Do You Care If I Renew My CFRE? Vote Now.

I’m frustrated.

I’ve been a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) since 1994. That means I’ve held the credential longer than at least 89 percent of all current CFREs! I’ve also taught the CFRE Review Course. Clearly, I’m committed to the idea of professional certification for fundraising practitioners.

Unfortunately, the CFRE designation has failed to realize its potential. In fact, the credential is becoming less, rather than more, relevant.

That’s why I’ve tentatively decided not to renew my certification this month UNLESS you tell me I should renew.

VotingI’ve come up with a creative way for you to vote. My method will allow you to not only register a vote in favor of renewal, you’ll be able to convey how passionately you feel about renewal. To vote in favor of my renewal, simply go to my GoFundMe site (VOTE: Michael’s CFRE Renewal Fund) and make a donation. I estimate that renewing my CFRE and running this mini-campaign will cost approximately $600. If you think I should renew, contribute one dollar. If you feel more strongly that I should renew, contribute more, up to the $600 goal.

If we reach the goal of $600 by June 14, 2015, I will submit my renewal application to CFRE International. If we do not reach the goal, I will evaluate the feedback I receive and make a final decision about renewal by June 14. In any case, I will donate any unused funds to either CFRE International or the Association of Fundraising Professionals Foundation. Donations to this mini-campaign are not tax-deductible.

If you believe that I should not bother renewing my CFRE designation, you do not have to do anything to register your vote. I’ll see how many people visit this blog post and be able to compare that number with the number of people who vote with their dollars. So, I’ll see how many readers are voting by not actively voting.

With this method of voting, I will be able to gauge not just how much casual support there is for CFRE, but how much passionate support there is.

For now, I’m not passionate enough about CFRE to continue to spend my own money on renewal. Let me explain my position:

Lack of Commitment. By tentatively deciding not to renew my certification, I’m in good company. Of the eight past Board Chairs of CFRE International, the organization that controls the credential, three did not hold the CFRE designation as of 2013, according to the group’s annual report. In other words, 37.5 percent of past CFRE International Board Chairs do not hold the CFRE designation!

While CFRE International claims to have a high overall retention rate among CFREs, there is really no way to evaluate this. All the numbers reported by CFRE International prior to 2013 are suspect, according to Eva Aldrich, CFRE, President/CEO of CFRE International.

Anemic Numbers. Supposedly, a new technology system now allows for accurate reporting. Nevertheless, Aldrich has refused multiple requests to provide counts of the number of CFREs by country. So, we have no way of knowing, for example, whether the number of CFREs in the USA is growing, shrinking, or remaining the same. However, since 85 to 90 percent of all CFREs reside in the USA, I’ll assume, for the sake of this post, that the American CFRE growth rate is comparable to the overall growth rate.

In January 2015, CFRE International issued a statement, complete with a photo of fireworks, boasting that its 5,451 CFREs in 2014 represented a three percent growth rate over 2013. (Incidentally, the number of CFREs reported for 2012 was 5,630, which Aldrich now conveniently claims, was an inaccurate number; she further claims that she cannot ascertain the real number nor can she even estimate the degree of variance.)

The 2013-2014 growth rate of three percent seemed modest to me, certainly not worthy of fireworks. So, I did some research. Using data reported by The Urban Institute, I discovered that the growth rate among nonprofit organizations with revenue of $500,000 or more — in other words, among those organizations most likely to have someone on staff doing at least some professional fundraising — the growth rate was 3.6 percent. What this means is that the universe of nonprofit organizations doing fundraising has grown faster than the number of CFREs.

I’ll express this another way: Despite its modest growth, CFRE is growing more slowly than the market and, therefore, is actually losing market share.

CFRE is becoming less relevant!

When I presented my findings to Aldrich, her only response was to be dismissive of my numbers and to try to assure me that CFRE International was successful and would be more successful moving forward. What else could she say?

Even if the nonprofit market had remained unchanged, a three percent growth rate would still be anemic.

In previous posts, I’ve outlined my concerns about CFRE International. I signaled that, unless things changed dramatically rather than incrementally, I would be unlikely to renew when the time came. Well, the time has come.

Here are some of my additional concerns about CFRE:

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, though the function of each is different.

Economics. The CFRE is a voluntary certification. Government regulators do not require it. It’s expensive. Fewer employers are willing to pay for it, according to CFRE International. Many development professionals are unwilling or unable to pay the significant fee themselves.

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 a #fundchat conversation on Twitter a couple of years ago, some talented participants, as well as 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. Moreover, 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 disappointing.

Budget. CFRE International has limited resources. “CFRE International derives 82 percent of its revenue from candidate fees for both initial certification and recertification. The remaining 12 percent is made up of fees paid by Participating Organisations to gain access to the credential at reduced rates for members and from continuing education provider fees, job vacancy postings and sales of certificate frames,” according to the 2013 CFRE International annual report.

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.

While I believe in the value of professional credentialing, I have found that CFRE International is not fulfilling its potential. As the CFRE designation becomes less, rather than more, relevant, I see no point to continuing to spend my money to stay with it.

As a longtime CFRE-holder, I hope that my dramatic move will be seen as a strong protest by someone who cares passionately about the CFRE designation. I further hope that my protest will mobilize the CFRE International Board, CFRE International supporting organizations, fellow CFRE-holders, and the broader fundraising community to take the bold measures necessary to get serious about CFRE and to implement the necessary strategies to dramatically, rather than incrementally, increase the number of CFREs in the USA and worldwide.

If you’re interested, you can read my previous posts about CFRE:

So, do you feel CFRE is a credential you want me to continue to hold given all of my contributions to the profession? Do you feel it benefits CFRE, in some way, to have me continue as a designee? Do you feel it really will benefit me to renew?

For whatever reason, if you feel I should apply to renew my CFRE, please vote by going to my GoFundMe site (VOTE: Michael’s CFRE Renewal Fund) and contributing to the cause by June 14. Also, whether you’re for or against my renewal, please feel free to comment below or send me an email.

Finally, I know that this post will ruffle more than a few feathers. I already felt a bit of a chill in the air when I had a frank conversation with Aldrich during the AFP International Fundraising Conference in March. (By the way, I did tell her of my plan to put my renewal to the vote I’ve described in this post.) I can live with ruffling feathers as long as the people with the power to change things finally recognize there is a problem with CFRE and take the bold steps to help the credential realize its full potential sooner rather than later. If that happens, I’ll be cheering on the effort from the sidelines.

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


UPDATE (June 4, 2015): I want to thank Jon Dize for being the first person to vote with his dollars at VOTE: Michael’s CFRE Renewal Fund. His support of CFRE and his kindness are much appreciated.

72 Responses to “Do You Care If I Renew My CFRE? Vote Now.”

  1. I’ve been in fundraising 15 years and have never felt the need to pursue the CFRE. I’ve known terrific fundraisers without it and quite a few mediocre fundraisers with it…it doesn’t signify any kind of fundraising competency to me. I see “CFRE preferred” in job listings frequently but I’ve never found my lack of the designation to be an issue – particularly since I have an advanced degree (JD). So, I’ll vote “no”!

