The Whys of Pursuing Your CFRE, Part 2

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Q&A with Sandy McNab, 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 realized fundraising wasn’t “just a job,” but a vocation you felt committed to? What did that moment feel like? I’ve never been “just in a job as a fundraiser.” I don’t think of raising funds as an end, but instead as a means to allow dreams to be built and missions fulfilled. When I founded a public school program to help middle school students succeed where they had been failing, finding additional human and financial resources was essential to maintaining and growing the program. To do that effectively, I needed to learn how to recruit volunteers, build a board of influence and affluence, and attract financial resources. To do that I needed to study what others had done and were doing and emulate it.

What was the journey that lead you from that moment to pursuing your CFRE? Sitting for the CFRE Exam was a way to announce to myself and to peers, colleagues, and friends that I was serious about a process that would let me make a difference and, later, help others do so as well.

What aspects of your life as a CFRE best describe your career before and after receiving your CFRE? After being awarded the CFRE my career has been more collaborative, focused, and productive.

What professional development challenges and triumphs have you experienced while a CFRE?  My challenges have been in finding ways to help those who seek it, and remembering that it is not about our needs or wants, but about the needs and wants of others.

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? Because a disproportionate percentage of people of color only occupy support or entry level positions, they often do not have the same economic advantages of paid or reimbursed educational opportunities that are afforded to managers, directors and others who occupy higher-level jobs at various nonprofits. The perceived gap in opportunity for fundraisers of color is due largely to the very real gap in leadership positions held by people of color both in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing the CFRE designation? Being prepared to pass the CFRE exam often starts with asking friends and colleagues about the process, assessing your knowledge with self-administered tests that contain reading lists or self-directed learning opportunities, and availing yourself of the many support and educational opportunities that can be found on the CFRE International website, the Association for Fundraising Professionals website, and others. The essential point is knowing that the exam yields a report card of performance, so that if the exam is not passed, there will be a clear indication of knowledge gaps that can be addressed, and that aside from the financial consideration, failing the exam is not important. It can be taken again and will provide a solid learning opportunity. I failed the FAHP exam the first time I attempted it, and found it a valuable learning experience. Knowledge is a right, not a privilege. Exercising your right to gain knowledge is fundamental to our society and to our profession. Ask any CFRE for help and expect to get it.


Sandy Macnab, FAHP, CFRE is President of Alexander Macnab & Co., a fundraising consulting company he founded in 1994 after serving as Assistant VP for Development at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. A creator of nationally recognized annual and planned giving programs, he has conducted feasibility studies, counseled capital campaigns, and provided planned and major gift support to clients throughout the US. A Certified Fund Raising Executive and a Fellow of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, he is a former board member of Chicago’s AFP Chapter and of the Chicago Council on Planned Giving where he was honored with the Jonathan Heintzelman Award for service to the planned giving profession. He’s an Adjunct Professor at Chicago’s North Park University where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in fundraising marketing, annual and major gift fundraising, and planned giving for nonprofit organizations. As a volunteer, he currently serves on the boards of the Take Heart Africa Project, the World Craniofacial Foundation, and is an AFP Mentor, a member of the AFP Research Council, part of the team that is revising the AFP Dictionary and the AFP Fundamentals Course, and a member of the CFRE International Advisory Board. He’s a former campaign chair and president of the Evanston United Way, and a past Bequest and Legacies chair, North Shore Unit, American Cancer Society.