Fund Raisers and Recruiters
Weigh Value of Certification
By Maureen West
AFTER EARNING a master’s degree in philanthropy and develop- ment from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2008, Jamilia
Shipman thought her studies had come
to an end.
But the 32-year-old Herndon, Va.,
fund raiser is now cramming to take
the Certified Fund Raising Executive
test, whose new version will appear in
“I started looking at it as a link to
my former education,” says Ms. Ship-
man, who raises money in the Wash-
ington area for Operation Homefront,
a charity that serves military families.
“After you go to law school, you take
the bar. This is it for fund raisers.”
The version of the test she will be
taking will include new questions
about relationship-building and ethi-
cal standards. Social-media fund rais-
ing makes its debut on this version of
the test, which is updated every five or
seven years. The last revision, in 2003,
A Mature Profession
The changes may bring the test
more in line with the experience of
new fund raisers, like Ms. Shipman,
and focus on a criticism of the CFRE
test that it doesn’t keep up with changes in the profession.
During the height of the recession,
in 2009, fund raisers were reviewing
the test, and that timing led to new
questions, says Sharilyn Hale, a Canadian fund raiser and consultant who
chairs the board of CFRE International, the organization that has administered the test since 2001.
“The importance of relationship
building became clearer during those
tough economic times,” Ms. Hale says.
The meltdown of financial institutions
and loss of investments shaped the
test as well, leading to new questions
Besides offering a credential showing that she knows fund-raising principles, passing the exam to earn the
CFRE credential may make Ms. Shipman a more attractive job candidate in
the eyes of many employers and help
her earn more than fund raisers who
don’t have it.
But the test has some vocal critics,
and most employers with experience
hiring fund raisers say that other attributes are far more important than
whether a fund raiser has a CFRE after his or her name.
If Ms. Shipman passes the multiple-choice test, which has 225 questions,
she will join 5,300 others with the credential worldwide, according to CFRE
Fund raisers have been offered certifications for 30 years, initially from
the Association of Fundraising Professionals, which still administers a more
Getting Fund-Raiser Certification
Who Administers the Test
What Fund Raisers Must Achieve
n At least five years of experience in fund-raising
n A passing grade on a general test to determine they have basic working
knowledge of fund-raising methods and practices
n Proof they have raised at least $1.3 million during their years in the profession or that they have management or communications experience
n 80 hours of continuing-education courses in fund raising
n 55 hours of volunteer work in the five years before they take the exam
What’s on the Test
225 multiple-choice questions, focused on:
n Conducting research on donors
n Obtaining big gifts
n Building relationships with donors and potential supporters
n Getting volunteers involved in fund raising
n Managing the fund-raising operation
n Ethics and accountability
How many people hold the credential: 5,300
How many people pass the test: 76 percent
How to Maintain Certification
Fund raisers must apply every three years to update the credential. During
those three years they must have:
n Taken 45 hours of continuing education
n Volunteered for at least 55 hours
For more information: See http://www.cfre.org.
DEREK LIEU, FOR THE CHRONICLE
Jamilia Shipman, of Operation Homefront, is currently studying for her
Certified Fund Raising Executive exam: “This is it for fund raisers.
rigorous version of the CFRE known
as the Advanced Certified Fundraising
Executive credential. That credential
has been awarded to fewer than 100
fund raisers since 1993.
Whether the standard CFRE or the
more advanced test, certification appears to lead to a higher salary for
many fund raisers. The 3,400 members of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals who have the CFRE
credential earn about $25,000 more a
year than those without it, according
to the organization’s 2010 salary survey. Fund raisers with the certification
earned $95,798, on average, compared
with $70,463 for the others.
But getting a CFRE and the higher
pay that comes with it is not necessarily easy. Nearly a quarter of those who
sit for the test fail it.
Hard to Prepare
Unlike other professional examinations, fund raisers cannot take a preparatory class to study for the test, nor
are they encouraged to follow any particular path of study to improve their
chance of passing.
People can fill out a questionnaire to
assess their fund-raising knowledge on
Ms. Shipman also hopes her expe-
rience as a fund raiser will help her
But even if she does pass, does certification mean she is a better fund
That is the question that troubles
Adrian Sargeant, a fund-raising professor at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy. He says the test
should teach what fund raisers should
know, not what they do know. Mr.
Sargeant regards the revision of the
test as a “lost opportunity” to make it
a more rigorous examination.
The CFRE test designers, he says,
should be working more closely with
universities to improve the profession
and how skills are assessed.
“The people who put this togeth-
er are well-meaning,” Mr. Sargeant
says. “The problem is that nobody is
thinking about how to make dramatic
changes to make the industry and the
test better. It is time to take it to the
At CFRE International, Denny
Smith, the organization’s chief execu-
tive, disagrees, saying it is unfortu-
nate that Mr. Sargeant has doubts
about the test.
For Robert Hartsook, a Kansas City,
Mo., fund-raising consultant whose
company has hired many fund raisers,
the CFRE exam may be imperfect, but
it’s one way for fund raisers to demonstrate that their professional abilities have been approved by an outside
What’s important to Mr. Hartsook
as an employer is a fund raiser’s curiosity about people and things, he
says, along with the ability to bring
creative ideas to the table and to strat-egize.
“I’m not sure an exam can test that,”
The CFRE test might reward people
who are more interested in prescribed
tactics rather than more creative types
who can come up with fresh fund-raising strategies to fit varying conditions,
Multiple-choice tests also can’t assess practical skills such as the ability
to write a good proposal or analyze a
list of potential donors, he adds.
From an employer’s perspective,” he
says, “I need people who know how to
write a great case for support, not just
what should be in one.”
Still, although he stresses that
the CFRE is but one aspect of a fund
raiser’s professional profile, he ad-
vises people in his firm, which
has 59 employees, to take the CFRE
Yet he has not taken the exam himself. “I’m not good at multiple-choice
tests,” he says.
The test seems to have worked for
Mridula Joyner, a Canadian who took
the CFRE exam a decade ago, when
she had eight years of experience. She
wanted to move into management and
thought it would help. It has, she says,
and it allowed her to take a more senior job right away.
Ms. Joyner is now vice president for
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