CFRE: Should You Bother?

Vanessa Abaya

By Vanessa Abaya

I achieved my CFRE in 2008 and whenever I’m asked whether it’s worth it, I often answer: “It depends on why you want to achieve your CFRE.” There are many opinions about the CFRE, ranging from dismissive through to essential. My own reasons for maintaining my CFRE are relatively personal.

Establish a solid education foundation - Certification requires a minimum amount of education credits. As a CFRE, I regularly attend conferences, roundtables and other education offerings to ensure that I have a strong grasp of trends and developing programs that will help advance my on-the-job practice.  As a CFRE, I also have the occasional privilege to share my experience and knowledge with colleagues. I am a stronger and more confident teacher and speaker because of this educational foundation.

Commitment to our profession – For many of us, we chose this field because we wanted to change the world for the better. I am proud to be a fundraising professional and I cannot imagine having a different career. I am grateful to CFRE for advancing the role of fundraisers everywhere.

Understanding volunteerism – Another aspect to the CFRE is volunteer requirements. As fundraisers, we spend so much time working with volunteers, but sometimes fail to appreciate how much they have to balance in their own career and personal lives in order to contribute effectively to our respective organizations. Through the CFRE, I have gained a deeper understanding of the challenges that volunteers face everyday. With this understanding, I have become a better partner to our valuable volunteers.

While I am proud of my CFRE, it becomes meaningless when it’s not combined with real-world experience. When I am interviewing a candidate for a position or when I’m trying to ascertain a colleague’s mastery of our profession, the CFRE is only one of many criteria I consider. Unfortunately, I have met enough colleagues with their CFRE who I would consider lacking in direct fundraising experience and unable to deliver on the job. Ultimately, experience matters.

Should you bother becoming certified? If it enhances your pursuit of excellence in our profession, you may want to consider writing the exam. Certification is a significant investment and you will have to think carefully about your own reasons for wanting those four letters after your name. Until you decide if the CFRE is for you, please continue to contribute in the advancement of our profession through sound practice, an ethical approach to fundraising and active participation in our professional associations.

Vanessa Abaya has worked as a fundraising professional for a variety of organizations over the past 17 years, including the University of Toronto, Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation, ROM Governors, AIDS Committee of Toronto, and the Vancouver Playhouse.   She recently returned to Vancouver, after building a solid track record as a major gift fundraiser in Toronto.  She currently serves as Senior Director of Philanthropy at BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, managing the major gift, leadership giving and planned giving programs.  She is an active volunteer with AFP, most recently serving on the Board of the Vancouver Chapter.  She obtained her CFRE designation in 2008.

Today’s Career Opportunities

Development Officer, Faculty of Education, UBC
Associate Director of Advancement, Campaign Initiatives, Simon Fraser University

Fund Coordinator, Green Calgary
Director of Development, Schulich School of Engineering

Manager, Donor Relations – 12 month contract, National Office, Canadian Cancer Society
Manager of Legacy & Supporter Development
Donor Support Representative, PLAN
Bilingual Donor Support Representative, PLAN
President & CEO, World Vision



Engagement: Beyond a Form Email or Letter in the Mail

John Grant-Cropped

By John Grant

I met Oprah this week. Well, not the Oprah, but someone who is pretty much as equally as big of a deal in my world. I had a rare opportunity recently to sit in on a session with someone who I’ll dare say is my hero in the advancement and alumni engagement world. He’s an individual who I find inspiring, has a proven track record, and who makes me want to jump out of my seat and make a difference.

I’m not able to summarize everything that I took away from our time together (you’ll have to pay him for that information!), but one element that is critical to recognize is that our success as fundraisers and alumni relations professionals is based on one fundamental principle: authentic engagement.

Our prospects (often alumni) are busy people. They have multiple competing interests, and every organization they’ve ever interacted with is likely sending them emails or ‘personalized’ letters in the mail seeking a gift of time or money. So how do we stand out?

For those of us who work in post-secondary institutions, our alumni are a particularly unique stakeholder; they’ve invested years on our campuses, forging important relationships and creating memories that will undoubtedly last for a season, a reason, or a lifetime. The bottom line is that they have some form of attachment to some aspect of the organizations we’re working for. The key for us is to figure out the source of that attachment to which we can build upon.

If we begin to reach out to prospects and alumni in an authentic manner what we do is start to think less about what we need (the gift or their time), and think more about what they need (to feel that they’re making a difference or to provide a conduit for that difference to occur). As the Marketing Officer in our office always touts: “We need to go back to the basics of communication and think about what the audience needs.”

So what does authentic engagement look like? Here are a few places to start:

