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Karen Willson Becomes 9th Canadian, 109th Fundraiser to Receive ACFRE

April 12, 2016

karen willsonAFP has awarded its highest professional certification, the Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive (ACFRE), to Karen Willson, senior vice president of KCI Ketchum Canada, based in Toronto, Ontario.

Available only to senior-level fundraisers who have worked in the profession for 10 or more years, the ACFRE is a distinguished achievement earned by only 109 professionals since the inception of the program in 1992. Willson is the 9th to receive this honour in Canada. 

Willson has been involved with fundraising and AFP for a long time, having been a former president of the Greater Toronto Chapter and currently sitting on the AFP Canada Council. On a volunteer basis, she serves on the Board of Directors for Toronto Youth for Christ, Intriciti Ministries and is an Advisory Board member of the Sanfilippo Foundation.

For Willson, earning the ACFRE was about maximizing opportunities for personal growth and being actively involved with AFP. “This process was a great opportunity to ensure that I continued to strengthen my leadership skills,” she says. “Each step requires careful thought and a significant investment of time and continued learning.  It is not for the faint of heart.” 

Steps to the ACFRE

The process to earning the ACFRE starts with a comprehensive application, detailing achievements in practices, education, publishing, teaching and services to the profession.  The candidate must demonstrate that they have been participating in education sessions lead by our profession’s most seasoned experts. Willson noted that the “messages from each session must be internalized so that you can articulate your own learning outcomes as part of the application.” 

The written examination measures a candidate’s knowledge of fundraising as well as the philosophical, ethical, and social aspects for philanthropy.  “I was quite nervous about the exam process, since it has been a number of years since I have taken such a test,” Willson said.  Also, a portfolio must be compiled that highlights the candidate’s own accomplishments.  She found that this provided an opportunity for reflection on her growth as a professional, as well as testing her organizational skills.

The final step is an oral peer review in which the candidate must articulate a mastery of advanced-level concepts in fundraising management, leadership and ethics.  Willson noted that, “this step ensures that you not only know the materials, but can articulate it clearly to a group of professionals who have been through this process themselves.” 

Upon reflection on this accomplishment, Willson’s final comment was: “I hope that my personal journey will be an encouragement to others to keep their own professional development top of mind and consider reaching this goal.”

The ACFRE Certification Board of AFP, chaired by Alice L. Ferris, ACFRE, MBA, CFRE, oversees the ACFRE candidate review process. Willson was honored for her achievement during AFP’s International Conference on Fundraising in Boston last March.



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