    • Tracy, thank you for being the first to comment on this post. I, too, have seen brilliant fundraising professionals who do not have a CFRE and mediocre (or worse) fundraisers who do. It’s the same in any profession. Nevertheless, professional certification does offer some value when it is well recognized and when a critical number of practitioners participate. Unfortunately for CFRE, it falls short on both those points. I appreciate your vote.

  2. Hi, I don’t think you need to renew… you’re already established and people hire you because they know your credentials, you’ve written a book and are always aiming to educate people in the profession. That’s a lot more than many CFRE folks do.

    • Erica, thank you for commenting and for your kind assessment. I appreciate you letting me know your thoughts on this. At this point, I feel that renewing my CFRE benefits CFRE International more than me. Nevertheless, the process of considering not to renew has been difficult. I believe in the idea of CFRE, just not the execution.

  3. I am really shocked that 37% of the international board of directors do not maintain their CFRE credentials! When it comes time to vote for board members, I hope this is made evident! Sorry, not contributing to your renewal fund.

    • Sally, thank you for commenting and giving me the opportunity to provide some clarification. My analysis of the CFRE status of the CFRE International Board was restricted to former Board Chairs only. Of the former Board Chairs, 37.5 percent do not hold the CFRE. I’m afraid I don’t know what the percentage is among all former Board Members.

      As for your apology for not contributing, there’s no need for it, though I do appreciate your thoughtfulness. I have not engaged in a fundraising effort. I’m not emotionally invested in reaching the goal. The reason I’m asking folks to vote with dollars is that it’s very easy to pay lip-service to something without really being committed to it. I’m less interested in folks who are willing to encourage me to renew but who don’t believe in CFRE enough to contribute a dollar. I’m interested in seeing, not just who likes CFRE, but how many folks really, deeply like CFRE. If you’re not among the latter, that’s fine; neither am I.

  4. Unfortunatekly the CFRE designation means practically nothing to the academic non-profit world. Those of us who have been through the laborious process of obtaining the designation know how much it costs in terms of time, commitment and money. But it seems that recruiters and management who don’t hold the designation, think it’s nothing.

    • Jay, thank you for commenting. You’re right, and you reminded me of a story involving a client from years ago. The Director of Development for a large arts organization spent her own time and money to get her CFRE. She was rightfully proud of her accomplishment. When writing formal business letters, she included the “CFRE” as part of her signature block. Well, one day, the Executive Director walked by the DOD’s assistant’s desk, and saw a letter from the DOD in the out basket. The Executive Director then took a red pen (no joke) and crossed out “CFRE.” He then wrote the message that the organization does not use initials after one’s name. So much for executive support of the CFRE at that organization. Sadly, the lack of enthusiasm for CFRE runs throughout the nonprofit sector. The Chronicle of Philanthropy won’t even use the designation following someone’s name. CFRE is a professional credential that has yet to earn the widespread respect it must have in order to be considered a meaningful designation.

  5. I agree CFRE International needs to do more to stay relevant, but your cause might be better served by becoming involved. When I was going through my Masters of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Development, I had a professor tell me someone with a Masters and CFRE was golden. I believe my CFRE tells my president and board that I have the knowledge/expertise to do the job at hand and so my organization has the knowledge/expertise.

    • Jane, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You’ve suggested that I should become involved. Well, I’ve been involved with CFRE for 21 years. I’ve provided feedback to staff and Board Members both publicly and privately for decades. I’ve taught modules of the CFRE Review Course. I’ve been involved on the inside. Unfortunately, not much has changed over the decades. So, after 21 years, I thought I’d try a different approach. It might not work any better, but at least I’m willing to try something dramatic and different. That’s more than I can say for CFRE International. I’d like to see them set a goal of 10,000 American CFREs within five years. Then, I’d like to see them build a strategic plan to achieve that. Unfortunately, inertia and embracing incrementalism have been the preferred strategies of CFRE International (and it’s predecessor) for decades. I don’t see that changing though I do hold out hope.

  6. I’ve been a professional fundraiser since 1981, starting after completion of a graduate degree. During my now 34-year career, I have worked for three different US colleges and two international nonprofit organizations. None required the CFRE and none offered to support earning the CFRE. I have had memberships with AFP, PPP and CASE for much of this time and when I hit the 10 year point I pretty much decided I did not need such a credential because it did not provide ‘added value’ to my work experience and the continuing education I’ve received through attendance at conferences and workshops.

    Now serving on my local AFP Board and while I know they would like me to pursue the CFRE, I have declined. Reading your piece rather confirms my opinion.

    • Patti, thank you for your comment. I’m glad my post resonates with you. I do understand your AFP Board’s desire for you to get a CFRE. However, it’s more about delivering value to them rather than you. They want to promote CFRE and, therefore, they want all Board Members to have it. However, why should you change your position? Why should you shell out hundreds of dollars for your AFP Board to receive value when you won’t? If your board colleagues think it’s so important for you to have your CFRE, let them pay for it. Of course, they never will; they just want to try to tell you how to spend your money. Well, I trust that you know what’s best for you. Brava for acting in your own best interest!

  7. Thanks so much for the post! I was faced with the same dilemma two months ago. I was so proud to have held the certification for nine years, but when I measured the economics of renewing I really couldn’t justify the investment. The knowledge and experience that I have gained continues to increase and evolve and, although it felt good to be able to use the professional certification credentials, I guess my 18 years in the profession will have to suffice.

    • Kathi, thank you for sharing your story. While you and I will no longer hold the CFRE, we’re still the same people we have been. We’ll continue to be committed to the profession, to further our knowledge, to behave ethically, and to serve the nonprofit sector. The only difference will be that our business cards will be a bit less fancy.

  8. “I’m not passionate enough about CFRE to continue to spend my own money on renewal.”

    But you’ll spend my money on it? Nervy.

    I won’t debate with you over the organizational competence, data quality, or relevance of CFRE International (the organization) since I have not paid the same attention to this that you have. Suffice it to say the credential is valuable to me, so I hold it and will renew it. With my own money.

    There is data, not only from CFRE, but also from CASE and AFP, demonstrating a positive correlation between certification and salary, position, credibility, and other characteristics. Since each organization surveyed its own constituents without control groups, the findings are not based on representative samples of professional fundraisers. But the data is interesting and I suggest that fundraisers who are considering certification or recertification take a look at it.

    One could also argue that if the percentage of professional fundraisers who hold CFRE is declining, that makes the credential more exclusive and thus enhances its value for fundraisers who consider it a competitive advantage in the job market.

    I’ll recertify next year. Michael, I support your decision to not recertify.

    • John, thank you for commenting and referring to me as “nervy.” Of course, I’m nervy. I’m a fundraising professional. It’s part of my DNA. However, let’s keep things in proper perspective. While I’m not willing to spend $500+ of my own money on CFRE, I am willing to spend $1 of yours. It’s not like I’m asking you to pony up the full amount. And, given all of the free information you get from my blog, you’d think that $1 wouldn’t be such an unfair or, as you’ve put it, nervy suggestion.

