10 fundraising interview questions to help you succeed in your career

Mazarine Treyz a pale person with glasses wearing a blue dress and smiling, shares how to get the right fundraising interview questions

Fundraising interview questions are CRUCIAL to get right, because they can help you see if you want this job or not. Nonprofit fundraisers often have a hard time saying No. Perhaps it’s because we are so good at creating community and relationships. We are trained to say yes, to do sales, marketing, customer service to make everyone happy. Today I want to teach you about some ways to vet a nonprofit before you work there, in your job interview, so that you can learn whether or not to say no to a job when it’s offered to you. These fundraising interview questions will show you if they are setting you up to succeed, or just setting you up. This can save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run.

Since the average tenure of a fundraiser in a nonprofit organization in America is 18-24 months, then chances are you’re going to be looking for a job soon, if you’re not already. Combine this with the Great Resignation of late 2021, and wow, there is a fundraising talent war going on! Are you ready to jump ship? Have you been burned out by a job? Would you like to learn how to make the best of a nervewracking situation?

Here are some fundraising interview questions that you can ask

First and most important question.

1. How much was raised last year and How much would I be expected to raise in the first year?

The reason you want to ask this question is you want to know right away if they have realistic or unrealistic goals for your position. Chances are, you are the sole fundraiser in the organization, and if they expect you to raise $1,000,000 after raising only $450,000 the year before, with a staff of one, that is setting you up for failure. You can choose to stay in the interview or go based on how they answer this question.

Are you set up to succeed with a plan? Or are they disorganized?

2. What is the focus of the strategic plan right now?

This will help you see if they are an expansion phase, a contraction phase, or a stasis phase with the organization. If they are in an expansion phase, such as building a new building, you might ask, “Has a feasibility study been done?” or if they’re in stasis until the economy gets better, you might ask, “Have donations fallen from two years ago?”

3. What is the focus of the development plan?

If they say, “What development plan?” or “You’ll have to make it” you can be certain that they need your help, but also you might want to query them further on if they’ve ever made a development plan, if the previous development person made a plan, or if everyone just makes it up as they go along. Remember, the more systems you have in place, the more you will be able to raise money. Want a one-page fundraising plan? Check out my fundraising planning course here.

Are they good to work for? Or are they a nightmare?

4. How many times has this position been filled in the last four years?

If they say, “You will be the fifth person in as many years” then you know that you have some serious questions about whether or not you want to get involved with this organization. High turnover means something is up. Remember when you’re dating and people say, “It’s not you, it’s me?” In this case, that would be spot on. It really is them. Ideally you want to find a nonprofit where the previous person is available to train you. If they are not available, that’s another red flag.

5. What sort of qualities would you like to see in the person who fills this position?

This will help you watch them think about the previous person in the position, and you might be able to glean something from their answers about what they liked or didn’t like about this person.

This will lead you to the next question:

6. For your boss: What is your management style, and how often are there supervisions and staff meetings?

This requires you to know yourself enough to know how often you like to meet. So ask yourself this before you go into the interview. Generally, I like to have quick, once-weekly meetings with my boss to keep communications smooth and flowing. This redirects me when I’m going off course. Some of the worst organizational communication I’ve ever seen is in organizations that are smaller than 20 people. It’s incredible how people will simply not communicate with each other. Your office will break down if communications are not kept open, and this can lead to new levels of tension and hostility, so do try to get as many meetings as you need with the people you need to be in close contact with.

If you get to talk to the Executive Director or CEO during your interview, here are some fundraising interview questions I would ask.

7. How much of your job is currently major gifts, and how much would you like it to be?

If your executive officer is not comfortable making major gift requests, but prefers all fundraising be foisted onto you, then they are not taking responsibility for the fiscal health of the organization. And this can tell you whether or not you want this job.

8. What are your priorities right now? Advocacy? Allocation of state funds? Collaboration? Maintaining the level of service, but not expanding?

You can often get a sense of this if you look at the organization’s 990, but you will want to see how honest they will be with you. This is a CRUCIAL fundraising interview question. Are you walking into a situation where fundraising has been neglected? Or is it thriving?

9. What are some difficult decisions that need to be made? Staff cuts? Budgets? Funding cuts?

You need to know answers to these questions.

When and if you meet with the Executive Director, you want to know if the organization is in trouble, or if it’s in stasis, or thriving. Usually, by this point in the interview, if they tell you how much turnover there’s been, how much they’ve made in the last year and how much you would be expected to raise, and what the focus of the strategic plan is, you should have a pretty good idea of how they are going to answer these questions, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, to show that you care about the pressures they are facing, and that you want to help by being the best fundraising professional that you can be.

I NEED MONEY TO LIVE: The most nervewracking but IMPORTANT fundraising interview question

10. What is the range of compensation for this position? Is it salaried or hourly? What other benefits are involved in this position? When would this position be expected to start? When can I expect to hear from you?

Depending on how well they answer the previous questions, you may decide that you want to skip these questions. Believe it or not, in the last fundraising job interview I had, the interviewer wanted me to work on salary, with no benefits, as many days per week as they wanted, as many hours as they wanted, for no extra compensation if I did a good job. This is actually illegal to ask someone to work full-time with no benefits. I doubt whether they could get anyone but the most desperate person to fill that position, and I walked out of the interview at that point.

You need to know your bottom line too. What is your bottom line salary requirement? What is your bottom line hourly requirement? Do you only work hourly? What benefits can you not live without? Is it a unionized shop? If not, why not?

I hope these fundraising interview questions help you in your quest for your next position. Whether you’re happy with where you’re at or whether you’re itching for new challenges, I’m sure that you will do well no matter where you land. Just remember you’ve got to see what you’re getting into before you say yes!

Updated Feb 2022: If you liked this post, you might like this video

AND these other posts on how to interview well.

12 MORE interview questions for your next fundraising job interview

Here are even more questions you should ask in your next fundraising job interview.

Be Sherlock Holmes and ask these 5 questions in your next nonprofit job interview  

These are some of my most popular posts, ever! Why? Well, probably because these interview questions come up again and again in fundraising, and you can easily prepare for them by knowing them in advance and deciding what you’re going to say. But don’t forget, this is a two way interview! You need to ask them questions as well. And we’ve got JUST the questions that will help you uncover if this place will be a good place for you to work or not. You definitely want to check out these questions-they could make or break your next job.

How to rock your next fundraising job interview 

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These 6 questions will help you in your next interview too

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