Robin Thomas, CFRE, knows the value of being a CFRE, having been one for more than half of his fundraising career. In fact, he became certified back in 2004 and has successfully recertified five times. Whew.
Here, we sit down with Robin and grab his thoughts on why being a CFRE matters and the challenges of being a fundraising consultant during the pandemic.
You became a CFRE after working in the field for six years. Can you describe the moment when you thought, “I’m going to become a CFRE?”
Actually, I was studying for the CFRE exam well before then, in the late 90s, in Canada.
I wanted to do it because I believed the profession needed high standards if it was to be seen as being as important as other professions in highly sensitive fields. My preparation for certification was put on hold as I took a position in the UK and I completed it as soon as I could.
It’s not uncommon that donors don’t know exactly what the CFRE means. Many certificants say they explain what the certification means to clients and donors they work with. You’ve worked as a fundraising consultant for most of your career. What do clients say when they see the letters “CFRE” after your name? Do they ask what it means? How do you reply?
The CFRE still doesn’t have as high a profile in the UK as I believe it should.
However, I explain to clients or to donors who ask, that it is based on experience and delivering results which must be kept current, rather than simply curricular material.
Why do you think it is important for fundraising consultants in Europe to show their commitment to working to globally-accepted, ethical best practices?
There has been quite a bit of negative media coverage of fundraising in recent years. Some of the stories have been truly scandalous while others have been stories in search of a scandal by a sensationalist press.
Nonetheless, this coverage has gained traction in some parts of the general public. It’s essential that as professionals we show a tangible commitment to ethical practices and the CFRE does that.
Now that we’re over 18 months into the pandemic, what kinds of concerns and questions are you currently hearing from clients?
Those clients who did not have a diversified philanthropic income portfolio pre-pandemic have really suffered, especially those who did not have a pool of committed individual donors.
They now see the importance of remedying that so that when the next crisis hits, they’re more resilient.
What has been your greatest professional achievement during the pandemic?
We have raised millions during the pandemic, either by making the effects of COVID part of the ask, or simply ensuring our clients are communicating with donors, keeping them abreast of the challenges they have faced due to the pandemic and what steps have been taken to mitigate that.
In one instance, a £25,000 donor made another gift of the same magnitude—even though we didn’t ask him. He simply appreciated the value being placed on him with the communication and transparency.
What do you think sets a stellar fundraising consultant apart from an average one?
Creative, flexible, pragmatic solutions tailored to the client’s specific situation. A one-size-fits-all “manual” is not appropriate in an increasingly complex environment with far greater sophistication on the part of both donors and client fundraising professionals. “Here’s the answer. Now what’s the question?” is outdated and doesn’t serve clients well.
As a CFRE, what benefits has the certification had on your career?
It publicly says I’m committed to my profession and the highest standards. I don’t need any more benefit than that.
Sometimes prospective CFREs feel that recertification seems like an unnecessary hassle. What do you view as the primary benefit of recertifying?
I do it simply to show my ongoing commitment to the highest standards of our profession.
When other fundraising professionals ask you if pursuing the CFRE is worth it, how do you respond?
Absolutely, yes. Again, it’s strong, altruistic, committed statement about how seriously you take your profession. If the question is really, “What’s in it for me?”—then perhaps you’re in the wrong profession!