Certification in the fundraising field can take many forms and there are different certifications depending on the area of focus. Many fundraisers begin by achieving the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation that recognizes experienced professionals who have met a standard of knowledge and experience. This designation was the first to provide a unified credentialing program designed specifically for fundraisers. The advanced certification, ACFRE or FAHP (specific to healthcare), demonstrates a higher level of knowledge and experience.
Other certifications are available specific to areas of career focus, such as the Certified Specialist in Planned Giving (CSPGCM) developed by the American Institute for Philanthropic Studies and Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP) certification offered through the American College. More recently, the Association of Fundraising Professionals is collaborating with the American College to offer courses in philanthropic planning which will only increase the value of the CAP designation.
As more universities offer specialty degrees in not-for-profit management, fundraising certification in the field will become much more expected—as advanced certification has become expected in most financial fields, medical fields, and most any other field that could be named. So what, exactly, do fundraising certifications mean?
Donor Confidence: Having certification means that donors can be sure they are working with a planner who is knowledgeable and has their best interest at heart. Donors can be confident in the planner’s ability to formulate the most appropriate gift scenarios and to respect their values and motivations. If donors can trust the fundraising professionals (and the not-for-profit organizations that hire them) they will be more likely to give, and give consistently.
Professionalism: It is sometimes unclear to organizations and donors what to look for in their professional fundraisers. Certification provides a level of comfort that the person responsible for aligning the interests and motivations knows what they are doing. And it can eliminate any skewed perception of what fundraising is meant to be.
Ethics: Every certification entity requires adherence to a set of ethics. With the increasing scrutiny of the social sector, this level of commitment to ethical planning and comportment cannot be overstated. It’s critical to have fundraisers who understand their professional ethics and how to apply those ethics in their day-to-day work with donors.
Credibility: Certification is a statement by a third party, independent entity that a gift planner has the level of knowledge necessary to provide donors with accurate and timely information about their gift plans. It tells the organization that they have hired someone who will be donor-centric in representing the needs filled by the organization they represent. It engenders a level of trust that is required to achieve donors’ desired philanthropic impact.
Certification has the potential to enrich the field in a way that nothing else can. It’s important that the fundraising industry encourage certification and the professional strength it brings to those who inspire giving.