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Journey to a CFRE Certification

Congratulations to Ryan Ginard, CFRE for achieving his CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) certification! Today we're talking with Ryan about his journey to obtaining his certification.

The CFRE certification is a globally-recognized, accredited fundraising certification for fundraising professionals. Take your career to the next level! The next round of CFRE applications are due July 15, 2021. Learn more! AFP Greater Austin Chapter members enjoy 20% off the cost of the certification.


Headshot of Ryan Ginard
Ryan Ginard, CFRE (He/Him/His)
Director of Development
UT Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin
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How Ryan’s Journey Led Him to CFRE:
After his time at the San Diego Foundation, Ryan was drawn to another dynamic non-profit (Access Youth Academy) with a database of 100 donors and a shoestring budget. Here, his philanthropy journey was shaped with support of great mentors in a CEO and Board Chair, Ryan led the team to a “crazy goal” to create a new squash and education center. Prior to his involvement, they had hit multiple dead ends. Instead of being discouraged after having the rug pulled out from under them a few times, Ryan saw things a little differently.

“Not coming from the traditional fundraising background, I thought, we could leverage government here and started looking not ‘outside the box’, but at a different box altogether. We found a great piece of land in Federal Promise Zone …and ended up raising $12.5 Million to build this facility. That sparked this idea that philanthropy doesn’t have to be that traditional approach to raising funds. 501c3 is just a tax designation, not a business model. I was raising big amounts of money, so I would be wise to start building on my education and get it more formalized.”

Prior to starting his role at Access, Ryan received his CFRM at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which was an intensive, in-person approach. After that, the CFRE changed their requirement to 3 years in the profession, so Ryan now qualified. What was the process studying for the CFRE the first time? “I studied really, really hard, and I just approached it the wrong way. I had just a child who was under 1 and it was too much. I ended up failing by 5 points. I questioned ‘am I in the right profession?’ I took it quite hard because I was early on in my career. I didn’t even tell anyone and I just moved on and went back to organized philanthropy.”


What brought you to University of Texas Computer Science Development Team?
“My wife got the opportunity to relocate to Austin. I had all that tech background the way Austin was trending. I wanted to go to an institution where I could potentially be one of the best fundraisers in the country and coming to UT had that opportunity. I didn’t have that opportunity in San Diego. Being able to come to the Computer Science department helped combine my professional and personal passions. I love UT. I love how they have helped me transition given that when I moved to Austin, within 3 weeks, the entire place was shut down.”

 Ryan Ginard with his family in front of the I Love You So Much mural

Why did you decide to pursue your CFRE a second time?
During COVID and finishing my book, I really wanted to give the CFRE another crack. I retraced my steps. Asked myself ‘what went wrong last time?’ I asked around a bit on how to get involved. I had done some work with AFP in San Diego, but here I Wanted to get a bit more involved because I was back in a more core fundraising role. I joined the Legislative Affairs committee here at AFP Austin and it’s all been great.

Then I realized, instead of being able to do all conferences and things over the last year, I could take this time to get another credential. I wanted the CFRE more this time than I had in the past.

I really wanted to do it this time because we want to show commitment to the highest standard to the profession. We want people to come from high school, wanting to do fundraising and have that as an option. We want to get rid of that comment that you always see in every single blog or profile piece saying “I accidentally got into fundraising.” I think there is an opportunity to give everyone the tools to automate a lot of the processes, which bog down the development staff. Once you are gaining that time back, you are not backfilling the extra admin, you can ideate how to have a deeper relationship with donors and build more than a transactional relationship.


How was your study process different the second time around?
During the process of writing my book, I discovered that I had dyslexia. So the reason I was kind of failing here is because I approached it in a way that didn’t help me get to that magic number (which is 50%+1). So, with that, I started looking at ways that I could connect with content a bit more. I could learn better. After I got the greenlight from my boss [to pursue my CFRE], someone from the Fundraising Academy at National University reached out with an opportunity to join a new cohort study group.

 Ryan Ginard at a speaking event

What was your experience with the Fundraising Academy’s study group?
A colleague from my time at National University came to me and said ‘I know how I want to leave my legacy in the fundraising profession. I want to get 1000 people from my coaching to pass the CFRE. He does a study group with about 40-50 people in each cohort. He would send an email out each morning with dot points about the content. He would then have an intensive on Saturday. A month before sitting, he would have another intensive to go over areas you were weak on. He would bring the people having the test that week to go over the finer points. Having him in your corner really demystified what the exam was. It’s all in the questions. You know the answers, but it helped to go through the powers of deduction.


What fun tips or advice do you have for someone who is studying for their CFRE? 

  • Audible has the text book now. Back in the day, I had the text book, but I obviously didn’t read them because I had this extra layer. So, I could listen to them on Audible and all the stuff I was hearing could be reaffirmed with what our study group leader was saying.

  • Something else that would be good to share is that a lot of people who have purchased the text book have donated it to this study group, which is a way to make it a bit more affordable.

  • I always say, if you are going to pass the CFRE, 50%+1 is good enough and anything else is just showing off!

  • It looks like a big thing to do, but it is all about how you frame it. And, seek out a mentor. There are so many people willing to give back.

 Ryan Ginard in a group photo at a past AFP Philanthropy Day

What do you think are the major benefits of the CFRE?
The CFRE builds out that scaffolding as the foundational elements in fundraising. At the end of the day, every conversation you have with a donor is different. And, being creative expands their opportunities to give back. Having the CFRE and that commitment to the higher standards means you can go above and beyond to find that connection. You understand that there are different giving vehicles out there and having a grasp on them to be more of a knowledge broker in these conversations. By being tested through a globally accepted standard really helps you in these conversations. The CFRE helps you to know enough to be dangerous.

And, having those letters after your name is definitely a conversation starter. It can give you an opportunity to walk donors through the process and why you got it, and build trust in the conversation as well.


Parting words of wisdom:
Embrace the opportunity. It is refreshing and can reconnect you with the work, especially for those who have been in the field for so long. It’s often a thankless task, which is why we see people bounce out of the sector so frequently. Having those opportunities to ground yourself in why we do it and how we do it is something that will stand you up for future success. It’s really respecting the profession and knowing that having this credential is going to help you grow and frame your next steps.


Congratulations, Ryan!

The CFRE certification is a globally-recognized, accredited fundraising certification for fundraising professionals. Take your career to the next level! The next round of CFRE applications are due July 15, 2021. Learn more! AFP Greater Austin Chapter members enjoy 20% off the cost of the certification.


About the Interviewer:

Headshot of Lauren Lewis
Lauren Lewis
AFP Austin Communications Committee Member
Development Director, Imagine a Way
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