So You Want Your CFRE...
Updated: Jul 27
While they may only be four little letters, the CFRE suffix represents so much more.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I learned of the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) credential in 2011 and immediately added it to my professional development "to-do" list. I was young and naive and didn't yet know it would take me years before I would even be eligible to test. Ha!
I knew that my colleagues holding the CFRE credential upheld the highest standards in ethics and professionalism in fundraising, and served with a higher level of knowledge and accountability—factors that are vital for superior fundraising results. Considering that the CFRE certification is the only accredited certification for fundraising professionals and is recognized as the global standard for fundraising professionalism, I couldn't wait until it was my turn. But where to start?
I searched high and low for the best ways to prepare. I found an array of resources online and some were more helpful than others. After countless study sessions and way too many sleepless nights, I formally attained my CFRE in September 2019. It wasn't easy but it was certainly worth it. In the spirit of paying it forward, I'd like to share some of the resources that helped me best prepare.
1. The Official CFRE Practice Exam Is Invaluable
CFRE International offers an official practice exam for purchase and, if you ask me, it is worth every penny. You can take the exam as many times as you'd like and, best of all, the platform allows you to see feedback in each of the six knowledge domains in the CFRE exam content outline. Plus, you can take a full 100 question practice exam, or you can take a short 10 question quiz in any of the six domains. In addition, your subscription to the practice exam gives you access to digital flashcards to aid in your preparation. After taking this exam, I knew exactly which areas to focus on. Totally worth it.
2. The Recommended Readings Are Optional
On their website, CFRE International advises test-preppers to purchase a variety of recommended readings. The question I am most frequently asked by those hopeful of attaining their credentials is: do I really need to read all those books? While I can't tell you what would be most useful to you, I can tell you that I chose not to purchase any of the materials. CFRE International says themselves that "It is not intended that each candidate read every publication on the Resource Reading List. This list is provided as a guide for candidates seeking books on particular subject areas or general overview texts. The books listed were used frequently by item writers and reviewers to create the exam. However, reading any or all of the publications on this list does not guarantee you will excel on the exam."
Knowing this, I told myself that I would study as much as I could without purchasing additional resources and, if I did not pass on my first try, I would revisit the book list. Thankfully, I did not need to re-test. Essentially, this is all a round-about way of saying that, the books may be helpful to you, but I wouldn't know because I didn't read them! Whoops!
3. Community Resources Can Be Tremendously Helpful
By far, the most invaluable preparatory resources came from other people who were studying for the exam. Check this out:
Quizlet - Head on over to Quizlet and search for the term "CFRE". There are tons of pre-created flashcards that I found to be supremely valuable. You may find yourself reviewing repetitive material, but over time you will find the cards that work for you. Plus, Quizlet has an app too so you can study from your mobile device whenever is convenient.
Webinars - If you are curious about what the actual exam day looks like and how to best prepare, this webinar was very helpful.
Philanthro-Lab - Despite being drafted in 2013, this in-depth review of the CFRE knowledge domains remains extremely relevant.
Glossary Of Terms - When all else fails, memorize the terms as recommended by CFRE International. While there aren't many definition based questions on the exam, knowing these terms can help you deconstruct the tricky questions.
Local Study Groups - Don't forget to head over to CFRE International to check to see if there is a local study group in your area. If there isn't, consider starting one, check LinkedIn, or reach out to your local AFP chapter to contact members who may also be in the middle of preparing.
4. Schedule Your Test For When Your Mind Is Sharpest
If I could do it over, I would do it differently.
I had scheduled my test to begin at 4pm thinking I would be a pile of nerves on the day of the exam and I'd want as much time as I could to prepare. I am a total morning person and awoke around 7am and put my head right into the books, thinking if I just re-read these flashcards one more time I'd somehow ace the exam. By noon I was exhausted but way too wired to rest.
By the time I arrived at the test location, I could barely focus and the test center was hardly calming. It was packed full of people and, for four hours, I sat in a cubicle and agonized over every question. By 7pm, my head was pounding and I submitted my answers. I was drained and unable to bring myself to review the majority of questions I had flagged for further scrutiny. Thankfully, I had passed the exam, but the experience was draining.
So my advice is this: take the test when your mind is the sharpest. In hindsight, I should have scheduled my exam for the morning. For those of you who would benefit from sleeping in, schedule it for the early afternoon. No matter what you do, clear the whole day. The last thing you will want to do is be distracted during your test-taking and hopefully, you will be able to grab a celebratory drink after you pass!
5. Ask Your Employer To Sponsor Your Certification
Many employers support their staff members on their CFRE journey. In fact, 51% of CFREs receive employer support towards their initial certification fees and 63% of employers put money towards the continuing education required for certification. These employers know that by investing in their staff, they are investing in their fundraising department’s future success.
Don't be shy. If you are interested in attaining your CFRE credential, it is in your employer's best interest. Ask to use your professional development budget towards the practice exam, a preparatory class, and exam fees. CFRE international even offers some tips to make the conversation smoother here. You are worth it.
In summation, attaining my CFRE was a complete game-changer. I am proud to now be serving as a CFRE Ambassador by mentoring test-takers and representing CFRE at conferences around the tri-state area. Hard work pays off y'all!
Juliana M. Weissbein, CFRE is a respected leader and decision influencer in regard to fundraising operations best practices. With over a decade of experience, Juliana thrives on professional growth, team success, measurable results, and inspiring fundraisers to utilize data-based strategies. Juliana currently serves as the Associate Director of Development Operations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is AFP Global's 2019 Outstanding Young Professional Fundraiser and is a member of the AFP Global Women's Impact Initiative. Juliana is immediate past chair of the AFP New York City chapter’s Emerging Leaders Committee and currently serves on the chapter’s board chairing their mentorship program. She resides in Brooklyn, NY and never turns down a good kombucha.