Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

Fundraiser Heather McGinness and PR pro Lorraine Schuchart praise accreditation over graduate degrees

By Lauren Sable Freiman | Photo by Doug Khrenovsky

In today’s competitive market, it takes a little something extra to stand out and get noticed among the competition. Although a graduate degree is one way to earn credibility in any field, earning an accreditation or designation is another option for those interested in distinguishing themselves.

For Heather R. McGinness, earning her certified fundraising executive accreditation was the single most valuable investment she has made in both her professional career and her personal life.

“Early on in my career I felt that my credibility could often be questioned when I was pursuing different opportunities,” she says. “Earning an internationally recognized accreditation that demonstrates a knowledge of best practices and a commitment to the profession spoke to my ability as a professional.” 

While McGinness chose to earn her CFRE early in her career, Lorraine Schuchart decided she was going to pursue an accreditation in public relations, also a universally recognized accreditation, after nearly 20 years in the public relations arena. A lot had changed since she earned her degree in journalism, and earning her accreditation was an opportunity to brush up on theories and best practices while delving into new tools of the trade – things like social media and pay-per-click advertising that have more recently become integral tools to PR practitioners. 

“It’s considered a mark of distinction for PR professionals,” Schuchart says. “Being able to say that you adhere to ethical practices and best practices are really important in my field. I’ve been told that it gives me an edge when I meet with perspective clients.” 

Schuchart, the principal of Prosper for Purpose, and McGinness, a fundraising consultant, work together to offer clients their expertise in marketing and development strategy. While Schuchart takes the lead on strategic planning and marketing, McGinness brings the fundraising expertise to the development arm of the business. 

Typically, accreditations require the study of preparatory materials followed by a comprehensive exam; for both the APR and CFRE, it’s an exam that is four hours long. Being eligible to sit for the exam requires that an individual has been actively pursuing a career in the field for five to seven years. According to Schuchart, the final step in earning an APR is being able to convincingly present a successful public relations campaign to a panel of judges. 

For Schuchart, the entire process lasted six months, while for McGinness the process took three months from start to finish. 

“Getting your accreditation is a shorter process than earning a graduate degree, but it’s not an easy process,” Schuchart says. “It’s an accelerated way to reacquaint yourself and learn new theories since the time you were last studying your profession.” Both the CFRE and APR have continuing education requirements and require designees to recertify every three years, ensuring that those who carry the designation are up to date on the latest and greatest research and information in the field. It also requires signing an ethics statement, which tells current and potential clients and employers that the designee is both committed to a chosen profession and to adhering to the highest standards in that field. 

Getting your accreditation is a shorter process than earning a graduate degree, but it’s not an easy process.

“Accreditation, especially the APR and CFRE designations, makes a comprehensive values statement that is demonstrative of experience, service, mastery of best practices, commitment to professional development, and adherence to the highest ethical code of conduct,” McGinness says. “For potential clients and employers, accreditation provides assurance that an individual’s professional ability and integrity has been vetted by a third party and meets universally recognized standards.”

In addition to demonstrating expertise in and commitment to a particular field, a designation has another added benefit – better pay. According to McGinness, people with the CFRE accreditation earn 17 percent more in salary than those without a CFRE. 

“The potential for higher wages is very valuable as well,” McGinness says. 

Though some professionals chose to earn an accreditation over a graduate degree, others, like McGinness, choose to earn a designation along with an advanced degree. While her Certificate in Nonprofit Management program was based on theories and concepts, preparation for her CFRE exam was based on successfully translating those theories and concepts into practice and learning their real-world applications. 

“I absolutely endorse certification beyond a graduate program,” McGinness says. “It shows an ongoing commitment to professional development. For me, the investment has come back ten-fold.”   

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