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publication date: Sep 14, 2022
author/source: Tammy Villeneuve

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days…” written in 1907 by Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards. 

This old song comes to mind as days get shorter and the end of the summer is upon us. I remember the inevitable butterflies fluttering in my belly, anxious for the new beginnings a new school year would bring. In the last two weeks I’m sure many have experienced this - it’s back to school days. 

Lifelong learning is a pursuit of personal growth, and knowledge development. Whether formal or informal, for personal fulfillment, for a passion, to fulfill a calling, or to achieve professional ambitions – lifelong learning is inspiring and sets a healthy example for our children. 

It all sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Like something you’d read in a Hallmark card? The truth of it is really a different picture. When working full-time, being a mom, (including fur babies) wife, and friend - throw some self-care in there if you can – the reality of “life-long learning” can be chaotic, stressful, exhausting, and expensive. So, what’s the pay off? This is the inspirational piece – at least for me. 

Like so many of my colleagues in fundraising, I did not start out in my life to be a fundraiser. Honestly, I didn’t even know this was a profession! I was working in sales and volunteering when I discovered that fundraising was my calling. But moving from volunteer fundraiser to being hired as a professional with an organization that has been fundraising for over 25 years created a learning curve the size of Mount Everest. I was searching for an oxygen tank while also looking for the correct trail up!

CFRE as a learning map

Fundraising is an ever-evolving industry. There are new trends every month, with a plethora of incredible ideas shared by professionals who have been in this sector for a long time. How does one stay current on these ideas, and continue to be relevant and competitive at a time when anyone can access Google for a quick-hit idea? 

For me, it was my drive and ambition to achieve my CFRE (Certificate of Fund Raising Executive). This designation is not a requirement to work in the sector, however achieving it is both a journey and an accomplishment.Maintaining the CFRE enables that lifelong learning thing again! 

I am far from an expert on writing the CFRE. However, as many of you know, the CFRE includes eligibility criteria in: education, professional practice and performance. All must be met to write the final exam. I found the process of tracking achievements in my career fulfilling and a reminder of how far I’ve come since starting in this sector. 

The achievement of my CFRE was a relief. 

Relief I didn’t have to write that exam again! 

Relief that the accomplishments I had made during my years of learning were not left unnoticed. 

And now…only three short years later, I sit gathering all of my latest accomplishments for my recertification. I ask myself, “What does that mean now? I feel like I just finished achieving it!” Thankfully recertification is only half of the criteria required and blessedly no exam! But still, it’s a scramble to upload performance practice and performance metrics. Did I achieve enough educational credits? If not, how do I acquire more – and do I even have time?

There were a number of resources I found to help with my CFRE recertification and I’m happy to share them: 

  • A great online resource shared on LinkedIn was offering free online training for the nonprofit professional. 

  • Attending Congress with AFP is a great way to achieve credits – as well as to see old friends, make new ones, learn from your colleagues and network!

  • AFP Global Association of Fundraising Professionals ( offers courses that provide credits as well.

The ultimate benefit is really the learning 

This was my first recertification experience. It wasn’t easy to make the time to do it, but having deadlines kept me motivated. In the process I gained new insights into this sector, learned of new trends and reviewed old approaches that still apply. Studying leads to me tab so many great books with post-it notes. Articles get printed and stashed for later use – more great ideas for growing my shop! It may be that I’ll forget more than I remember – but each new learning will help me at some point in my career.  There will be a job or cause that allows me to utilize my new skills. Isn’t that the point of being a lifelong learner? 

Tammy Villeneuve, CFRE is the Director of Fund Development for Smilezone Foundation and a member of the Board of Directors for the Hamilton Brain Injury Association. Tammy has over 17 years of fundraising experience including her years as a volunteer and as a professional achieving her international designation of Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) in 2019. 

Photo by Ana M. on Unsplash

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