What I learned from the CFRE Review Course

In early April, I attended the CFRE Review Course hosted by AFP Toronto. First of all, it is because of the Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy that I was able to attend – and for this opportunity, I am very grateful. I found the course to be beneficial both personally and professionally.

For those who don’t know, CFRE stands for Certified Fund Raising Executive, which is an internationally recognized certification in the fundraising field.

The CFRE Review Course gives you the basic tools you need to study for the CFRE exam. I am only at the beginning of the process. I still have to fulfill all the Application Requirements and study the material. But I plan to take the CFRE exam in the near future. And I hope you will consider the CFRE certification if you haven’t already obtained it.

Learning and Relearning

The idea of the CFRE exam was intimidating at first. But the Course helped me realize I have come a long way working in fundraising for the last four years. It helped affirm that I have learned a lot from attending different AFP workshops and from my experiences on the job.

However, for the CFRE exam, some things I have learned need to be relearned. In the Course, we were encouraged to answer questions on the exam from a CFRE point of view and not necessarily our own experiences. The questions are based in fundraising theory.

I was given a comprehensive CFRE Review Course Manual that covers the majority of information on the exam. We covered different topics such as building relationships, solicitation, research, marketing & communications, management, volunteers, and accountability. It is a lot of material to study.

I’ve been thinking about studying for the CFRE exam in terms of a swimming race analogy. I need to just “dive in”, train (study) hard, and learn how to see through the “CFRE goggles”, so that I can do well in the race (the exam).

Networking and Sharing

The Course was a great way for me to meet people of different fundraising backgrounds. Some work for bigger institutions like schools and hospitals, but I’ve only worked for faith-based small shops so far in my career. I was able to learn from the perspectives and experiences they shared. It was interesting to hear from people who shared about their different work experiences – both good and bad. When we share, we learn from each other and discover that we often experience similar struggles. Attending the Review Course was also helpful to realize that I am not alone.

The CFRE Exam can feel daunting when studying by yourself – but at the course, I met people that I can now reach out to for study tips and advice. In Ottawa, Toronto and elsewhere, it is possible to participate in a CFRE Exam Study Group, which I will try to take advantage of. I think that studying with others will help me learn the material better. You might also find this helpful.

The Course was also a nice opportunity to connect with a few fellows from the Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy.



There are many people with a CFRE designation that are in positions of leadership in their workplaces.

I was inspired by the dynamic female leaders I met at the Review Course – many of the presenters were women with their CFRE designation. I enjoyed meeting these strong women who have wisdom and extensive fundraising experience and I can look to them as examples. It made me realize I can also be a leader like them.

But do I see myself as a leader? In general, my preference is to follow a strong leader, to work behind-the-scenes and be a support. But I have also grown in confidence in my leadership skills over the years and I can step into a leadership role once in a while.

I consider myself an introvert. However, reading the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain a couple of years ago reminded me that introverts have the ability to be good leaders, and it is not a role reserved only for extroverts. My abilities to encourage, guide, listen, be calm, and empathize with others help make me a good leader and also help me to be a good fundraiser.

So, to conclude my blog post, what I learned from taking the CFRE Review Course is that you can learn new things, meet and share with new people, and it can help you grow in leadership. Now, it’s time to “dive in” and get started.

P.S. Do you have your CFRE designation or are you working towards it? Please share about your CFRE experiences in the comments section – I’d love to hear from you.