I made a critical error when I was preparing for my CFRE exam.
I decided not to study at all.
I took the test cold and although I'd been a well-trained advancement professional for over 10 years, I failed by just a few points. I'm a textbook over-achiever and it was big blow to my ego.
The truth is that it is a very rigorous exam. The questions are structured in a different way from most exam questions that you likely have experience with. For instance the test will not ask you: "Why should you start a donor relations program?" Instead it will ask you: "What is the FIRST step you should take in formulating a donor relations program?" Out of 4-5 multiple choice answers, 2-3 of them will be correct answers but only one is the FIRST step that you should take.
The exam is designed to assess your ability as a fundraising professional to discern areas of gray. As another example, a question might be: "What is the most important aspect of marketing planned giving opportunities to your prospects?" or "What is the first action you should take if you uncover (this or that) unethical action?" In most cases, multiple answers will be technically correct, but the exam is looking for the most important or the first priority.
So what did I do after I failed my test? Well, after I finished being angry with myself and feeling sorry for myself, I registered for the next testing window (3 months). I purchased the CFRE Review Course book from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). It costs $200-$250. It was well worth it though, because it helped me to review areas of development in which I was weaker and most importantly provided sample exam questions so I could get more accustomed to this unique examination style.
My recommendation for anyone preparing for the CFREexam would be:
If you are a practicing fundraiser who has broad experience in several areas of development, I don't think you always needs to go through a two-day review course or read 18 different fundraising books. You just need to be prepared for the structure of this particular exam and be well-versed in most areas of development.
I can honestly say the process of certifying as a fundraising executive made me a better advancement professional and caused me to hone my skills in areas where I wasn't strong. In particular, the testing experience gave me the occasion to learn more about fundraising ethics. Becoming a CFRE is tough but it is worth it to acquire the designation.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the CFRE process or exam. I'd be interested to hear whether you want to become a CFRE and why. What's stopping you or slowing you down?
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Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.