CFRE candidates may question if becoming certified is really an investment that pays dividends. We spoke to Jeffrey Fulgham, CFRE, who has proudly been a CFRE for 20 years, for his take on how the CFRE impacts fundraising professionals’ careers.
Why do you feel professional development is important for fundraisers?
It is critical for everyone in our profession to be current and well-informed in all matters that will ultimately affect our contributors and the gifts they donate. We should be setting the standard for high-quality and ethical behavior in our organizations and professional development helps us stay on top of best practices, as well as changes.
Through hearing how our peers and mentors handle various ethical situations, we are better-prepared when we are presented with our own challenges. I am also a big advocate for lifetime learning for everyone!
How did you hear about the CFRE and what made you decide to pursue it?
As I recall, it was an advertisement in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Having been in the profession for nearly 10 years, I knew I wanted to continue serving the charitable sector. The CFRE credential was quite obviously the best way to be at the top of my game and let my team, donors, and potential future employers know I was a committed, professional development officer.
What stage of your career were you in when you began your CFRE application?
It was during my second formal role in a nonprofit where I was the senior person responsible for fundraising. I was nearing a carefully planned departure from that organization, and I knew it was an excellent time to get serious about CFRE. I also happened to be the executive director and capital campaign manager. I don’t recommend that triad. Too many big hats to be as successful in each role as one would want to be.
Did your employer support the cost of your CFRE application? If so, how?
Yes, they helped me with the education requirements (seminars, conferences, and workshops) and also allowed me the flexibility of time for the commitment required for education, studying, and the exam. They also bought me new business cards as soon as I officially became a CFRE!
Did you tell others you were embarking on the CFRE process? Or did you keep it to yourself and announce you were a CFRE after passing the exam?
My board president knew about it, as did my two administrative staff members. One of those individuals kept a record of my education points and helped me compile everything for the application. Of course, my family also knew.
You earned your CFRE in 2001. How has certification made a mark on your career?
As time has transpired, I believe it has become more important in pushing me to the top of the candidate list for the positions I have applied for.
I don’t do a shotgun approach when looking for a new position. I am highly selective about where I work and who I work for.
I know my CFRE has opened a lot of doors for me, both with positions and with donors I have met. Even more importantly, it has helped me seek out and secure great opportunities at excellent organizations; this in-turn has led me to generally stay for far longer than our profession’s average tenure.
Since becoming certified, I was at one organization for ten years and another for five. I held three different positions with each of those employers.
Do you feel the CFRE has given you career opportunities you wouldn’t have had without it? If so, how?
Absolutely! I am confident that the CFRE helped put me at the top of the list for the last few initial positions I enjoyed. It also helped me move into the promotions I mentioned earlier.
CFREs recertify every three years. How do you feel recertification helps keep your skills sharp?
It definitely keeps us up to speed on current trends and best practices. As busy as well all are, it is easy to not do enough professional development. One strong plus for the CFRE is that it necessitates staying on top of this and not unintentionally backsliding in such an important area.
What is your favorite part about being a CFRE?
It is kind of a prideful thing, I suppose, but when I am introduced, I like the fact that people don’t have to speculate about whether my skills or professional behavior can be trusted. It cuts through doubt, and we can immediately begin building a mutually beneficial relationship.
I would never discourage a person from obtaining an advanced degree, assuming it is affordable for them, but for a professional development officer who doesn’t have the time, desire, or resources to purse that degree, the CFRE is an especially smart decision.
Do I wish I had both? Sure! But I made the decision that the CFRE would be more beneficial for my career. It was a wise choice for my situation, and I have never regretted it.
Securing (and maintaining) my CFRE credential is the single best decision I have made during my development career!