TO CFRE or Not to CFRE?

The process of becoming a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) may seem daunting, but after speaking with three fellow AFP Greater Madison members who have each acquired their certification, I am taking the steps to start down this path.

Over the past week, I spoke to Jen Davie, Deborah Still, and Chris Ziemba about their experiences obtaining their CFRE. They generously shared their insights into why the CFRE was right for them, what the most challenging parts of the process were, and their advice to other development professionals considering the program. 


For Jen Davie of Jen Davie Consulting, the CFRE represented a commitment to the field of fundraising and validation for a career dedicated to non-profit development. Especially for someone who may have found their way to fundraising in a round-about way, the documentation of continuing education and the process of preparing for the test serves as a grounding in the field. 

Deborah Still, Director of Development at the Ronald McDonald House Charities in Madison, recommended the Professional Fundraising Certificate through Boston University, or the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. “If 2020 didn’t scare the heck out of you, then you probably have a passion for this work.” If making a commitment to this line of work feels like a step you want to take, then the CFRE offers a grounding in development that many of us learn by doing or figure out along the way.

I was encouraged by Chris Ziemba, Donor Relations Manager at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, to ask the question of “Who are you doing it for and what does it mean to you?” Chris shared his process of looking at people in the field that he admired and seeing that they had their CFRE. He recommends that anyone considering going through certification “be aware of the CFRE, but don’t let it be overbearing. Identify the areas of fundraising that you don’t know.” The work means a lot, and so it matters that professionals in the field continue to learn and grow to keep up with a changing field.

All three acknowledged that test anxiety is real. A standardized, multiple choice test can be especially tricky when the lived and learned experiences of a development professional don’t always align with the cut-and-dry A, B, C, or D answer sheet. Tools and tactics range from finding a study group (AFP has one!) to taking a continuing education course designed to help you prepare.

For anyone interested, all AFP Madison programs are CFRE certified for credit and there is a project in the works to look up individual records of attendance to help with documentation. Additionally, the CFRE website offers a continuing education section with resources for additional workshops and classes. Finally, Bloomerang offers some CFRE certified webinars that can be accessed in their archive at any time!

AFP Greater Madison offers scholarships for its members to assist with the cost of certification and recertification. For more information, and to apply, click here.