Does CFRE Have a Future?

The Certified Fund-Raising Executive credential was created in 1981 to promote professionalism in fundraising practice. Now, on the 30th anniversary of the creation of CFRE, I thought I would take a few moments to consider whether CFRE has a future.

One might automatically think that CFRE will enjoy a bright future. After all, the credential has a 30-year track record. The market of fundraising professionals is growing worldwide. In the United States alone, the number of nonprofit organizations required to file with the Internal Revenue Service grew from 246,733 in 1999 to 315,662 in 2009, a 28 percent increase. (These numbers do not include the hundreds of thousands of religious congregations not required to file or the hundreds of thousands of nonprofit organizations that raise less than $25,000 a year; the numbers also do not include tens of thousands of foundations.)

The idea that fundraising is actually a profession has also taken root in recent decades with the dramatic increase in educational opportunities including college and university certificate and degree programs in nonprofit management and fundraising. As the nonprofit sector takes fundraising more seriously, as the number of nonprofit organizations grows thereby increasing the number of fundraising practitioners, one could conclude that the rapidly growing potential market for CFRE would mean a rosy future for the credential.

Another sign pointing to a healthy future is the CFRE recertification rate. Among those who hold the CFRE designation, satisfaction seems to be high with “a healthy recertification rate well above the average rate for voluntary certification programmes,” according to CFRE International, the credentialing organization for CFRE

Unfortunately, the future for CFRE is not automatically secure. Today, there are 5,322 holders of the CFRE credential, including myself, of which 4,422 reside in the U.S. Assuming that every reporting 501(c)3 has at least, and no more than, one person doing fundraising, that means that CFRE’s market penetration in the U.S. is about 1.4 percent! After 30 years, that’s a rather lackluster market penetration rate, suggesting the credential is crawling rather sprinting into the future.

The average number of newly certified professionals has averaged just 445 worldwide from 2007-2010, according to the 2010 Annual Report from CFRE International. While this number grew over the previous three-year period, it’s certainly not a number that realizes the potential. Between 2007 and 2010, the worldwide number of CFRE holders grew by just one percent!

The CFRE credential faces a number of serious challenges including:

Competition: Other credentialing programs exist including the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy and the Advanced Certified Fund-Raising Executive. In addition, master’s degree programs compete with the CFRE credential. During a recent conversation on Twitter hosted by #fundchat (a weekly discussion on Twitter about fundraising issues that is held every Wednesday from 9:00 – 10:00 PM, Eastern time), a number of participants questioned the value of obtaining a CFRE designation if they’re going to get a master’s degree related to the profession; the thinking was that a related master’s degree is at least as strong a credential as a CFRE.

Economics: CFRE is a voluntary certification. Government regulators do not require it. The decision to obtain a CFRE, is purely up to the individual professional. Making the decision to pursue a CFRE comes with a big price tag. First-time certificants must pay $618, if they are a member of a participating organization, or $778, if they are not. Those recertifying must pay a fee of $360, if they are a member of a participating organization, or $453, if they are not. Many employers are unwilling to pay for their employees to become certified, and many development professionals are unwilling or unable to pay the significant fee themselves. I suspect this will be particularly true in these tough economic times.

Value: Until the CFRE credential is universally known within the nonprofit sector and commonly known to the general public, CFRE International can expect development professionals to question the value of the designation. During the #fundchat I mentioned earlier, some talented participants, or professionals they know, were completely unaware of CFRE. That’s a problem. Another problem is that those hiring development professionals are often unaware of the credential or what it means. And, the impact on the general public is minimal since most donors have no idea what “CFRE” means. Until CFRE is nearly as recognized as the Certified Public Accountant designation, its value will be limited.

Numbers: CFRE is not yet at a membership tipping point. A 1.4 percent market penetration with 0.33 percent average annual growth rate is not going to create what marketers call a bandwagon effect. At a certain membership size, others will be inspired to get their certification because it seems like the thing to do. But, that tipping point might be a market penetration of 10 percent. Until then, marketing will continue to be a challenge.

