Now that we’ve determined that credentials by themselves are not culprits, let’s turn our attention to the question at hand. Is the CFRE, in its current iteration, a credential worthy of any fundraiser, professional or otherwise? Having gone through the certification process myself, here is my take on the matter.
The CFRE has noble aspirations, namely to raise the bar by holding fundraisers accountable for continuing to learn and grow, for demonstrating that they bring real value to the clients they serve, and for pledging to uphold high standards of ethics and integrity.
All of that is good, but I will admit to having a few misgivings about the certification process itself. When I filled out my initial application, I had to certify that I had a certain amount of education and training. My three college degrees and the Certificate in Fundraising Management (CFRM) I did through the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University garnered me the requisite number of education points.
Here’s the rub. No one did any sort of checking up on me. I was never asked to submit official transcripts, and so there was never any real effort to verify that what I was saying was true. I didn’t lie, and even now if someone comes looking for proof, I am prepared to provide it, but to date no one has.
The same was true for the experience and performance points. While I told the truth at every turn, no one ever did any fact-checking. CFRE International just took everything I said on faith.
Now, CFRE International says they do an audit on one out of every ten applications, but that is hardly an impressive distinction. The academic equivalent would be a professor giving everyone an “A” in the course, but only grading one out of ten exams. The only truly monitored thing I had to do during the application process was sit for the exam, which as Beer and Cain point out costs a whopping $875!
I applaud what CFRE International is trying to do, as I believe in accountability for fundraisers. I also believe in accountability for the certification process, and if the CFRE is to grow in its recognition as an industry standard, and be taken seriously, then it must introduce greater rigor into the process.
Every application, without exception, must be verified. Official transcripts should be required. Affidavits for work history and performance benchmarks should be notarized and submitted. The exam is well monitored, but it should be more substantial. In short, if the CFRE is to gain the respect of its critics then it must require the same standards in its certification process that it requires of those being certified. Otherwise, it risks being dismissed as a rather expensive rubber stamp.
I will continue to use the CFRE credential for the time being, insofar as it signals an effort to ensure integrity and ethics in the profession. Going forward, however, I would hope that CFRE International would reevaluate the certification process, introduce verification of every application, and make the credential more difficult to obtain overall.