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Interview Questions For Development Director Candidates To Ask

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Essential Questions to Ask Before Joining a Nonprofit

It’s happened again.

You’re only three weeks into your dream development director job when you discover that you’re expected to be some sort of miracle worker — with little to no support.

You’ve learned that…

  • you’re the fifth development director in three years
  • the organization you’re working for is running nine events a year with no end in sight
  • your organization has let their database contract lapse and is keeping donor data in an excel spreadsheet
  • when your organization’s charismatic ED left a year ago, he took all the major donors with them
  • the last issue of your *quarterly* donor newsletter went out in 2016
  • you have no budget for fundraising

And it goes without question the organizational culture sucks.

As a fundraising professional, perhaps you’ve been on a never-ending quest to find the right nonprofit in hopes that you can together grow leaps and bounds. With your knowledge and talent leading the way.

Then, like magic, you spot a unicorn. You find that elusive dream job that you know is the perfect fit of mission and skill set, and you breathe a sigh of relief, thinking that your search might be over. You’ve done your research and downloaded the organization’s 990. You’ve reviewed their website and even made an online donation to evaluate the experience. So far, so good.

Naturally, you’re elated when you land that interview.

But wait a minute. Could this be too good to be true? As a candidate, don’t you wish that you had a list of questions to help you weed out the organizations looking for yet another miracle worker? Is this yet another nonprofit looking to wash their hands of the *dirty* business of fundraising and dump it all on your shoulders – without a budget or support? How can you ensure that you won’t get fooled again?

We all know that hindsight is 20/20, but that’s not much help once you’ve found yourself stuck (again). But what if you were equipped with the kind of invaluable foresight that gave you the best possible chance of figuring out if a nonprofit is ready and willing to embrace fundraising?

Foresight to the rescue!

Pick and choose from the following questions depending on the position that you’re interviewing for:

Interview questions for development director candidates

If they don’t know it, that’s your first red flag as to whether this nonprofit values their donors or views them as nothing more than ATM machines. If they don’t value their donors, chances are good they don’t value their staff, either.

  • Has your organization run your data through AFP’s Fundraising Effectiveness Project to assess not just retention but also the growth of new donors/gifts, reactivation rate, and assessment of donors who upgraded/remained the same/downgraded?
  • What kind of budget does your organization allocate for fundraising? And will I play a role in determining the future budget?

If they tell you they have no budget or they’re going solely digital because it’s *free,* run for the hills. This red flag is on fire!

  • How much time am I permitted to spend outside the office stewarding donors? What is my budget to steward donors (outside of mail)?
  • Does your organization currently have a fundraising plan? 
  • Is there a current Strategic Plan with actionable items and deadlines to reach goals?
  • What donor database are you using and who is responsible for data entry? Are you documenting your database protocols?
  • How are goals set for this position and what measures of success (KPIs) are in place beyond dollars raised?
  • Tell me about any events the organization currently has in place. What is the net ROI including staff, board, and volunteer hours? (I wanted to insert a falling off the floor laughing out loud gif here but refrained.)

Click here to download for the full list. Hopefully, it will save a lot of smart, qualified fundraisers (including you!) from becoming trapped in yet another losing situation where a prospective organization has neither a strong organizational culture nor any understanding whatsoever of what fundraising actually entails. Based on your experience, what questions would you add?

Many thanks to Joan Garry, whose post, Interview Questions for Development Directors, helped to inspire this list. No organization wants to hire its fifth development director in three years. But if that’s what they’re doing, they might want to take a look and ask themselves if they were all bad hires, or if they simply aren’t truly committed to fundraising.

I am grateful for the invaluable assistance of the following smart and savvy nonprofit professionals who contributed to this post: Mike Duerksen, Lisa Sargent, Ephraim Gophin, Preeti Gill, Steve Fröhlich, Jesse Park, Helen Brown, Aimee Vance, David Levine, Colin J. Skehan, and many others who requested to remain anonymous.

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to EmbraceRace.

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