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Alphabet Soup: Considering Multiple Credentials

By Ericka Harney, CFRE, GPC, CVA
I often get asked why I pursued both the Grant Professional Certified (GPC) and the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE). I thought it might be something to share with more of our GPA members. Aside from being crazy to take not one but TWO tests, there was a lot of value to me in pursuing both. I started my career in fundraising that encompassed annual giving and grants. This was my first job out of grad school and I tried to soak in all I could professionally. My supervisor and our executive director were CFREs and role models of the career I wanted to pursue. I started keeping track then of all the funds I rose annually as well as grant applications submitted and awarded.
The next two positions I held were very grant heavy, not just in number of applications but also in amounts. I learned of GPA and the GPC in 2008 and wanted to get connected in immediately. GPA seemed to be a good fit for increasing my grant knowledge. At that point I had been doing grant writing for four years and was eligible for the GPC exam and took it in the fall of 2008. The minimum experience requirement for the CFRE is five years, so I still had at least another year to go. In the summer of 2009 I took the CFRE exam.

Same or different?
Many people also ask if the CFRE and GPC are one in the same or different. In my opinion, they are really two different animals. I look at them in two areas: underlying content and fundamentals. Very little of the CFRE focuses on grants specifically but it is part of the donor research knowledge area. The process of doing research, whether donor or grant, is very similar – some might say the same. This is also the case in other areas like relationship building, ethics and crafting a persuasive argument/case for support. How you go about getting the funds might be a little different but the underlying concepts are similar.
Why I did both
I wanted to do both the CFRE and GPC for two reasons: one, my career thus far had included fundraising and grants to a pretty equal extent and two, if I did want to consider consulting work down the road, it would make me more marketable to potential clients needing both skill sets. This later became the case when the company I was with downsized. I was able to make my consulting work full time and I depended on both credentials to “sell” my expertise.
Tips to remember when considering credentials
1.  When you do earn them, you have to work to keep them. Look at the maintenance program in addition to the eligibility requirements. Are you able to keep up with earning the amount of continuing education credits, community service, or other requirements? And will your employer be supportive of that work? With the CFRE and the GPC, there is a lot of overlap in continuing education and that helps in saving a little time and money.
2.  Consider where you see yourself in 10 years. I've met colleagues who don't consider a credential because they aren't doing it right now. But will you potentially in the future? While you may not meet eligibility requirements now, keep track of what the requirements are so that you can apply later on. I didn't qualify for the CFRE for five years, but I kept diligent lists each year of my fundraising success.
3.  This is an investment. Whether your employer pays, you pay or there is a split, you are putting in not just money but time and a fair amount of elbow grease. Consider not only the application and exam fee, but how much you may pay for continuing education, recertification fees, time in a classroom and any time you may spend doing volunteer or pro bono work.
4.  Credentialing exams are typically generalist in nature. If you qualify to take the exam, you are considered to have the basic foundations to what you need to know on the exam. You cannot cram for these exams. You can review your knowledge and focus on areas where your skills are not as strong. I knew a little about planned giving but not a lot, so I focused in that area for the CFRE. I had done very little in the area of post-award grant management so I did do more studying in that area for the GPC. But also don't completely leave an area out of review. When I took the CFRE, I skipped reviewing anything on volunteer engagement in fundraising. I barely passed that section. Lesson learned.