      I’m glad you feel the CFRE has value for you. I wish more development professionals felt the same way. As I’ve stated elsewhere in these comments, CFRE International should set a bold goal to double or triple the number of American CFREs in the near future. If there were 10,000 US CFREs, the credential would have great value. Instead, the number of CFREs has not grown significantly. Your suggestion that that’s a good thing as it represents exclusivity is simply a cheeky remark. Nevertheless, I’ll respond. Exclusivity might be a fine thing for a club, but it’s a terrible thing for a professional certification. Besides, if you really want an exclusive certification, you should consider getting your ACFRE.

      Regarding the data you mentioned, it’s correlative not causal. I have long suspected that those with higher salaries, greater commitment, and above-average ambition are the folks most likely to seek a professional certification. At this point, I’m not aware of any study that accurately examines the benefits of getting the CFRE.

      As you prepare to renew your CFRE, I wish you well. I also wish thousands of other fundraising professionals valued the CFRE as much as you do. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. And, unfortunately, CFRE International does not seem to have a viable plan for dramatically changing that situation in short order.

  9. As much as it pains me to say it, I have to agree, Michael. I have also held the CFRE for a long time–since 1996–and I always list the credential as “preferred” when I’m hiring new staff. The relevance of our field’s professional accreditation should be above question! And yet it’s not. It is–or could be–a vital key to denoting professionalism and building trust. There are problems that must be addressed.

  10. I think you hit on a big part of the issue: if I’m going to invest my money & time in further education & certification, it would be for a Masters Degree in nonprofit management, not CFRE.

    I’ve been a fundraiser for 7 years & I know what CFRE means, but I don’t think it would be valuable to me.

    • Danielle, thank you for commenting. Each person needs to determine what they want from a degree or professional certification. Then, each opportunity can be evaluated against that objective to see where there is a fit. For someone with your experience, a degree might be very worthwhile. For someone else, maybe not. In my case, while I respect the CFRE itself, I see little real value for me in continuing with it. Doing so to support the credential doesn’t work for me either until I see a real commitment by CFRE International to double or triple the number of American CFREs within the near future.

  11. Pretty interesting, Michael, the more so given your evident effort to turn over every possible rock as you examine the pros and cons of your decision. Having never actually looked in to getting the CFRE accreditation, I still respect the distinction, but my lack of it has come up precisely once in 30 years of fundraising. (This in the form of a friendly nudge from the illustrious Bob Carter–a guy for whom the label pioneer isn’t hyperbole, though he’d deny it. He was among those who cared enough about fundraising standards to elevate the respectability of those who achieve the designation–while also, I believe, raising opinions of our field overall.)

    Still, bottom line for me? I’m not sure why I should–for the same reason you don’t need it, either, Michael. (Note to Bob and others feeling irked, before it rises to ire, please read below!)

    CAVEAT: Again acknowledging ignorance of the particulars, I must declare tangible benefits it affords at least two kinds of fundraisers. Educating new folks around fundamental principles and best practices is a great idea on its face. As valuable, giving students a textured grasp of what it means to be excellent can only add assurance to their voice in future jobs–hopefully one supervisors less familiar with how to maximize funding potential will heed. (Even more broadly, their impact improves the aggregate results achieved by all fundraisers. A win-win!)

    A smaller group consists of those wanting to work for employers whose job requirements state a preference or requirement for candidates with a CFRE. Another is career-switchers who may have solid fundraising skills which aren’t demonstrated well enough by their resume.

    I’ll be fascinated to see reactions to this subject! Thanks for raising it, Michael.

    • Jennifer, thank you for your comment. I agree with what you’ve stated. The point of my unusual exercise here is to stimulate passionate conversation. It seems to be working. All I know is that CFRE has been relatively stagnant for decades. Today, it’s actually losing market share. Even those who have debated me on that point acknowledge that the market penetration of CFRE is very low and that growth has been modest, at best. If we, as a profession, continue doing what we have been or only make incremental changes, we will end up with the same results or only incremental improvements. Instead, we need dramatic change to massively increase the number of CFREs. As a starting goal, we should look at what we need to do to get to 10,000 CFREs. So far, I’ve yet to hear any big ideas coming out of CFRE International.

  12. “Certification is one of the hallmarks of a true profession.” — written by Michael J. Rosen after successfully recertifying November 7, 2012.

    It’s really unfortunate that CFRE has disappointed you. I admire you greatly, and really learn from and enjoy your blog posts. However, do I care whether you have your CFRE enough to actually help pay for it? No. If you don’t see value in it, don’t renew it. Does your perception that it is of low value affect my belief that it has good value for me? No.

    CFRE does seem to struggle to prove its relevance to senior fundraisers who can point to their long years of experience (and hopefully success) as proof of their value. But to younger fundraisers, and to those hiring for mid-level jobs, it’s helpful. It provides a reassurance that the person has taken the time to understand fundraising as a profession, and learn enough about the interactive elements of it that they have a holistic view of our work as fundraisers.

    In a world where anyone can set up shop online and give advice about fundraising, it’s comforting to know that there is a credential that insists on knowledge of a curated set of texts on fundraising — even if in the end the practitioner chooses to break the mold and use new and different fundraising methods. (BTW I am not making snide references to you or your book here, you are deservedly well-respected and your writing online is terrific.)

    To me, I am proud that I have kept mine in good standing since 1998, and find it helpful to me when I’m hiring, so it has value in that regard, too. It’s a good thing to see on a resume, but it’s not a deal-breaker if someone doesn’t have it. And I’d rather see a credential that is developed by the profession for the profession, rather than looking to government regulation as the standard.

    • Jill, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I completely agree with what you’ve stated. I just want to point out that just because the CFRE might not be right for me, doesn’t mean it’s not right for you or someone else. I actually hope that CFRE International will be able to deliver more value and attract more people to the credential. I don’t want to see the demise of CFRE. I want to see it thrive. My frustration is based on the fact that CFRE is losing market share rather than significantly gaining share. There are something like 25,000 to 30,000 US members of AFP. So, why do we only have 4,000 (give or take a couple hundred) US CFREs? I’d like to see at least 10,000 CFREs. Now, that would be a good start!

  13. I became a CFRE sometime around 2005 or so. I don’t think I ever renewed. If I think it will impress people I will sometimes tell them that I became certified and then chose not to renew (“I was formerly a CFRE). I think the value in the designation is that you were able to qualify for it in the first place. Those who know the designation know basically what you have to do to get it. Once they know you have made it to that threshold, I don’t think many people care if you bothered to renew. If you are still in the profession years later, it means you have continued to gain experience. I think there is value in the initial certification because it is a neutral agency certifying that you have certain credentials. After that, it is more or less “who cares?” regarding the recertification every year.

    • Emily, thank you for sharing your insights. The CFRE is a baseline credential. Having it says the holder has a bit of experience, some success, basic knowledge, and a commitment to ethics, ongoing education, and the profession. As someone who has been a development professional for 35 years, people do not tend to question my knowledge or commitment to ethics, continuing education, and the profession. So, as you stated, the CFRE is of less value to me today than it was decades ago. Three years ago, I renewed my CFRE primarily as a way of showing support for the credential. Now, after having spent a year paying tens of thousands of dollars in unreimbursed medical bills, I’m less willing to spend my own money on a credential of little value to me just to show support for it. There are other charitable causes I’d rather support.