Budget: CFRE International has limited resources. 90 percent of its operating budget comes from fees. With its economic model, CFRE International is greatly limited in the amount of marketing resources it has. Its economic limitation will make aggressively facing the many challenges a, well, challenge.

So, I must conclude that the CFRE credential does not have a particularly bright future. However, for the foreseeable future, the credential will continue to exist. The recertification rate is reported to be relatively strong. Leadership at CFRE International is talented. CFRE International enjoys support from many professional associations serving the nonprofit sector. CFRE International is fiscally responsible. While the future might be dim rather than bright, it’s not necessarily grim. There is most certainly a future and time to build. For now, CFRE International has a chance to make the CFRE designation truly meaningful.

As a CFRE holder, and not just because my book (Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing) is on the official CFRE Resource Reading List, I hope CFRE International can dramatically build on what has been accomplished in the past 30 years and establish CFRE as a significant designation rather than just continue to tread water.

CFRE International has put together a list of 10 reasons why individuals should become CFRE credentialed:

  1. Increases Credibility
  2. Improves Career Opportunities
  3. Prepares for Greater Responsibility
  4. Develops Skills and Knowledge
  5. Yields Greater Earning Potential
  6. Demonstrates Commitment
  7. Enhances Professional Image
  8. Reflects Achievement
  9. Enriches Self Esteem
  10. Fosters Peer Recognition

I will also add that holding a CFRE makes you part of an international team of dedicated professionals.

To learn more about CFRE, visit CFRE International at

To network with other CFRE holders, join the CFRE International Network Group at:

To learn more about what your peers are saying about CFRE, visit the #fundchat blog site:

That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say?

UPDATE (Oct. 3, 2011): CFRE International has announced that Denny Smith, PhD has resigned from his position as CEO of the organization. He served for two years. You can find a copy of the official press release here.

46 Responses to “Does CFRE Have a Future?”

  1. Very good and interesting analysis Michael. I think the sector needs to have an open and honest discussion about this topic. It would be nice to have CFRE Int’l respond to the points you raised. Surely, we can all work together to improve the sector.

    • Ligia, thank you for your comment. While CFRE is imperfect, I do think it has value for individual holders of the designation as well as the profession in general. But, more must be done to make the designation more meaningful. I’ve notified CFRE International of my blog post, and I’ve invited them to respond should they wish to do so.

  2. Good thoughts. I have been toying with this notion myself. To me, a Master’s from an accredited school is much more valuable at this point. Working for a large nonprofit that still struggles with paying for “fringe” benefits, I think it’s wiser to invest my resources in a higher degree that most everyone would be familiar with. Thanks Michael!

    • Dexter, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think the functions of a Master’s degree and a CFRE are different, though there is certainly some overlap. A Master’s program can provide useful information and, when completed, can provide some prestige. However, holding the CFRE demonstrates a commitment to continuing education and high ethical standards. It also includes holders in a worldwide “club” of folks who have met and continue to meet a minimum standard. So, having a Master’s or a CFRE need not be mutually exclusive.

  3. I appreciate your comments here. While I’ve been in development work for 7 years, I am still quite young (29) and have been considering for a long time whether to obtain this right away. I also have not been keeping record as I understand is necessary. I have been accepted to the MA in Philanthropy & Development Graduate Program at St. Mary’s University and have also been considering the CAP program as you discussed above. I’ve been a Planned Giving Director for the past 4 years. None of my previous or current supervisors that have been in the business 20+ years even have their CFRE. It’s nice to see this talked about and am enjoying reading your posts.
    Stephen Kull
    Eastern Illinois University

    • Stephen, thank you for your comment. As I indicated in my response to Dexter, a Master’s degree and a CFRE are not mutually exclusive designations and they have different, though overlapping, functions. I think that some more established professionals just don’t see the value to them of becoming certified since they’re already established. However, I’m not convinced they’re necessarily correct. I encourage you to continue your consideration of CFRE. I have mine and have renewed it a number of times; I’ll likely renew it again. I think the hardest part of the process is completing the application. 🙂 If you do decide to seek your CFRE, I wish you the best of luck as you reconstruct your past.

