The Whys of Pursuing Your CFRE

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Q&A with Juan Calixto, CFRE.

Editor's Note: This guest blog post introduces a faculty member of Forefront’s Preparing for the CFRE Exam workshop series and explores the importance of developing and supporting diverse fundraising professionals.

Do you recall the moment you knew that fundraising was your vocation? What did that moment feel like? It was when I got my first $5,000 grant approved. I realized I had a skill that was critical to getting services to the most vulnerable, and I wanted to be sure financial resources were always available to serve them.    

What lead you from that moment to pursuing your CFRE? Interestingly enough, I decided to pursue my CFRE because I was working at an agency where I was doing more administrative tasks than fundraising.  Most of my time was spent on facility management and personnel referring and I wanted to maintain my fundraising skill. I decided to pursue my CFRE as a way to learn more about the areas of fundraising I was not practicing (planned giving, capital campaigns, and major gifts).

What aspects of your life as a CFRE best describe your career before and after receiving your CFRE? Before, I was one of the few Latinos with a career in fundraising when I began.There were only two others when I began that stayed in fundraising as a life choice. I always worked for Latino-serving nonprofits as part of my commitment to my career and learned that my peers didn’t really respect the work I was dong until they noticed the CFRE credential behind my name.

Today, I am a trainer, helping new people in the field develop the right skills to be successful fundraisers, and I see many people in my classes from the same organizations that thought less of my philanthropic prowess. It’s funny how life works out just right for those dedicated to helping others.

What professional development challenges and triumphs have you experienced as a CFRE? I have worked at one-person shops from the very start of my career, and that has always presented the challenge of building a culture of philanthropy among the entire staff and developing a new donor community for the organization. At my last organization, I built a team of four people and completed a successful capital campaign, which brought the organization to a new headquarters building. At my current position, I have increased the staffing in my department by one full-time equivalent and continue to serve as a consultant/mentor to smaller nonprofit organizations hoping to build their philanthropic base.  

As you know, very few CFRE certificants are men or women of color. What are some of the barriers you would identify as contributing to this gap in opportunity for fundraisers of color? First, many organizations serving people of color do not budget for staff development that would include the cost of preparing and taking the CFRE exam. I was fortunate to have my company support my personal goals. Second, there is still a dearth of candidates of color that are development professionals, and they are in high demand for jobs among organizations serving people of color and larger institutions working to diversify their staff. The CFRE credential is not needed when you have competing nonprofits vying for your talent as a person of color.

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing CFRE certification? Keep a record of the money you raised and the training you have taken. Recalling all of this information to complete the application can be a deterrent, but if you keep the documentation it will make the process go smoother. CFRE makes it easier by providing an application where you can enter your accomplishments each year and have it all ready when you are ready to apply. 


Juan Calixto, CFREserves as the Vice President of External Relations Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF) where he manages the organization’s fundraising, marketing communications, and public policy activities. He has 25 years of nonprofit experience working in various leadership positions. Prior to joining CCLF, Juan served as the Development Director for Mujeres Latinas en Acción and the National Latino Education Institute securing funding from foundations, corporations, special events, and individuals. He is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he received the President’s Award for service to the field of philanthropy. In addition, Juan is co-founder of Latinos in Development and of the “Breakin’ It Down” fundraising and nonprofit management conference. He is Owner and Principal Consultant for Ideation First, LLC, an Adjunct Faculty member of North Park University where he teaches grant writing, and an instructor at Forefront. Juan holds a Master in Public Administration from Roosevelt University and a BS in Sociology from Northern Illinois University