  14. I am approaching my 5th anniversary in fundraising & considering testing for my CFRE this year. This article brings up some great things to consider. I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about CAP. I am interested in reading the feedback from more experienced fundraisers. Perhaps this will help me decide between CFRE and one of the other designations. Thank you, Michael. You’re always giving such great food for thought.

    • Stephanie, thank you for sharing your dilemma. When considering which professional credential is best for you, you need to first determine why you want the given designation. In other words, what’s your objective in getting certified? Your answer to that question will help you evaluate which credential or degree is best for you, if any. I should also add that just because a given credential is not quite right for me does not mean it won’t be worthwhile for you. Again, it comes down to what do you want from a credential and can it deliver what you need. Whatever you ultimately decide, I wish you great success!

  15. I think you raise some interesting and thought provoking points, Michael. While I agree that CFRE International and AFP could do more to raise general understanding of the fundraising profession and standards, I also think that it is up to each of us to take some responsibility for how our profession is perceived and the added value that we bring as a CFRE.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with Jill Nelson’s comments and I think she has perfectly articulated my feelings on the subject. I also think John Huebler expressed my thoughts on the “nervy-ness” of your approach, which could be a way to generate commentary rather than as you state, actual fundraising.

    I and I would echo the suggestion that you work from within the organizations to help fix them rather than throw stones from the outside. Both AFP and CFRE make quite an effort to encourage members of our profession to participate on their boards and committees – but it is up to us to make the effort to take the lead.

    My not sending you a dollar has nothing to do with the depth of my commitment to CFRE or AFP and yes, I am a little piqued by your suggestion that there is a cause and effect relationship between the two. Quite the contrary – I do donate to my local AFP chapter precisely because we offer scholarships to people who want to become a CFRE and do not have the financial means to do so. I have contributed many times to make the CFRE possible for my colleagues and also to help send them to the AFP International Conferences and our Statewide Conference. I will gladly keep donating to to help any of my colleagues who do value the CFRE as much as I do obtain the credential. I believe that it is money well invested.

    I remain committed to renewing my CFRE in for the 4th time in 2017 and to working to do everything in my power to raise the knowledge and professionalism within the nonprofit sector.

    • Margie, thank you for commenting. I agree with you when you say, “I also think that it is up to each of us to take some responsibility for how our profession is perceived and the added value that we bring as a CFRE.” That’s why I’ve spent decades working from “within.” As a volunteer over the years, I have taught various modules of AFP’s CFRE Review Course. I have demonstrated a leading commitment to CFRE by holding it longer than at least 89 percent of all other CFREs. I have served as a Board Member of the AFP Foundation, Board Chairman of the AFP Political Action Committee, Vice President of the AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter, and President of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia. In addition, I’ve served on several AFP and PPP committees. I’ve also spent tens of thousands of dollars attending seminars and conferences to further my knowledge; I’ve then shared that knowledge by teaching for free and writing my blog for free. I’ve also donated tens of thousands of dollars to AFP. Over the years, I’ve provided feedback and constructive criticism to CFRE International, both publicly and privately. I’ve had any number of conversations with senior staff and Board Members at CFRE International. I dare say that I’ve spent far more hours and donated far more money than the average development professional in an effort to work from the “inside” to advance our profession.

      Since many of the problems with CFRE today are the same problems we faced in 1994, I’m frustrated by the lack of progress. After spending decades working from the inside for change, I’m finally prepared to try something different. That’s why I’ve launched this protest project. Again, you’re correct; I’ve launched this “vote” as a way to generate more passionate conversation on this important subject. And I’m happy to report that it seems to be working. Time will tell if CFRE International takes any of our comments to heart and acts on them.

      While I no longer share your enthusiasm for CFRE, I will continue to share your commitment “to working to do everything in my power to raise the knowledge and professionalism within the nonprofit sector.”

      Finally, I want to thank you for your commitment to the nonprofit sector and the development profession.

  16. Michael, I think your point above about knowing what you want to get out of a credential is important. For me, with limited organizational (and personal!) training funds and a rapidly changing philanthropic environment, I’m going to spend my time and money on things that help me be a better fundraiser, and manage a better and more effective fundraising program. That means that I pursue training in data technologies; inbound marketing strategies; business and economics; management; social entrepreneurship; foreign language (I work at an international organization) etc. I do have a track record and experience – I don’t need more letters after my name for people to know that I’m a good fundraiser or that I’m committed to the field. If I was new to the field, I would feel differently – although I would actually probably pursue an MBA instead.

  17. As the Executive Director of ALDE, a Participating Organization which strongly encourages CFRE among our members and which has a high percentage of CFREs, I am troubled by some of your facts.

    The last four Board chairs still maintain their CFRE. That goes back to 2007 (I felt the need to check my facts on that). The first Board chair came on after CFRE split into independence in 2001. Of the other four Board chairs between 2001-2006, two still have CFRE status. So, six out of eight past Board chairs still maintain the CFRE. Hopefully, you also realize that once retired, a person Is no longer eligible to maintain CFRE status. Perhaps that is the case with the two Board chairs who are no longer CFREs.

    As one who is trying to participate in a large conference, I fully understand that Eva may not have addressed your concerns while at the AFP conference. Rarely do I find my interactions at conferences meaningfully in-depth because of the lack of time and focused conversations get interrupted quite quickly by others.

    You have not, to my knowledge, served on a CFRE International committee, nor have you been on the Board. Being a noisemaker is not equivalent to being involved on the inside for something. That’s probably the claim you make that upsets me the most—you are positioning yourself as an insider, which would seem to add a layer of validity to your arguments, and they are most certainly not valid.

    I may not have much standing in your eyes, not being a CFRE nor am I eligible since I serve more as an educator than as a fundraiser. But I truly believe that certifications and degrees are very valuable, if only intrinsically. I have my Ph.D. I rarely use those initials behind my name. My position did not require a doctorate. Yet I value it for what it taught me and how I am still able, after many years, to apply it. Do I have other credentials? No because of my focused work in the religious sector. But would I consider it if I were in such a place? Yes!

    • Phyllis, thank you for reading my post and taking the time to engage. I’m glad to know that you and your colleagues at ALDE promote the CFRE. Like you, I am a believer in the idea of professional certification. We don’t disagree on that point. Where we do disagree is on the issue of whether or not the CFRE is realizing its potential and whether it is of any real value to individuals and/or the profession.

      Rather than dispute my assertions or demonstrate that CFRE International is engaged in bold action to dramatically increase the number of CFREs, you have chosen to attack me personally. That, in itself, speaks volumes regarding the emptiness of your position. While I have not served on the CFRE International Board or any of its committees, I have for decades shared insights and made constructive suggestions. The idea that one must serve in an official capacity in order to make valid comments — while outsiders are simply considered noisemakers — is insulting nonsense.

      As for your assertion that my comment about past CFRE International Board Chairs is somehow incorrect, I direct you and my readers to the 2013 CFRE International Annual Report. The list of past Board Chairs can be found on the last page. Two former Chairs hold the ACFRE while one holds the FAHP; none of those three are listed as holding the CFRE. All three remain active in the profession.

