Op Ed: Ways in which the CFRE accreditation lets down fundraisers, charities and donors

publication date: Apr 13, 2017
author/source: Gail Picco

One of the great joys of running a company or leading a large-scale project is that you have the opportunity of taking in the environment like a bird flying high in the sky or a passenger cruising on a jet plane. You can also see the grimmer side of things with that mile high view, of course, where those forests have been clear-cut and the tailings ponds of mining operations glow with betraying phosphorescence.  

Another source of pleasure—and quite often inspiration—is the number of young people who cross your path.   And this writer feels she has been luckier than most concerning number of talented people she’s been able to work with. You know who you are.  

Most people come into the fundraising industry with an earnest desire to change the world, to ease suffering, eradicate pain.  The wisdom of their intuitive response bursts with potential like the home opener of a baseball season.   Yet, that glow can dim, the eyes become tired and the mind frustrated as they struggle with obstacles they see in their paths.  The need to make a living wage, to have the tools they need to do the jobs being asked of them, of coping with the vicarious trauma as a by-product of witnessing the hellhole the world can become.  

In the hope of addressing all of the above, many, after a few years working in charity, have told me they feel pursuing a CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) designation might help their career or earn them some respect. And why not?   According to an AFP Compensation and Benefits Study, in 2016, “CFREs in Canada earned $30,000 more annually than their non-CFRE colleagues.

CFRE International promotes this voluntary certification as the “preferred alternative to licensure and/or government regulation.”   CFRE International’s strategic goal is to “pursue increased recognition of the CFRE credential as the international standard for certification of fundraising professionalism.” They say they will achieve this through, among other things, “research that validates CFRE International as a thought leader for the fundraising profession.”  

Given the increasing push behind the CFRE credential, it’s time to take a bit of a look at the kind of executive the certification will produce.  The reading list is instructive. The focus is on the technical and transactional nature of fundraising.  You can learn about donor stewardship, planned giving, annual giving programs, capital campaigns, major gifts, direct marketing and internet management. The question is how effective is an auto executive if he or she is unschooled in anything beyond the shop floor and hasn’t learned about things such as trade barriers, government relations, clean energy and the economies of the countries in which they operate?

Working on the shop floor is great work, but does it make you a thought leader? Consider that of the 14 books on the CFRE reading list, only one was written in 2016, the rest were written in or before 2011. Nearly all of the required reading was written more than 6 years ago. And two books were written more than 10 years ago. I agree that the Chevrolet Impala was a great car in 2005, but is it the car we want to drive today?  

These days, two things about charity concern me most:  transparency and impact.  For transparency’s sake, organizations that are only interested in developing technical skills to fix existing problems and have no interest in preventing the ills that drive people to their doors, should say it loud and say it proud.  

For impact’s sake, groups who are interested in working on prevention and are interested in pursuing systemic change should say that loud and say that proud. Don’t be shy. Because only then will staff understand why they feel no progress is being made.  

And only then will donors have important information they need to decide which wagon they want to giddy up. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this Op Ed included book information that was available from the CFRE website at the time of writing but that is no longer available online. The updated Op Ed reflects the information that is publicly available from the CFRE website for books as of April 17, 2017 .

Gail Picco, a strategist who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 25 years, is one of Canada’s foremost experts on the increasingly complex dynamics at play in the charitable sector. She is the author of What the Enemy Thinks, a recent novel set in the nonprofit sector and of the recently published, Cap in Hand: How Charities Are Failing the People of Canada and the World published in January 2017. Gail works as a Principal with The Osborne Group in Toronto and serves as Chair of the Board of the Regent Park Film Festival.

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