  4. Hi Michael. This was a very timely post for me personally because I have just gone through the process of renewing my CFRE for the third or fourth time (who’s counting!). I have to admit, I resented it. As a consultant to nonprofits, I feel it’s important to show potential clients that I have it, but I resent the process and fee. Once someone gets their CFRE certification, there’s no way to tell whether they’re in the profession 5 years or 20+ years (like me). I remember that when I took the test, I had to focus my answers on what I felt they were looking for based on the pre-test training, and not what I knew to be true after more than 12 years in fundraising. CFRE, to the best of my knowledge, has made no accomodation to professionals who have hit tough financial times (although they did make the “full-time employment” stipulation less strict). Now that higher ed offers MS, which speaks to true education and not a “survey course” and 5 years of experience, I think CFRE will have an even tougher time. It was a great idea when it was started because professional fundraisers were limited for credentials but I don’t think it’s been responsive to changing times.

    • Lori, thank you for your comments. I agree with what you’ve said. The ACFRE was created to address the issue you raised about more experienced professionals. But, the ACFRE credential, with just 96 holders after nearly 20 years, hasn’t exactly caught on; and, as there is no continuing education requirement, I’m not even sure it’s a good idea. Master’s programs and the CFRE designation serve different, though overlapping, functions. I think both have their place. I’m not sure how much I’ve benefited from holding a CFRE, but my sense is that it has had value. As a consultant like you, I think the CFRE demonstrates to my prospective clients that I’m truly committed to the profession rather than being merely a mercenary. In any case, I think the changing environment will require some sort of response from CFRE International. It will be interesting to see if they are nimble enough to react effectively.

  5. Thanks Mike! I’m at the front end of working towards the CFRE. This gives me tips on what to look for over the coming years in the development of the credential – AND- a headstart on saving up for the certification fee!

    • Yvonne, thank you for comment. In addition to saving your money for the certification process, be sure to save information about the educational programs you attend and the money you raise. I think the hardest part of the process is simply completing the application. Good luck!

  6. Michael,

    Your post is the best treatment of this discussion I’ve seen. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts. I became a CFRE in 1998 when working at Community Foundation Silicon Valley. While there, I set up a professional advisors network as part of launching a planned giving program and thought the credential would be helpful for credibility with advisors. I’ve since renewed simply because I am already credentialed. As a legacy giving consultant the past four years, I like to think the credential demonstrates that I’m a fundraising generalist, not just a legacy giving specialist. I thought about getting the ACFRE (Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive) credential, but am having second thoughts about that. That would be mostly an investment as a cost and time saving measure. If I were starting all over again, would I make the same choices? I’m not so sure. In 1998 there were just over 2,000 of us. The numbers don’t look good.

    • Greg, thank you for your kind words and for your well-put comment. I completely agree with what you’ve said. I very much like the idea of CFRE. Unfortunately, the reality hasn’t lived up to the ideal. However, I think CFRE International does have a bit of time to reinvigorate its efforts to make the CFRE designation far more meaningful. But, they don’t have a huge amount of time. As for ACFRE, I have a number of issues. The ACFRE has not caught on. And, there is not requirement for continuing education in order to hold on to the ACFRE credential. So, like you, since I already have my CFRE, I’ll probably go ahead and renew yet again.

  7. Michael, I appreciate this review of CFRE very much. As a hiring manager in the development space for many years, I have to admit that the CFRE designation has not been instrumental in my decisions at all. Yes, when an applicant’s resume crosses my desk with the designation, I give it a closer look; I view their completion of the program as a good sign that they are dedicated to the profession.

    At the same time, the designation does not tend to influence me beyond that.