      Regarding my interactions with Eva, they have been numerous over the years. Our contact has not been limited to one conference visit, as you suggested. We’ve talked by phone, exchanged emails, and interacted on blogs and discussion groups. I have found her to be accessible, professional, and willing to engage in conversations even if those conversations are uncomfortable. The fact that she may have been defensive or less than forthcoming from time to time is not surprising given her role. I have also found her to be interested in the well-being of the CFRE credential.

      My problem with Eva and the CFRE International Board is that they have not set a bold goal to massively increase the number of American CFRE holders. They have not created a strategic plan that will lead to massive growth in the number of American CFREs in the near future. If such a goal and plan exists, the public has not been informed of such. Incrementalism seems to be the order of the day. When Eva is thrilled with a three percent growth rate, that tells me that CFRE International continues to embrace incrementalism.

      As the Executive Director of a Participating Organization, you are in a better position than I am to advocate bold change at CFRE International. So, what are you doing to help CFRE International to attract significantly more CFREs?

      Here’s an idea: Encourage the CFRE International Board to set a goal of 10,000 American CFREs within five years.

      Finally, I just want to respond to your comment that I might not grant you much standing in my eyes. Frankly, I don’t know you. However, given your position and your education and your willingness to engage, I’m starting from a position of respecting you. One does not need to have a CFRE to earn my respect. That’s one of the key points I’ve made repeatedly.

  18. Michael, I believe the CFRE is important and would encourage you to renew. Here’s my thoughts. At one time no one knew what a C.P.A. meant. You do not need a C.P.A. to be an accountant. There are talented, brilliant accountants who do not have a C.P.A and there are crooked, unethical accountants who have it. Sound like some of the arguments about?

    What the accounting profession has manged to do is position the C.P.A. as a benchmark that readily verifies someone’s knowledge and expertise. I would like to see the CFRE grow to that level. How does that happen? By education, persistence, and advocacy from within our profession.

    As for your data, I believe you have done the work necessary to come up with the an accurate picture of what is going on. However, when you cite the statistic about how many past chairs have retained their CFRE, I would need to ask of those who no longer hold their CFRE, by chance do they now hold the ACFRE? Are they no longer in the profession? Just curious, and perhaps that has been answered in previous comments, but I don’t have the time to read through them all.

    Again, I respect you and your work. I believe promoting the CFRE is now more about positioning the profession more than the individual.

    p.s. I think your rationale about people not taking action is a vote against is flawed. It just might be that the idea of a go fund me campaign made them stop reading any further. I almost did.

    • Nancy, thank you for taking the time to read my post, give the matter serious thought, and comment. This may surprise you: On you points regarding the potential importance of CFRE and your comparison of CFRE and CPA, I completely agree with you. It is because I agree with you that I am protesting the current status of CFRE by withdrawing from it. After 35 years, the CFRE should be more recognized and have more designation holders. At its current growth rate, CFRE will never compare well with CPA. It should, but it doesn’t now and won’t anytime soon.

      As for the former CFRE Board Chairs, I don’t know how many, if any, are now retired. I do know that some hold other credentials, but so what? If someone holds a credential other than the CFRE, they’re saying that that other credential is of greater value to them than the CFRE. It proves my point.

      I found your statement interesting: “I believe promoting the CFRE is now more about positioning the profession more than the individual.” I agree. And since CFRE is of little or no value to me as an individual, why should I spend my money on it? Instead, I can take the money and pay my medical bills, or donate to an effective charity, or go to a fundraising conference to learn more, or buy some fundraising books to learn more.

      Since the CFRE is about “positioning the profession more than the individual,” I launched the GoFundMe campaign to gauge how deeply folks really feel about that notion. Are supporters of CFRE willing to donate $1 to help position the profession? Are supporters of CFRE willing to donate $1 to keep a long-time CFRE engaged as part of the effort to position the profession? If supporters of CFRE aren’t willing to part with an extra $1 to “position the profession,” why should I be willing to part with several hundred dollars to “position the profession” when, as we’ve agreed, there is very little value for me as an individual?

      I’m sorry if you and others found the GoFundMe campaign to be off-putting. I did it to prove a point, maybe not to you but to me. It’s easy for people to talk about how terrific CFRE is, though many aren’t. However, most of those same people won’t even part with $1 extra to “position the profession.” Again, you may not agree, but I believe that speaks volumes about the depth of support for CFRE.

      Finally, I just have to restate that I believe in the idea of professional certification. As a CFRE holder for 21 years, I’ve clearly been supportive of the CFRE credential. Unfortunately, the CFRE has failed to be a meaningful professional credential in the way a CPA credential is or other credentials are. Furthermore, I see no plan to dramatically change the situation. By leaving CFRE loudly, I hope to call greater attention to the problems with CFRE. If a long-time supporter is abandoning the credential, maybe it will cause some folks with the power to change things to ask, “Why?” Then, maybe they’ll take action to make the CFRE a credential that truly “positions the profession” AND delivers value to the individual. Nothing else has worked so far.

  19. I have held the CFRE since December 1993, and renewed this past December. I have never had anyone else pay for it, and I don’t plan on paying for anyone else to earn it. I chose it as a mark of commitment to the profession, and to demonstrating my ongoing dedication to learning, giving back, etc. I plan on continuing my renewal until I retire.

    • Colleen, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I congratulate you for holding the CFRE longer than 90 percent or more of current CFRE holders. While the CFRE might have value for you, I don’t need the external validation to mark my “commitment to the profession” and to demonstrate my “ongoing dedication to learning, giving back, etc.” My track record serves as my proof, not some letters after my name. To be clear, I’m not withdrawing from my passionate commitment to the nonprofit sector and to solid, ethical development performance, ongoing education, giving back, and philanthropy. I’m just withdrawing from CFRE because it is of diminishing value, and I can better spend the hundreds of dollars on a charity that is more impactful for society.

  20. I hope that you will re-certify, Michael. I’m sure plenty more will be said, however two comments.

    I think CFRE is important in establishing international credentials in particular. This contributes to skill mobility across countries. That’s good for non-profits. Hence plenty of excellent North American fundraisers now work in Australia, and CFRE is a useful benchmark known to and valued by some employment decision-makers (and of course there are excellent North American fundraisers here who aren’t CFREs, too).

    Secondly, I consider that CFRE is a “valid and reliable certification process” (quote from CFRE International). It’s not exhaustive and not perfect. And some excellent fundraisers choose not to certify. However, it’s one part in establishing professionalism, and that in turn is important in public trust.

    Each person who cares about these matters could decide not to certify or renew because CFRE numbers growth isn’t stunningly fast, or because CFRE isn’t widely enough known and valued by NFP boards and CEOs yet. But that just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if everyone decides that way.

    For full disclosure – I am planning to recertify myself, and I have been a director of and remain active in FIA, a participating organisation of CFRE International.

    • Roewen, thank you for providing the most comprehensive pro-CFRE argument offered here. And thank you for making the case for CFRE in an entirely civil tone. I applaud you for your leadership with FIA and your commitment to the CFRE.