  1. Have a conversation – like, a real one. I recognize this is increasingly challenging as we’re all being stretched thin with more to do with fewer resources. However, think about starting small and even hosting some basic focus groups or one-on-one interviews with prospects or target segments of your alumni audience. A conversation involves dialogue – which means two-way communication. An online survey doesn’t cut it; but one over the phone – or better yet in person – in a somewhat casual tone, could prove to be quite fruitful and yield interesting solutions to issues you may be facing.
  1. Try to help. Find out what interests them or what keeps them up at night. What problems exist in the world that they’re keen to see resolved and what role could you or your organization play in helping to overcome those challenges? Perhaps they can make a gift through your organization to help find a solution to one of their problems, or maybe they have a particular talent or skill they can offer to your students or faculty members. Bottom line: find a number of opportunities that could meet their needs and let them pick the best fit.
  1. Make them know that they make a difference. How many times have you registered for an event and not shown up because something else came up or you changed your plans? Now how many of those event organizers emailed you after the event saying “Wow, we really missed you and hope you can join us next time”? Think about the potential impact that could make on you. If nothing more, it’ll get you to think about them for another brief moment and to maybe reconsider missing a future event. If they made a financial gift or donated their time, how have those made an impact as well?
  1. Be patient. My “Oprah” mentioned that it generally takes about nine meaningful interactions with a major giving prospect – over a 21 month period – before they’ll make a gift to your organization. That sounds like – and is – a long time when you’re trying to accomplish your goals for the year. However, you’ll likely discover some interesting information about them during that time, and even find other opportunities to harness their interest along the way. Again, consider things like initiatives that involve mentoring students (e.g. through a speed-mentoring event, in-class presentation, or as a speaker at an alumni event), sharing stories about their favourite professors, or how your institution made a difference in their lives. All of this is really gold in its own right – and will no doubt help you and your colleagues in multiple capacities.

You’re dying to know who my “Oprah” is, right? Jim Langley is his name and you can learn more about him here.

John Grant has been working with Simon Fraser University for the past decade, nearly half of which has been devoted to Alumni Relations. His primary responsibilities include building strong relationships with campus partners to explore, encourage, and promote opportunities to expand alumni engagement. A large component to this role is to serve as a type of consultant to internal groups to make recommendations that improve overall alumni engagement including communications strategies, program options, and performance tracking systems. He and his wife won the SFU Humanitarian Staff Achievement Award for establishing a financial award for undergraduate student leaders. John holds a BA in Communication and Psychology, a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration, and a Master of Education in Post-Secondary Leadership.



Today’s Career Opportunities

Alumni and Community Engagement Officer, UBC
Donor Relations Communications Officer, Uvic
Development Officer, Uvic

Director, Corporate Partnerships, SickKids
Coordinator, Individual Giving, TIFF
Manager Donor Relations, Canadian Cancer Society
Development Officer, Holland Bloorview
Development Coordinator, Philanthropy and Major Gifts, Art Gallery of Ontario
Development Officer, Major Gifts, Trinity College
Senior Development Officer, Leadership and Annual Giving, Trinity College
Senior Manager, Corporate Partnerships & Special Events, North York General Hospital
Senior Development Officer, Senecca College

Corporate Development Manager—BC Region, Nature Conservancy of Canada

Nature Conservancy


Please download the full position prospectus here:
Corporate Development Manager, Nature Conservancy of Canada

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is a private, non-profit organization that prides itself on its entrepreneurial, science-based, collaborative approach to achieving conservation success. Since its establishment in 1962, NCC and its supporters have protected more than 2.7 million acres of natural habitat and special places across Canada. NCC has regional offices across the country with a national office in Toronto.

The British Columbia Region of NCC seeks a full-time Corporate Development Manager, who will work from NCC’s Vancouver Office, to secure corporate funding commitments to advance NCC’s conservation efforts in B.C. Reporting to and working with the Region’s Director of Development, the incumbent will be an experienced, professional, and personable fundraiser with responsibilities for identifying corporate prospects, soliciting charitable investments and maintaining funding relationships with small to large BC-based companies that are located in Greater Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

This position has been rated Grade 4 with a salary in the range of $48,000-62,000 dependent on the degree of applicable experience and education. NCC’s compensation includes a comprehensive benefits package, 3 weeks vacation time, RRSP matching and opportunity for merit-based growth.

Key Result Areas:

The Corporate Development Manager will be responsible for securing new and recurring investments in NCC’s land conservation work in BC from companies and corporations that are headquartered in the Lower Mainland; and for reaching or exceeding annual budget fundraising targets for this sector. Success in this position will be measured first and foremost by annual revenue support achieved from the corporate sector, by the portfolio of corporate relationships established and maintained and by the number of corporate engagement activities that can be successfully delivered on an annual basis. The candidate for this position should expect to annually raise at least 10 times their salary through the measured solicitation of corporate investments in NCC’s conservation work in B.C.

Skills and Abilities:

The ideal candidate to join the NCC Development Team in BC will possess the following:

  • Exceptional skills in writing, persuasive communication and proposal organization;
  • Ease when making small to large group presentations and representing NCC professionally when providing donor stewardship, public outreach and corporate employee engagement;
  • Commitment to client services to ensure NCC’s corporate partners receive regular reports and evidence of their investments. This will occasionally involve corporate field trips, environmental trade fairs and employee engagement events; and
  • Must have valid B.C. issued driver’s license and be able to drive to appointments and presentations either in a personal vehicle (mileage reimbursed) or using CarToGo, Modo or ZipCar. Occasionally, public transit may be substituted.

Experience and Skills Deemed Desirable:

  • Successful experience working with a non-profit organization in a fundraising or management capacity or within a corporation’s environmental sustainability division

Education and/or Experience Required:

  • Combination of formal education and experience commensurate to the requirements of this position will be considered.

Application Process and Deadline:
To apply, please send a pdf resume package to before Friday, October 24, 2014.

NCC appreciates your interest in working with us to achieve conservation results we can walk on.

To learn more about The Nature Conservancy of Canada and our conservation work in British Columbia, please visit:

Please mention that you saw this career opportunity on
Phil’s Careers Blog.

A blog about fundraising careers and fundraising issues. By Gérard Consulting – Fundraising Talent Management


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