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The Good, the Challenging and the Memorable

October 16, 2013

“To ACFRE or not to ACFRE?” That is the question. Or you may be thinking, “Good grief, do I have what it takes to get an ACFRE?”

If you are seriously thinking about pursuing the Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive credential, remember that the process and the experience are never identical for any two individuals. The aspects of the process that are great fun for some are major headaches for others.

The ACFRE process comprises four components that must be successfully completed sequentially before moving to the next step. For many, it is a matter of taking that first step. “The most challenging part of the process was probably just making the decision to begin,” says Erik J. Daubert, MBA, ACFRE, a nonprofit management specialist in Durham, N.C. “Once I started, it was just one foot in front of the other until I completed the process.”

Step One: The Daunting Application

The application for ACFRE candidacy includes submittal of a current résumé, confirmation of current CFRE status and the payment of a $400 fee. There are several elements to the application that a candidate must complete. In addition, each candidate’s two-year “calendar” begins upon formal acceptance of the application.

“Completing the initial application was most challenging for me,” admits Jan F. Brazzell, Ph.D., ACFRE, principal counsel and CEO of Advancement Consulting in Tacoma, Wash.

Step Two: 100-Questions

After demonstrating minimum requirements on the written application, candidates must pass a 100-item, multiple-choice examination that measures knowledge of general development, management, leadership and fundraising skills.

“My favorite part of the process was the written exam,” says Jim Allen, ACFRE, former director of resource development at Parkinson Society Canada in Toronto. “I love these kinds of exams.”

For Ted Hart, ACFRE, CEO of Charities Aid Foundation of America in Alexandria, Va., the format of the written exam presented problems. “I was simply out of practice,” he admits. “My favorite was the oral exam, because as a public speaker, I had lots of practice,” he says.

Step Three: The Culmination of Your Professional Career

Upon receiving a passing grade on the written test, candidates are invited to present a portfolio consisting of materials that document professional performance during the past five years: a planning document; a case statement; and two examples of competency in writing, creativity, management and teaching/training, along with an $800 fee (payment for both the portfolio review and the oral peer review).

Some ACFREs have found the portfolio to be the most challenging aspect because it is “time-consuming” and “administrative.” Others like this stage of the process. “I enjoyed assembling the portfolio the most because it allowed me to reflect on my work and to develop a comprehensive plan for my current position,” says Angela Seaworth, MBA, ACFRE, director of the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Rice University in Houston.

Candidates whose portfolios are approved by the ACFRE Certification Board are invited to appear before an ACFRE panel for the last leg of the process.

Step Four: Face-to-Face

Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE, president and CEO of Capital Venture in Boulder City, Nev., found the oral review to be the most challenging—and memorable—part of the process. “The oral exam was the most challenging because I felt these were experts in the field, and so I didn’t want to sound too basic in my answers,” she says.

The oral peer review reveals genuine mastery of advanced-level knowledge and understanding—both theoretical and practical— of fundraising ethics, management, leadership, planning and problem solving, as well as two of the candidate’s specialty areas. Oral peer reviews take place in January and August at the AFP office in Arlington, Va., and at other times through special arrangement, such as at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising or at Leadership Academy.

Jon K. Gossett, ACFRE, vice president and chief development officer at St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, found the oral review to be his favorite part of the process. “Intellectually, the most memorable component was the verbal and final component,” he says. “It was also my favorite part because the interviewers asked excellent questions, and they were collegial.”

He is not alone. “The oral peer exam was the best!” says Ronald A. Lundeen, ACFRE, in Goodyear, Ariz. “I refused to leave well enough alone and asked the exam team if I could respond to their questions by roleplaying as a fundraising instructor, positioning them as a class while using the white board and other materials in my carry-on bag. They agreed, and they actually had fun with the questions and with me as their teacher. In fact, I discovered that they were looking for creativity from me, and I passed with flying colors!”

What Else You Need To Know!

Still interested in pursuing the ACFRE? If so, keep the following in mind:

  1. The entire ACFRE process must be completed within two (2) years of the date that the ACFRE Certification Board approves a candidate, although candidates may request a single one-year extension at any time during the process.
  2. The written exam, portfolio review and oral peer review may be taken up to three (3) times each.
  3. Should a component need to be redone, the candidate will pay an additional $400 for the second attempt.
  4. If a candidate fails a phase of the ACFRE process (after three attempts), he or she must wait one year before submitting a new ACFRE application.
  5. All credits can be taken via distance learning, provided a detailed description of the applicant’s learning outcomes is provided.

Individuals interested in the ACFRE program must meet all minimum eligibility requirements, which can be found in detail here.

An Ode to ACFRE

The Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive program is administered by the ACFRE Certification Board, which is independent in decision making in all matters pertaining to the implementation of the certification process. The ACFRE Certification Board includes five AFP members and one public member, each of whom is elected by ACFRE certificants. Nominations are made by the AFP Executive Committee from current ACFREs who meet the ACFRE board qualifications.

Brazzell is one of the newest ACFREs (2012), and so her experience—a very positive one—is still fresh in her mind. “While summarizing all the ACFRE conference sessions I had attended, several dominant trends, issues and perspectives in philanthropy and fundraising began to emerge,” she says. “I experienced many ‘aha’ moments as the wealth of information began to gel into meaningful patterns. In those moments, I realized what it meant to share with other seasoned professionals a deeper understanding of the field, including all the ‘big questions’ to which we all are still searching for answers.”

Barbara R. Levy, ACFRE, a consultant in Tucson, Ariz., chair of the AFP Ethics Committee and chair of the first ACFRE Certification Board, is gratified that the credential she helped create and earned herself continues to challenge the field toward more competent mastery of skills and knowledge. She notes that recertification is no longer required for those who earn the ACFRE, a benefit since 2005. “But the kind of people who pursue ACFRE will continue to seek knowledge and to stay current,” she says.

Cathy Williams, Ph.D., administrator of the ACFRE program since November 2003 and credited by many AFP members as having been a mentor in their professional advancement, agrees. “Collectively, those involved with the ACFRE program, from candidates to board members, represent a multitude of backgrounds, interests, talents and experiences. They are knowledgeable, articulate, enthusiastic, insightful and courageous. Every day, I am inspired by these wonderful individuals.”

For more information about the ACFRE program, click here.

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