      My situation is unique. Generally, when people drop the CFRE, it is simply because they do not see the value of the credential for either themselves and/or the profession. It’s not that they wish CFRE ill, they just don’t care much one way or the other. In my case, I want to see CFRE succeed. So, why am I paradoxically prepared to drop the designation?

      First, I no longer receive, if I ever did, any direct personal value from holding the CFRE.

      Second, while a recognize that a robust professional certification is good for a profession, the CFRE is not a robust credential.

      Third, I’m being asked to provide hundreds of dollars for a credential that does not personally benefit me and, at best, only marginally benefits the profession. I can think of far more impactful charitable causes both within and outside of the profession.

      Fourth, after 35 years, the CFRE has a miniscule market penetration. Now, it actually seems to be losing rather than gaining market share. My 21 year commitment to CFRE has not helped the credential to flourish.

      Fifth, after 21 years as a CFRE encouraging more energetic action from the ranks, it’s time for me to try something different. Think of me as the canary in the mine. If someone with my leadership credentials in the profession and who has held the CFRE for more than two decades decides to abandon the CFRE, perhaps the paid staff and volunteer leadership at CFRE International and its partner organizations will take notice and ask some tough questions. Then, maybe just maybe, they will be more inclined to set some ambitious goals and develop a strategic plan to meet those goals in the near future.

      You may think it ironic, but I really do want CFRE to succeed. I just think my criticisms and call for bold action are more likely to be heard and acted upon if I abandon the credential than if I continue doing what I’ve been doing which has had no impact. By dropping the CFRE, I still may not have an impact but, at least, I’ll have several hundred more dollars in my pocket. And, at least, I’ve started a lively conversation about the state of the CFRE.

      Finally, to the person who earlier suggested that I should do more from the “inside,” I would like to point out two things: 1) I was never invited to serve on the CFRE International Board. 2) I’m not a paid staff member of CFRE International. There are paid staff. I’m not interested in doing part of their job for free.

  21. Wow! You certainly touched a nerve here. I’ve wondered about the value of CFRE ever since I became certified in 1987. I, too, have taught the course, and even once chaired the CFRE Committee while serving on the board of my local AFP chapter. And I faced this dilemma last year when I would, for the first time, have to pay for my own re-certification (my employers had always paid before). I went for it. Why?

    For me, if I’m honest, it’s the irrational fact that “it’s there.” I’m ambitious and competitive by nature, so if there’s a certification out there I’m compelled to show that “I’m good enough” to get it. And once I had it, I didn’t want to ever have to sit for the exam again, so I maintained it. I maintain my California State Bar membership for the same reason. Pretty dumb reason, and probably a waste of money. I just rationalize it as a way of supporting the profession.

    And that seems to be the point, really, of the whole exercise. Supporting — and legitimizing — the profession. When CFRE was in its infancy we all hoped it would lend credibility and professionalism to what was a relatively new career route. As more and more organizations began to hire development staff, there was a feeling that we preferred to police ourselves, rather than have the government step in to do so. All the other major professions require certification and continuing education, so we felt we needed to do so as well — if only just to prove we were “professional.”

    It’s been 25 years now since I became certified, and I’ve seen only a very slight shift towards public recognition of, and preference for, the certification. Personally, when hiring, I do consider it a sign that the applicant takes the profession seriously. And I’ve encouraged interested staff to “go for it” as well, even paying for them to do so. It seemed an important thing to do to encourage their professional development. Of course, there are many other ways to do so (probably better ones). And while I do look at certification as a positive sign when evaluating a candidate’s job potential, it is in no way the defining factor in my decision to make a job offer.

    And from the very beginning I’ve been concerned that the entire process is somewhat elitist due to the expense. It’s why I did not pursue the ACFRE designation. I’m not sure what is required now, but at the time it required attending three international conferences over the course of two years, and also flying to AFP headquarters to sit for an oral exam. Since the international conferences were seldom west of the Mississippi, that meant four cross-country flights and hotels for me in two years — plus the exam and certification fees! I was morally opposed to making it so expensive. Plus, I found that most such conferences had maybe one or two interesting take-aways but certainly were not more worthwhile than reading an excellent fundraising book or two written by some of our profession’s leading lights.

    Finally, I have concerns about the relevancy of both the CFRE exam and the recertification process. I’ve taught the class for the past five years, and the curriculum hasn’t changed an iota. There’s no nod to the digital revolution or the fact that marketing and fundraising have changed so much as a result. The exam perpetuates old-fashioned ways of fundraising — many of which I would not necessarily consider best practices for 2015.

    When it comes to recertification, the application is weighted heavily towards things that really don’t reflect on whether you’re exceptional in your work or just going through the motions. The part requiring you to show how much money you’ve raised over the past three years heavily favors those who work for large organizations with large fundraising goals/campaigns, and it’s not relevant at all (IMO) for consultants. Plus, I always wonder how many folks are claiming to have raised the same money. Fundraising is a team sport, so is it fair for me to claim that I as chief development officer raised it? Or did my major gift officer raise it? Or did the campaign consultant raise it? Or was it the CEO or board president? And then there’s the requirement of attending courses (many of which cost money, and many of which aren’t particularly good). Again, I might learn more just by religiously reading two or three of the excellent fundraising blogs we have today.

    So, what does certification or recertification really mean? I agree that I know fundraisers without the certification who can run circles around many of the folks who do have the designation. Yet, I still appreciate the effort folks put into it and the overall sense that there is an accepted body of knowledge, standard best practices (though these need to be updated more frequently) and a code of ethics to which we all adhere.

    I also enjoy teaching the course, because I like inspiring the next generation of fundraisers. I find myself dividing my teaching into two parts, wearing two hats: (1) I’m telling you this because you need this to pass the test**, and (2) I’m taking off my CFRE teaching hat now and giving you some advice/wisdom I’ve learned from real life experience.

    I love that you’ve raised this question, and think you’re brave to consider jumping off the boat. If you do, maybe I will too. I still have two years before I face that fork in the road again.

    Thank you, Michael!

    ** From the minute I took the pre-exam two-day course, I’ve felt that any intelligent person walking off the street — with absolutely no fundraising experience — could pass the exam if they took the course and simply memorized what they heard. So what does that say about the CFRE designation?

    • Claire, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and joining the conversation. Not only have you nicely presented your thoughts, but you’ve also articulated how I feel. Our motivation for continuing to be involved with the CFRE is in complete alignment. However, after surviving a life-threatening battle with cancer in the past year, I’ve decided not to act on auto-pilot, not to continue doing things automatically just because I’ve been doing them. So, in the spirit of acting intentionally, I’ve asked myself a lot of questions about a lot of things including CFRE. The culmination of that review of my CFRE is this blog post.

      While I have yet to make my final decision, I’m definitely leaning toward dropping the CFRE. My official expiration date is June 30. However, the renewal grace period will give me until December 31. So, there’s still time for me to be persuaded, to change my mind.

  22. Thanks for bringing up this topic, Michael.

    I was one of the first Canadians to receive my CFRE, 18 years ago, and I have let mine lapse. I had the worst service experience (with a CFRE staff person) that I’ve ever had with any organization of which I have been a member. I thought about writing about the experience to caution others, but decided not to do so because of the respect I have for friends serving on the CFRE board.

