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The Best of the Best

October 16, 2013


Amy Eisenstein receiving her ACFRE certificate from ACFRE board chair, Jill Pranger, ACFRE.

Why is it important to become an ACFRE—an Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive? For the 100 who have done it, who have successfully become an ACFRE, it comes down to a personal achievement—an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment of becoming the best-of-the-best in the fundraising sector.

For runners, it’s the feeling you get when you cross the finish line of a marathon—26.2 miles, done. For doctors, it’s the sensation that comes over you when you see your name on that certificate, followed by “Ph.D.” For fundraisers, it’s walking on to that stage and being adorned with a blue and yellow ribbon, officially adopting you in to the ACFRE family. They are 100-strong and growing by the year.

For Amy Eisenstein, the 99th ACFRE, it’s a humbling and personally rewarding feeling. “It feels amazing to be an official ACFRE,” professed Eisenstein. “I had no idea what an elite group of individuals I would be joining. I feel honored and privileged to be a part of the 100 ACFRE’s in the world.”

Jill Pranger, the 78th ACFRE and current ACFRE board chair, is excited about their new milestone of 100 ACFRE’s—but as quick as she is to congratulate a new ACFRE, she’s just as quick to follow-up with, “this is just the beginning.” As good as 100 feels, they’re not stopping there. “We’re looking for 101!”

Not much has changed from the first to the 100th ACFRE. Karla Williams, who was in the first class on ACFRE’s in 1993, found the experience both exhilarating and overwhelming. “While I felt humbled by the honor of being one of the first ACFREs, I also self-assumed an awesome responsibility to ‘pass it on’ and ‘pay it forward’,” says Williams of the responsibility of becoming one of the first ACFREs. 

The Fulfilling Process


Jill Pranger receiving her ACFRE in 2006, alongside Jon Kevin Gossett, ACFRE, and Ann Moffitt, ACFRE.

Pranger will admit, sure, it’s a little scary. But nothing really worth achieving ISN’T scary. “The ACFRE application for many is sometimes the hurdle,” says Pranger. “I always say, download the application, put your name in, put in the date that you want to complete this process, and you’re on your way.”

 “When we talk to people who have completed this process, they say, ‘I learned so much through this process’, which is both an indication of people’s willingness to learn, as well as their pride in what they’ve done in past,” proclaims Pranger. “Some people say it was a wonderful reminder of things they haven’t been involved with for a while, and people realize that they continue to learn throughout their careers.”

Eisenstein can whole-heartedly agree, “I learned so much through the process of applying for my ACFRE—I didn’t even realize what I was going to be learning! I learned more about management, ethics, and leadership and really delved into the complexities about fundraising.”

Eisenstein hits the nail on the head, as an ACFRE’s core values should really be their commitment to ethical practice, effective practice, successful management and continued leadership, as well as their dedication to life-long learning. Find yourself nodding along? Sounds like you also have what it takes to become an ACFRE.

So many of those in the fundraising sector hold these core values, so why not go for the highest achievement? “The ACFRE is the pinnacle certification within our profession—there is none higher,” says Pranger. “Those who achieve the ACFRE are seen as leaders in our profession and the entire nonprofit sector.”

Williams adds that the advanced certification is an important credential for the fundraising sector because it demonstrates a level of mastery which is peer-reviewed. Those who have already achieved their ACFRE are the ones who monitor and review a candidate through their ACFRE process—it can be both encouraging and intimidating.


Karla Williams, ACFRE, presents two new ACFREs, Kenneth Frisch and Walter Gillette, with their ribbons in 2008.

And it’s not just about the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that you personally feel—it’s also an indispensable status for your professional career. “If you want to get to the top of your field and be recognized as an expert, while gaining all of that additional knowledge, the ACFRE is essential,” says Eisenstein. “When I’m looking at resumes and hiring people and they have a CFRE, and even more, an ACFRE, then I take that into high consideration.”

Additionally, Williams found the process of becoming an ACFRE forces you to examine why you have chosen to pursue this profession. “Ultimately, achieving the ACFRE demands that you ask yourself ‘now what?’—so you end up advancing the profession, not just yourself.”

C’mon, Everyone’s Doing It

If you’re still teetering on the line of transitioning from your CFRE to your ACFRE, there’s no better time than now to begin that evolution to the best-of-the-best.

“I look at ACFRE as the transition from having a job to having a profession,” says Pranger. “You transition from an employee to being a professional.” The stature in the fundraising profession in unparallel.

And sure, it’s an honor to be an ACFRE, but more than that, it’s an obligation to do more for the profession. “Receiving the AFP Fundraiser of the Year Award is an honor, but having your ACFRE means that you are in a select group of individuals who are ‘living’ this certification every day, all year, and in some cases, for life,” says Williams, who has received two AFP Fundraiser of the Year Awards.

Over the next five years alone, Pranger says the ACFRE’s will be dominating the profession and determining what happens next in the nonprofit sector. Maybe it’s their passion for the entire sector, and not just their organization, that will help them prevail. Maybe it’s their willingness to create future leaders through mentoring, and become a better leader themselves by continuing to learn. Or maybe it’s that they are 100-strong, passionate fundraisers, and will soon be even bigger and better—because of you.

And like Pranger said, becoming an ACFRE is just the beginning. For Eisenstein, this couldn’t ring more true. “Because of the ACFRE process I now think about fundraising in a whole new way,” says Eisenstein. “One of the things I enjoy most in my career as a consultant is speaking and writing and training, and it’s going to significantly impact the way I train, I speak, the way I talk about fundraising, so it’s inspired me to move on to more books, more speaking…the possibilities are endless!”

Do you have what it takes? Sure, we all have the ability to be the best-of-the-best. Luckily, you have 100 mentors standing behind you. So get online, print out that application, fill in your name and the date you want to complete this process, and picture yourself on that stage receiving your blue and yellow ribbon, and becoming one of the best-of-the-best. 


Ben Imdieke receiving his ACFRE ribbon from ACFRE board chair Jill Pranger, ACFRE.



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