    I’ve had the application on my desk — incomplete — for a number of years. The value to me as a possible member is not clear and, as you point out in your article, the value to my employer does not exist. Part of the dissonance is that the certification is based, in part, on conference attendance. I have been to many CASE and vendor-driven conference sessions in my time and the value is highly variable and sometimes questionable.

    Your article caused me to review the CFRE web page and, in turn, I might complete the application. Perhaps CFRE needs more evangelicals to expound upon the value of the designation. Thanks for another toughtful piece.

    • Steve, thank you for sharing your insights. I have thought that the CFRE designation can give job applicants a bit of a competitive advantage. Thank you for confirming that it is in some cases. A CFRE can get some extra attention for an applicant and can tip the scales if all else is equal. However, CFRE is certainly no guarantee of someone’s capability and, therefore, needs to be viewed accordingly. CFRE International needs to do more to demonstrate the value of the credential.

  8. Michael, thanks so much for another great post! I have begun reviewing the CFRE in preparation for applying in the next year, so this is quite timely for me. I have felt the same way that others have about if it is a worthwhile investment, but expect that I will indeed apply for it. I am very interested to hear any response from CFRE International.

    • Dan, thank you for your comment. I wish you the best of luck, not that you’ll need it, as you pursue your CFRE. I’ve notified CFRE International about my blog post and invited them to comment should they wish to do so.

  9. In that #fundchat discussion it struck me for the first time that I don’t truly buy the line of reasoning that says that getting a CFRE demonstrates a commitment to the profession. I’d like to think that pursuing a master’s degree displays an equal commitment to my profession. (It certainly costs significantly more!) Yes, you could say that they serve different, even complementary, purposes but if my goal is simply some sort of paper that shows that I’ve pursued greater education in my field, then a master’s would seem to do it just fine.

    I also don’t know that I agree that getting one’s CFRE adds credibility. How much credibility can it add if few know what it is, and even fewer seem influenced by its presence? Part of me would like to see the CFRE flourish and do a better job at promoting itself. I want to see the profession gain the respect it deserves. But another part of me thinks that growing a credential for the sake of growing a credential is just bad form, and I can’t get on board with it.

    But what do I know? I’m wrong on a regular basis. I’m happy to be wrong about this.

    • Janelle, thank you for your comment. Your perspective is not an uncommon one. The competition between master’s degree programs and CFRE is one reason why I think CFRE is not gaining traction. However, I continue to believe that both serve somewhat different purposes. Unfortunately, as you point out, the value of CFRE as a credibility tool is minimized by the general lack of knowledge about CFRE. While a piece of paper does not guarantee that the holder of a master’s degree or CFRE designation has the knowledge and skills necessary to be a successful fundraiser, either is evidence that the individual is more likely to have the necessary skills and knowledge.

  10. Barbara Talisman, an experienced fundraiser, recently received her CFRE. On her blog, she shares why she shows to pursue the designation. Here’s a link to her blog post:

  11. Michael,
    Thanks for the reflection on the CFRE. Your comments are stimulating and thought provoking. I’ve had my certification since 1994. Aside from feeling really good about first earning the certification, and each renewal, the value I place on it is the largely personal. Occasionally a donor or colleague asks me what it means, and when I changed jobs about 5 years ago, it made a difference in the position and salary I was able to negotiate. The requirements for continuing education and performance are an important element in advancing my career and staying current in my professional practice. However, CFRE is a generalist’s certification. Though the CFRE might be helfpul, planned giving officers should seek other designations more suited for their work.
    Thanks for stimulating this discussion.

    • Les, thank you for your comment. It’s been quite a while since we’ve connected, so it’s particularly nice hearing from you. You’re right, CFRE is a baseline, generalist credential. I think CFRE International needs to do a better job enhancing and publicizing the value of CFRE. I have derived some personal satisfaction from getting my CFRE, and I believe I’ve even received some business value from it as well. I just wish that it would be a credential more widely recognized and valued.