    My experience is too long a story to write about here but I am still irritated years later — not what you want to cultivate as a “service” organization. The short story: I will never renew my CFRE, and I feel it is not worth the money.

    • Harvey, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Also, thank you for hinting at your own CFRE story. Sometime, you’ll have to tell me the details over an adult beverage. Considering the source, it means a tremendous amount to me to learn of your experience with and feelings toward the CFRE. I greatly appreciate your insight.

  23. Michael,

    You and I have spoken in great detail in the past about the CFRE, and I am sure you recall how I feel about this certification. With that said, I vote a strong NO because I feel it is not relevant because of your accomplishments and because you are so well known through your writings. I concur with others that I have met wonderful and successful fundraisers without the CFRE, and I still do not understand how it makes you a better fundraiser.

    Either way, you will always have my utmost respect, and I always enjoy your writing.

    • Adam, thank you for your very kind comment and for “voting.” I do remember our conversations, so I’m definitely not surprised by your position on this issue. Clearly, the vast majority of fundraisers remain uninspired by the CFRE, as you do.

  24. Michael, I feel your pain.

    I became certified in the 90’s because it was a requirement for serving on my local AFP chapter. Like you, I got behind the CFRE effort and served as an instructor in the review course. Years later, I cannot recall a single instance in which the CFRE has helped me get a job or a client. Indeed, I’ve spent more time explaining what it is to people who could care less than I have reaping any benefit.

    The ACFRE actually irritates me. It has always struck me as an attempt to get more money out of me under the guise of joining the “elite.”

    So, every three years, I have paid my dues for three reasons: 1) I’ve invested time, money and energy into those silly four letters and it just feels wasteful to toss it all out; 2) if for some reason I changed my mind and wanted those four letters back, I would rather die than have to endure taking that stupid test again; and 3) guilt. I don’t want to let the profession down somehow.

    In reality, it probably makes the most sense to cut my losses now and not renew. I’ll be curious how your experiment turns out. Thankfully, I’ve got two years before I need to make my decision again.

    • Ann, thank you for sharing your own story of internal debate. I understand perfectly. After my successful, life-threatening struggle over the past year, I’ve gained a bit more clarity and lost a lot of guilty feelings regarding a number of things in my life including the CFRE. As you continue to mull over your own relationship with CFRE, I encourage you to not let guilt play to big a part. Good luck making your own decision; it’s not easy for the reasons you’ve outlined.

  25. Hello – This is a most interesting discussion, and I’m following it closely. I, too, have 30+ years of experience in fundraising, no CFRE, and am one of two finalists for a very desirable development opportunity (all the gray hairs notwithstanding). The ED doesn’t seem to care much about it one way or another – probably because he’s been a DD himself. However he’s working with a consultant who is a CFRE and very actively involved in AFP, and she puts a great deal of stock in this. I’ll be talking to her on the phone in a couple of days, and he’s alerted me that the subject will certainly be brought up; in fact, it was the first question she asked after reviewing my resume. While not determinative, her input may have some influence in the hiring process. So I’m going to have to make a credible case for myself, and not upset her at the same time by seeming to dismiss the value of her credentials. I’m certainly willing to study and take the exam, it’s just that it’s never been an issue in my career before. Maybe longevity and millions of dollars have adequately demonstrated my passion, commitment, and effectiveness. As a matter of fact, I was embarrassed once by mistaking a colleague’s certification for competence, when he did a poor job of facilitating a Board resource development training. My two cents? Not a dollar for the cause, mostly since I don’t think a CFRE is a valid measure of how good one is at the job of raising money. Meanwhile, I’m acquiring some good ammunition to my arsenal!

    • Marianne, thank you for sharing your interesting story. I wish you the best of luck with the new potential opportunity. When you interview with the consultant, you might want to share how you have continued your education and demonstrated your commitment to the profession despite not having the CFRE. If appropriate for you, you might even offer to pursue the CFRE if hired. I hope the consultant will be more interested in your 30+ year track record than four letters that are missing from your business card.

  26. Hi Michael,

    I’ve been a fundraiser for 31 years now. I’m up for my 4th/5th recertification this month. I’ve moved a number of times over those years for new positions and the last two I believe my CFRE played into my employer’s hiring decision. Likewise, I’m now working for a 40-something year old VP who didn’t hire me (I’m 56). My certification holds some worth in her eyes…that alone may be worth it.

    Has the price gone up? Last time around it as $350.

    • Deborah, thank you for providing your insights. I’m glad to hear that you find the CFRE worthwhile. In answer to your question, here is the fee structure for CFRE: Initial Certification USD $875 ($700 discounted), Recertification $500 ($400 discounted). The discounted fees apply to members of CFRE “participating organizations.” The late fee for Recertification is $50. For more information, one can visit the CFRE International website by clicking here:

  27. I have hosted CFRE study sessions at my office at the behest of our local PG council and local AFP, but have to say I do not understand the need to have the credential. Supporting our local PG council is already an investment, but one that pays off all the time (and that my employer kindly–no wisely–pays for). Come to think of it, I have been sitting on my PPP renewal and may not re-up there: the Model Standards are just about the only thing of theirs I find of value lately.

    • John, thank you for commenting. As is my practice, I first read your comment without looking at who it was from. I thought, “Interesting.” Then, I read who it was from, and I thought, “Very, very interesting! Wow!” Regarding credentialing and professional association membership, one does not need to participate, as you know, in order to continue one’s education, develop one’s skills, and adhere to relevant codes of ethics and standards. So, I definitely understand your feelings toward both. Your local planned giving council seems to be on an upswing these days, so I hope they’re able to provide you with sufficient value to make it worthwhile for you to continue with them. I’ll look forward to hearing what you ultimately decide.

  28. Michael….great question and great discussions. I’m 21 years into my fundraising career and secured my CFRE the first opportunity I could. I was in my early 30s and felt that the credibility of the CFRE would benefit me by making up for my lack of experience. And it I think it did that. It gave me something to “prove” that I knew what I was doing. After four full-time fundraising positions and nearly 100 clients, it is not giving me any more credibility than it did 20 years ago. The value of the CFRE is not what we think it is…it’s what our donors, employers and potential clients think its worth. Are there a few clients that bring it up? Sure, I’d say two or three in the last seven years. But they didn’t know what it meant…they saw the bullet item in another RFP and figured it was important. I had to tell them what it was. My son is pursuing an accounting agree. Does he need a CPA…absolutely because it is universally recognized and valued. Is the CFRE valued — only to the few who know what it is and the even fewer who hold one. I did not renew this year.

    • Nathan, thank you for sharing your own experiences with the CFRE. I particularly liked your statement, “The value of the CFRE is not what we think it is…it’s what our donors, employers and potential clients think its worth.” Sadly, the CFRE is one of the best kept secrets in fundraising. By contrast, “CPA” is essentially synonymous with “accountant.” In Texas, someone cannot even call themselves an “accountant” without holding the “CPA.” Clearly, the fundraising profession is not even close to seeing that kind of broad recognition of the CFRE. After over 30 years since it was created, the CFRE should have more designation holders and broader recognition. It should, but it doesn’t. The salt in the wound is that there seems to be little appetite at CFRE International for setting bold goals and developing a strategic plan to achieve those goals. As long as CFRE International continues to celebrate three percent growth, the CFRE will continue to have marginal value, at best.

