After a couple of years of hemming and hawing, studying can be tiring!I finally decided that obtaining my Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) International certification was a priority. To make the exam prep less onerous and a bit more fun, I joined up with a couple of my fundraising peers and we got down to business.

One of our dear fundraising colleagues – already a Certified Fundraising Executive herself – kindly offered to chair our three member study group. She got us organized with the CFRE exam outline and reading list, provided moral support, and quizzed us on various material.

Starting last spring, we began meeting once a month to discuss the latest books we’d read from the official CFRE reading list and spent some time mulling over the ideas and concepts, often walking away with a more in depth understanding or a new and different way of thinking. And of course we’d end every meeting by swapping book summaries, and sharing laughs (and chocolate brownies) along the way.

I’m proud to share with you that I completed (and passed) the CFRE exam just last week!

While all of this is still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share the top five things I learned (OK, re-learned) studying for my CFRE in the hopes that some of this will resonate with you, too.

1. Fundraising is absolutely about people first

The wonderful donors and prospective donors we meet, the sponsors, beneficiaries, board members and volunteers – all of the professional relationships we enjoy that make our lives richer.

2. We are lucky to work in such a compelling and challenging sector

As fundraisers, we are privileged to have the opportunity to meet so many amazing and courageous people and work with and for so many wonderful organizations. Our days may be long and our budgets short, but we work in one of the only sectors where love, compassion, empathy and altruism make up the core values.

3. Ethics and accountability are what guide us day to day

Ethical principles govern our work as fundraisers and ethical decision making determines how we govern ourselves.

There are five important principles that fundraisers must abide by and these are: Honesty, Respect, Integrity, Empathy and Transparency. The International Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising unites the global fundraising community and protects the integrity of our profession. Our donors, prospects, and the general public also hold specific rights with respect to the non-profit organizations they support, and these are outlined in the Donor Bill of Rights.

There is also a set of Accountability Standards for those certified by CFRE International which focuses exclusively on the actions and principles related to CFRE certification and the certification process.

4. There are many great books out there to help you prepare

Once you’ve made the decision to obtain your CFRE, the CFRE International website is your best resource for everything you’ll need to get started. Here you’ll find the CFRE test content outline as well as the CFRE Reading Resource list.

The three books I found most helpful were:

a) Relationship Fundraising by Ken Burnett
This is a great read if you’ve not read it (or haven’t in some time).

b) Fundraising Fundamentals by James M. Greenfield
Especially liked the ‘Six Keys to Success in Annual Giving’.

c) Keep Your Donors by Tom Ahern & Simone P. Joyaux
This book included lots of great insights, but I was most interested in the section that focused on ‘Building a culture of philanthropy’. I love this tidbit from Tom and Simone: “A question based Fund Development program based inside a question based organization will always outperform and outlast a complacent one.”

5. It’s a good idea to break up your study sessions

Here are a few bonus tips (in no particular order)

  • Coffee will still help carry you through a long evening/weekend of studying!
  • A quick stop into a vintage clothing store (or any shopping for that matter) really helps break up the day.
  • A trip to the gym helps rejuvenate your body and mind.
  • A FaceTime session with your daughter who’s away at university helps rejuvenate your soul.

In my humble opinion, the whole CFRE process is made out to be a much scarier undertaking than it actually is. Of course you need to be prepared and for most of us that means some kind of structured studying, but please don’t let that experience scare you off.

If you already hold the CFRE certification, congratulations! If you’re thinking about it and just need that little push, consider it done.

This post was written by Heather Brown, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire.

Image credit: Moyan Breen from Flickr via (CC BY 2.0)