill out the application?
The application itself didn’t take very long. The hardest part was going back and tracking all of my continuing education in order to apply.
Side note: One of the key takeaways I learned from attending one of the CFRE info webinars was the recommendation to immediately log the education into my CFRE account so that I am not having to scramble to track everything when I go for recertification.
How did you go about earning the education points for initial certification?
I am fortunate that my boss highly encourages professional development, so it was already in our organization’s culture to pursue continuing education.
The majority of my education points came from a couple conferences, courses, and webinars. In 2020, everything shifted to virtual webinars, making a lot of these trainings accessible and affordable.
Additionally, I was finding myself attending a lot of webinars in the early part of the pandemic anyway to gain best practices on how fundraising was having to shift amidst the pandemic.
Why do you think it is important for fundraising professionals to hold a certification?
Certifications such as the CFRE add credibility to the field and to the profession. Having gone through the CFRE process, I understand the well-rounded knowledge fellow CFREs must have and how it complements our profession.
Having the certification also shows colleagues, donors, and leadership that I am invested in my profession and have done my “homework” to ensure that I am ethically and accurately performing my duties as a fundraising professional.
Fundraising is such a complex field; it is impossible to know everything—but the certification certainly helped me broaden my knowledge and explore areas of learning that I would not have thought out prior to this process.
What were the top three things that personally motivated you to pursue your CFRE?
- I am always trying to expand my knowledge in the field. The CFRE process helped me pursue education and learn about areas in fundraising that I might not have done on my own.
- The certification adds validity and credibility to my experience and expertise in fundraising. Just because one works in the field does not necessarily mean they know what they’re doing.The certification gave me the confidence and supporting knowledge to add to my credibility in the field.
- As I continue to grow in my career, I am constantly looking at home to improve my own marketability. Having a reputable certification, like the CFRE, strengthens my resume making me more attractive to future employers.It’s a tough field to be in, and there are tons of other fundraising professionals, but this just helps set me apart from the competition.
Did you receive any advice from current CFREs on how to approach the process? If so what advice was most valuable?
I actually don’t know anyone personally that is a CFRE. The only advice, which was helpful, was from the CFRE information sessions and online message boards.
Did your employer support you in any way as you worked towards becoming a CFRE? If so, how did they support you?
I am fortunate that my organization (and boss) highly support and encourage professional development. We have funds budgeted for employee education.
I am grateful that my organization paid for the certification fee, study guides/books, and educational opportunities needed to meet the application criteria.
Once you received confirmation you had passed the CFRE exam and were now a CFRE, what was running through your mind?
Relief! I think I audibly let out a “whew” when I received my test results.
It was a busy couple of months of studying, leading up to the exam. I studied throughout a family trip, the weekend before the exam, and my family helped quiz me on various terms. The whole family is now very familiar with fundraising terminology!
But the sense of relief quickly shifted to pride since I was extremely proud of myself for completing this professional goal.
Funny thing, shortly after passing the test, I immediately began thinking about continuing education so that I am ready to recertify in three years. I have already logged about 10 education points in the last two months!
Since you became a CFRE in early 2021, what benefits have you experienced as a result of being certified?
After I added “CFRE” to my profile on LinkedIn, I have been contacted by several headhunters asking me to explore other fundraising-related positions at various organizations. Although I was not necessarily looking to make a career change, I was very honored.
I was even pursued for a position at a nationally known organization, which I have always considered a “dream job.” Although I ultimately turned down the opportunity to interview, I was extremely grateful.
For anyone who is contemplating becoming a CFRE but isn’t sure if they should do it, what is your advice?
Do it! It is a win-win situation!
Although the studying was a little stressful, the helpful guides pointed out areas where I needed to focus. It was initially humbling and daunting identifying all the areas that I needed to study, but at the end of the day, my knowledge in fundraising grew tremendously.
There were systematic changes I made for our organization after learning (through the study process) that we were not necessarily doing it correctly.
Having completed the CFRE, and now able to add those letters after my name, has given me tremendous confidence in my role as a development professional. I also know it better positions me career-wise when I decide to pursue other opportunities.
About Brandon M. Leong, CFRE
Brandon Leong, CFRE, is the director of development & communications at Keiro, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides culturally-sensitive services to older adults in Southern California. He oversees donor relations, special events, annual giving, and external communications.
Prior to his current role, he served as vice president of development at Go For Broke National Education Center, director of programs & strategic partnerships at Keiro, and program director at East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center. Brandon serves on the board of directors for Kizuna, an organization focused on educating and engaging the next generation of community leaders. He is also an active volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, serving on the national youth leadership development committee. Brandon is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).