  29. This is not in response to the CFRE debate, but to address some of Micheal’s conclusions based upon the lack of success in getting people to donate to his cause:

    Quoted from Micheal’s response to mine:

    “Since the CFRE is about ‘positioning the profession more than the individual,’ I launched the GoFundMe campaign to gauge how deeply folks really feel about that notion. Are supporters of CFRE willing to donate $1 to help position the profession? Are supporters of CFRE willing to donate $1 to keep a long-time CFRE engaged as part of the effort to position the profession? If supporters of CFRE aren’t willing to part with an extra $1 to ‘position the profession,’ why should I be willing to part with several hundred dollars to ‘position the profession’ when, as we’ve agreed, there is very little value for me as an individual?”

    My response:

    I am struggling to find the words to express how sad and angry your comments above make me. Sad that as a professional fundraiser you have perpetuated some of the very things we discourage fundraisers from doing: you MUST give if you believe; you MUST not care if you don’t give; we EXPECT you to give. Shame on you. You are gauging how deeply folks feel about positioning the profession based upon the fact they are not willing to “part with an extra $1” to fund your re-certification. I do not believe that giving you a dollar does anything to advance the profession. Right cause, wrong ask. Shame on you. You should know better.

    • Nancy, you’ve misunderstood my voting “campaign.” I am not making a fundraising appeal. I’m not even really asking. I’m simply giving people who support the CFRE an opportunity to show their support. From my perspective, it’s an opportunity for me to see if folks are willing to just pay lip service to the CFRE or if they are more deeply supportive and, therefore, willing to register that support with $1. My assumption going into this was that people would not give and that support for CFRE is not particularly deep. We already know, based on the number of designees, that support for CFRE is not broad.

      I have yet to make a final decision regarding my CFRE renewal. While I have made a tentative decision, I was open to persuasion. CFRE supporters could challenge my arguments, register their deep support by giving a $1, or encourage me to renew by revealing how doing so would benefit me. So far, very few folks have attempted to challenge my arguments. Very few folks have voted with at least $1, though the four who have voted thus far have each given $5 or more. No one has come up with a benefit to me that I haven’t already considered. Instead, a number of supporters of CFRE supporters have chosen to attack me personally.

      Nancy, thank you for your most recent comment. Rather than trying to persuade me to renew, you’ve tried to shame me. Ha! Guess what? While I respect your decision to stick with CFRE, you’ve actually made it easier for me to turn my back on the CFRE.

  30. After reading all the posts and replies, it’s obvious that voting by giving a dollar is irrelevant. Most of the professionals responding have received some benefit from the credential. Personally, it has played a role in securing really great jobs for me along with my MPA, work experience, creativity and tenacity. Honestly, after a person writes a book and speaks at the AFP International Conference, then CFRE is not necessary. I am not famous, have not written a book, have not spoken at the AFP International Conference, I only work everyday to learn something new about this complex field. That’s what CFRE represents to me. So, end the debate and give me a $500 soft credit in your campaign. Or, I could create a codicil to my will for the $500 that you need to prove your point as long as you are willing to wait on it!

    • Cindy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. If you were to create that codicil to your will :-), I would hope that I would be retired for a long, long time before the gift would be realized.

      The comments I have received here, in LinkedIn discussion groups, my GoFundMe page, and privately lean toward me not renewing my CFRE. Some people, who like me at one time found some value in the CFRE, no longer find sufficient value and have dropped the credential. Now, having said all that, the votes that are most meaningful are those who have chosen to be current CFREs. Unfortunately, those individuals, including myself for now, represent a tiny minority of professional fundraisers. In other words, the vast majority of fundraising professionals do not value the CFRE. For me, that’s a big problem.

  31. I so appreciate this discussion. I am about 15 years into a fundraising career as well, with a background in consulting, and now running a community hospital foundation. I have never been able to quite get to the point of even spending an employer’s money, or my time, on the CFRE – but I kept coming back to the decision again and again.

    But now that I’m in a hiring position, I have to say with all qualifications equal, I’d put other elements of my evaluation of a candidate over whether or not they had a CFRE. And if my HR department wanted to count it as a metric for salary range, I’d probably fight them on that.

    • Molly, thank you for your candor. When I hire, I’m interested in each candidate’s experience and performance, as you are. I also want to make sure the ideal candidate is a fit for the organization culture. I’m also interested in knowing what the candidates do to further their education and how they demonstrate their commitment to the profession; while having a CFRE would tick those two boxes, it is by no means the only way to tick those boxes. And, as others have commented, I’ve met many CFREs who were not particularly good fundraisers and many non-CFREs who are superstar fundraisers.

  32. Some of the best fundraisers and managers I know do not have a CFRE.

  33. This thread has been quiet but the new requirements for re-certification have me questioning the value of CFRE for the first time. I’m specifically concerned about relegating volunteer service to continuing education. If you don’t need the education points, volunteer service is not valued. But you can still be certified as a high-performing fundraising professional? Is this a sign that we are lowering the bar to get numbers up?

    • Dwight, thank you for joining the conversation and for addressing the issue of the new CFRE requirements. I, too, was puzzled when I read that CFRE International was rolling volunteerism into education. It’s weird. When I volunteer, I don’t do it to learn something; I do it to share my expertise. So, under the new requirements, I would not need as much continuing education since my volunteer hours would be counted. This is yet another reason why the CFRE credential has limited value.

    • I took the first exam because my partner was chairman of the committee that decided to do certification and I wanted to be supportive and I thought it was a good idea. I kept it up for 20 years. I taught the prep course. It came up once with a prospective client but I have no reason to think it was determinative when I was retained.

      After 20 years the renewal had become largely a matter of taking courses from people whose institutions were less than notable in the field and who often seemed to know less than I did.

      I came to think renewal was more about stimulating attendance at meetings than about competence. By then my partner had retired. I let mine lapse. That’s been several years ago and maybe it is more useful now and better administered than in my day but I found it to be lots of paper work and tidy sums committed to attending meetings and courses, not professionalization of my field.

  34. Here’s my situation. I have been a successful fundraiser for nonprofits for over 37 years, in a profession where CFRE certification was not expected. Three years ago I changed careers and became a Director of Development for a $3.5 million (fundraising goal) nonprofit. I looked at getting CFRE certification. By the time I met all the criteria to become CFRE certified, I’d be retired.
    While I support certification processes, I have increasingly found them to be more expensive and time-consuming than valuable. My growing sense is that “certifications” are more often than not designed to support a certification industry or pad a resume than to improve quality in the industry.
    I have yet to have a major donor ask me if I am CFRE certified. Major donors support the organization I serve because they are passionate about what we do, care for who we serve, and appreciate the respectful and professional relationship I have established with them.
    While I have chosen not to be CFRE certified, I am constantly going to training and expanding my knowledge base so I can more effectively serve our donors and the people our organization serves. At the end of the day it seems that CFRE certification has become more about me, rather than them. I’d rather invest in our donors and those we serve.


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