  12. I just recently received my CFRE credential for the first time. Although I am glad to be done with the tracking and studying, I felt that the preparation process gave me a solid foundation of the “best practices” within our industry – even though our realities are not always as cut and dried. I truly feel like I am working from a better starting place with that knowledge and not always reacting to the realities around me. More importantly, I believe our industry needs this type of accreditation from an oversight perspective. We all complain when the government tries to put more stipulations on the work we do. Having an official certification, basic guidelines and ethics that we all adhere to often provides protection for our industry.

    • Kristen, thank you for your insights. I agree that our profession needs to be self-regulating and that CFRE can be part of that process. Unfortunately, with the miniscule market penetration of CFRE, it really does not contribute much of anything to self-regulation. I was once very opposed to the idea of government-required licensing; these days, I’m a bit less close-minded on the subject.

  13. I obtained the certification many years ago while seeking entrance to the US via a free trade visa. I reckoned, a certification from Arlington, VA might matter to a somewhat ignorant INS employee who would decide whether or not I qualified for a TN-1 Visa. I renewed my CFRE designation for an additional two three-year periods and then dropped it entirely. I never felt it was a reflection of my fundraising ability or knowledge. I was never hired by anyone with a CFRE and I have never been asked whether I had a CFRE in seeking a position, a consulting contract or any other business or employment opportunity. The CFRE is a non-starter for me.

    • Brian, thank you for your comment. I’m not exactly sure what the value proposition is for CFRE. That’s definitely part of the problem. I suspect the value varies from person to person. In my case, as a consultant, having the CFRE has sometimes separated me from the competition by demonstrating my commitment to the profession; on occasion, I think it helps prospective clients see me as something other than a mercenary. I believe it has also helped me secure speaking engagements that I might not otherwise have secured. Now, having said that, I still have a little debate with myself whenever renewal time rolls around.

  14. Michael, thank you for this post. As someone who is starting to make the transition from volunteering as a fundraiser to becoming a professional I’ve been contemplating which path (graduate degree vs. CFRE) best improves my knowledge of the field and demonstrates my commitment to professionalism. I lean towards CFRE because of my own previous experience in getting a master’s (in education) showed me that what is talked about in a university classroom didn’t help me with what was happening in my own public high school classroom. My assumption is that that gap would also exist in other professional graduate programs. I’ve been very impressed by trainings I’ve attended via my local AFP chapter and would assume that would continue to be true as I attend CFRE-qualified trainings.

    • Ellen, thank you for commenting. I wish you the best during your transition. While I’m sure there are excellent master’s degree programs, your comment reminded me of a quote from Gloria Steinem, “… the whole thrust of academia is one that values education, in my opinion, in inverse ratio to its usefulness….” Of course, while I’ve attended some superb AFP, AHP, CASE, PPP, and other association programs, I’ve also been to some really bad ones. When attending any educational program, we need to participate with a critical eye. One of the differences between the CFRE and a master’s degree is that the CFRE requires continuing education and commitment to ethical practice.

  15. Hi there Michael, and all! First, I’m delighted by quality of the discussion and the thoughtful comments and observations in the many posts. I have provided here a link to an article I wrote about CFRE certification which was published in the July issue of Advancing Philanthropy…it provides some data and answers to a number of questions raised here so I welcome those interested to have a look.

    Click to access OurProfessionOurCFREJuly2011.pdf

    Having a valid and credible certification is a key marker of any profession, and CFRE regularly invests in ongoing test development and psychometric analysis to ensure these highest standards are met…also allowing us to maintain our own accreditation through the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA). For example, the link above specifically discusses the job analysis CFRE undertakes every 5 years which undergirds the framework and currency of the exam.

    Admittedly, CFRE has an exciting challenge ahead to grow and to deepen awareness about the credential. Although, while many professional associations and certification bodies have experienced significant decreases over the last 3 years (attributed to the economic climate), CFRE did experience growth in total numbers, albeit modest. Anecdotally, we’ve also seen in many regions an increase in the number of job postings indicating “CFRE required” or “CFRE preferred”.

    For 2011/2012 CFRE has committed to reinforcing some strategic priorities as we head into a comprehensive planning process for 2013-2015. The priorities include a focus on strengthening our communications and marketing efforts to certificants and the profession, including a commitment to stellar customer service; maximizing our critical relationships with the numerous professional associations who endorse CFRE and are key to promotion and delivering needed continuing education; and girding our own organizational capacity. Interestingly, we’re also looking at how best we can respond to the numerous requests for certification we get from regions of the world where the profession in newly emerging.

    So, as a CFRE and a CFRE volunteer I am very optimistic about the future of certification, hand in hand with the exploding array of certificate and degree programs ( I myself hold an MA in Philanthropy). It is a unified voice from our profession to the public about our commitment to self regulation and recognition of the core body of knowledge which has been developed and honed by practitioners as the profession continues to emerge.

    Thanks everyone for your input, support, critique and perspective….it will be invaluable to CFRE’s Board as we chart the way ahead.

    Sharilyn Hale, M.A., CFRE
    Chair, CFRE International

    • Sharilyn, thank you for taking an interest in the discussion here and for providing a response from CFRE International. I do indeed value my CFRE and, therefore, I’m pleased to hear that CFRE International is embarking on a strategic planning process that will look closely at communications and marketing among other things. You say, “[CFRE} is a unified voice from our profession to the public about our commitment to self regulation and recognition of the core body of knowledge which has been developed and honed by practitioners as the profession continues to emerge.” (Emphasis added.) Unfortunately, while CFRE International may have a “commitment” to self-regulation, it is not yet contributing much to self-regulation. For CFRE International to play a real role in the self-regulation of the fundraising profession, the market penetration of the CFRE will need to be much, much deeper and public awareness will need to be much, much greater. I appreciate the work that you and your board colleagues are doing along with the staff. As you continue to work to secure the future for CFRE, please call upon all of us who hold the CFRE for assistance. I’m sure you’ll find most of us willing partners.

  16. Michael,

    As a former CFRE myself – and someone who respects your fundraising knowledge and insights – I am at a total loss to understand how you and others can defend a PROFOUNDLY MEANINGLESS “credential” held by so many fundraisers with unproven skills and unremarkable track records.

    The “best practices” that are often referenced are, in reality, the “standard practices” that consign most fundraisers to the ignominious middle of the bell curve.

    The CFRE has richly earned its obscurity.

    • Jeff, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I always appreciate hearing from you. As I understand it, CFRE is a credential that indicates a minimum level of experience, commitment to continuing education. and the holder’s commitment to fundraising as a profession. Does the CFRE guarantee that the holder is a talented individual? No, but, neither does a CPA, MD, DDS, or any other credential. Even an Ivy League MBA is no guarantee of ability; just ask the stockholders of Enron, AIG, Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, etc. I’ve been a CFRE for a very long time. Over the years, I’ve seen an improvement in educational offerings and the CFRE exam itself. While far from perfect, CFRE is improving. Of course, you are quite correct when you link the quality of the credential and what it truly represents with the market penetration. As CFRE International considers the market penetration problem, it will need to appreciate that it is more than a communications problem. CFRE International will need to enhance its efforts to ensure that the CFRE designation has real meaning.

      As for the concept of “best practices,” there has long been a debate in the sector about what the term means and how a practice becomes anointed with the designation. CFRE International attempts to determine some best practices and tests individuals on their understanding of these best practices. Of course, well-meaning people may disagree on what is or is not a best practice. One problem with best practices is that successful, innovative practice that is not widely adopted yet is often not considered a best practice. So, there have been times when I’ve taught the CFRE Review Course when I’ve had to differentiate between the official AFP/CFRE International position and what, in my experience, is truly the best practice. But, the number of times I’ve had to draw such a distinction has been reduced over time. When I meet truly inept fundraisers, I find them lacking not because they’re doing something that meets the approval of CFRE International, but because they are doing things that are profoundly stupid. If all CFRE International is doing is helping identify folks in the “middle of the bell curve” and better, then I’m fine with that, at least for now.

      CFRE is certainly not perfect. If it is going to survive, it needs to be a meaningful credential that is more effectively marketed. From her comments, I think that Sharilyn Hale, Chair of CFRE International, would likely not disagree with me on those three points.

      Jeff, I hope you can see that I don’t disagree with you entirely. I’m just, perhaps, a bit more patient and hopeful.

  17. The designation of CFRE among its benefits also gives those foundations or donors working with these certified individuals a blanket of comfort. By studying and sitting for this credential one is certifying that they care about ethical standards. Passing these boards also ensures organizations that this individual has expertise about rules and knowledge of fundraising.

    The CFRE designation insures the future of fundraising strategies. Going the extra step and obtaining this credential also demonstrates their seriousness about the promotion of non-for-profits. CFRE Innovative thinkers will ensure these organizations fiscal stability for the future.

    Market penetration or higher growth rate needs to be established by a combined strategic communication plan starting with one on one recommendation. Is there a CFRE marketing committee which sets an annual strategic communication plan through the many free social networks which exist today?

    Chrissy D.

    • Chrissy, thank you for sharing your thoughts. As you’ve observed, there are many benefits to having a robust CFRE program. Unfortunately, while CFRE has achieved some success, it’s not yet a robust program. For its part, CFRE International is developing a new strategic plan that will hopefully address the marketing and communications concerns that many of us have.

  18. My thanks to all of you who have commented on this subject. Your comments have been very helpful to me. I have been considering whether to renew my CFRE designation, the application for which is due Sept. 30, 2011. I became a CFRE in 1990, and have worked in fundraising continuously all this time. What has given me greatest pause about renewing is that I cannot find that CFRE Int. provides any services at all for the 5000 current CFREs. The last time I heard from them was three years ago for my earlier recertification.

    They have an annual expense budget of $880,000, which means each of the 516 individuals who applied for CFRE status in 2010 cost $1,705. It seems only 364 individuals passed the inital exam, so the cost per new CFRE is $2418. Their salaries and benefits are 40% of the their budget, occupancy/overhead is 20%. So what benefit does CFRE provide to the world? What is their case for support? Not strong enough for me right now.

    Again thanks for your help in making this decision,

    Jean Gurney, CFRE for 25 more days.

    • Jean, thank you for your comment. The reality is that CFRE International does not provide designation holders any direct benefits beyond processing our (re)certification applications. However, CFRE International does provide some indirect benefits:

      1. CFRE International reviews educational programs and certifies the program as meeting certain minimal quality standards. This can help folks in their selection of continuing education opportunities.
      2. CFRE International and its partners promote the CFRE credential worldwide. While I wish they would do far more in this regard, I am nevertheless pleased to know that our profession does have a professional certification program. I think having such a credential, and the requirements for holding it, are part of what defines a profession.
      3. CFRE International and its partners encourage continuing education. This is something that benefits us all. The more knowledgeable all practitioners are, the better for everyone.

      I’m not trying to persuade you to renew your certification even though I’m likely to renew mine. However, I just wanted to be sure that you know that CFRE International does provide us with some direct and indirect benefits. Are those benefits sufficient? Each of us needs to judge for ourselves.

  19. Michael:

    Good discussion. I have my Master in Nonprofit Adminstration from USF (San Francisco) and have toyed with the idea of getting CFRE’d since obtaining that. Way back when I was hoping to use my Masters as “points” toward a CFRE but couldn’t or didn’t know how.

    It seems the CFRE is a great way to keep us up to date and on our toes but for me it is just too much time away from my work – which of course, I don’t have enough time to do as it is. If only i could apply all my “keeping up-to-date” activites toward a CFRE I’m sure it would be a done deal.

    Not enough time, and too much GOOD to do, Susan

    • Susan, thank you for your comment. Finding the time for continuing education and for documenting it is indeed a real challenge. The cost of getting and maintaining a CFRE is not just the check that gets written to CFRE International; the cost also includes money paid for continuing education and the significant amount of time required.

  20. “Does CFRE have a future?” is a good question, I think. Asking “How is CFRE relevant?” is another version. I think effective organizations ask these questions at regular intervals. This is the fundamental concept of strategic planning…ensuring your organization’s relevancy or closing down.

    The best strategic planning process conducts research to answer these questions: reaching out to diverse audiences, connecting with stakeholders, examining the marketplace, etc. The NGO sector continues to evolve. The fundraising professional must evolve, too. Research helps us build the body of knowledge. Globalization helps develop best practice. And all this informs what we do in fundraising. All this affects professional standards.

    I believe that effective organizations explore the future and anticipate change. These organizations question their current focus and approach, their operations and core program. All this is good strategic planning – to ensure relevancy or go out of business graciously. And the best strategic planning requires courage, integrity, and commitment.

    As a past chair of CFRE International, I’ve witnessed this courage, integrity, and commitment. I expect CFRE International to welcome the questions: Are we relevant? What can we do to remain relevant? What is the future for certification for fundraisers globally?

    As for me professionally, I believe in voluntary certification. I also believe in academic education and continuing education. They are all meaningful – but they are all different, too. I don’t think that our sector (NGOs) and professionals (from fundraisers to CEOs) adequately understand the distinction between education and certification. So part of the responsibility of those holding certification and those promoting certification is to help others understand and respect the differences. We will be successful only to a degree. That’s life, I think.

    I don’t want government licensure. I want voluntary certification. And because it’s voluntary, many will not choose to be certified. Heck, far too many people working in the nonprofit sector (including fundraisers) don’t study the field well enough. I’m always stunned when I encounter fundraisers who don’t know names like Ken Burnett and Adrian Sargeant and Mal Warwick. I’m always amazed at fundraisers who say they don’t have time to read and subscribe and and … So it’s no surprise to me that many don’t choose to become certified.

    I also think leaders encourage others to invest in professional development – and that includes buying (and reading) books and attending conferences and paying for certification. It costs to develop certification programs and continuing and academic education. I hope that professionals have the commitment and resources to pay for these products, to invest in this professional development.

    I’m proud to be part of a growing profession – and a profession that is growing. Fundraising is building itself into a profession. Good for us. Research. Body of knowledge based on research. Ethical and professional standards. Academic and continuing education. And voluntary certification.

    I count on voluntary certification – and its providers, e.g., CFRE, AHP, and AFP – to continually ask the questions: What is the future for voluntary certification in general and a particular certification specifically? How does certification continue to evolve and change to remain relevant.

    Thanks, Michael for honoring 30 years with good questions. Thanks to everyone for contributing.

    • Simone, it’s been a very long time since we’ve connected. So, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to reconnect here. Thank you for sharing your insights.

      I have always opposed licensure for development professionals. I have done this as both an individual and as a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals U.S. Government Relations Committee. However, my thinking on the subject is beginning to shift. In the nonprofit sector, we pay a great deal of lip service to the idea of self-regulation. However, there is precious little self-regulation really going on. AFP membership has only achieved a market penetration of 7 percent or less. As I mentioned in my post, the market penetration for CFRE is 1.4 percent or less. So, even if AFP and CFRE International had an aggressive self-regulation system in place, and they do not, they would only be addressing a tiny slice of the nonprofit development sector. In your comment, you quite nicely outlined a number of reasons for strong self-regulation. I agree with you. But, we do not have self-regulation. It’s a myth. Because of this, I am now beginning to soften my position about licensure. I’ll deal with that more in a future post.

      Finally, please forgive me, but I must point out something I find quite striking. You were a CFRE holder. You chaired the board of CFRE International. You advocate for CFRE. However, you yourself have abandoned the CFRE designation in favor of ACFRE, a credential requiring no renewal process and no continuing education. When someone of your professional stature and your deep involvement with CFRE International drops the CFRE designation, don’t you think it sends the wrong message to the market? If we’re going to have a certification for development professionals, it seems to me we should put all our wood behind one arrow in the same way the accounting profession has with the CPA.


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