So you’re looking for a job, and you think you’ve found the perfect opportunity; a fundraising position for an NGO whose mission you believe in. What could be better!
You apply, and you’re granted an interview. You immediately begin anticipating what might be asked: Where do you want to be in 10 years? What is your greatest strength? What skills can you bring to the organization? Where might your experience fall short? After composing your answers, you’re feeling confident and with a good night’s sleep you walk into the interview well prepared, right?
Eh … maybe not. I’d say you’ve forgotten the most important part!
Yes, they are interviewing you, but shouldn’t you also be interviewing them? You need to determine if this job and organization are a good fit for you. In order to determine that, you’ll need to be asking some questions of your own.
You need to know what type of organization you are interviewing for, and what exactly you’re getting yourself into. Keeping that in mind, I think there are five questions every development professional should be asking in a job interview.
1) All good things start with a plan. Does the organization have a development plan? A plan will provide you with direction, guidance and goals. You’ll know what you need to accomplish, with whom and when. Without it, you’ll struggle in the beginning. On a more positive note, if you’re hired, it gives you the opportunity to start fresh, get to know the organization and then create your own development plan.
2) It’s the job of the board of directors to work with you in setting the development goals and in raising the necessary funds, not yours alone. Does 100% of the board make a gift or get a gift? Are they required to give? How involved is the board in fundraising? Is there a board committee whose sole purpose it is to cultivate donors, to share contacts and to make “the ask”?
3) As with most things in life, diversity is always best. So you’ll want to ask, about the organization’s annual sources of income. Hopefully, that income comes from a variety of sources. One can’t rely solely on government grants and contracts. Ideally, you’ll want to see a nice amount of support from private sources of funding, especially individuals. The Atlas of Giving reports that approximately 75% of all donations made in the United States in 2013 came from individuals.
4) Everyone feels a little more secure with some savings tucked away. Ask if the organization has an endowment? If so, how much? What is the annual draw down? The annual draw down from endowment should help to cover a portion of the organization’s operating expenses, which puts less pressure on you and your board to cover annual expenses through fundraising.
5) Fundraising is a team sport. Does the staff understand that everyone plays a role in fundraising? What is the historic interaction of the development staff and the program staff? I like to think that development staff is acting in a supporting role for program staff. We raise the money. They spend the money. But in a properly functioning team, program staff needs to be aware that they are also raising money. Their interaction with the volunteers, members and the general public provide excellent opportunities for valuable donor cultivation.
The answers to these questions will help you to determine what your potential employer’s expectations might be, and give you a much better sense of the financial sophistication of the organization. I can’t, of course, promise that you’ll be hired, but I’d think the interviewers might be impressed with your questioning. At least it shows that you’ve given the exercise some intelligent thought.
I’ve read that fundraising professionals frequently move from position to position in order to get as much experience as possible in fundraising’s many different areas. If that’s the case, there’s lots of us out there interviewing. I’m curious to hear about the experiences of others. What questions did you ask in your last job interview? Were the answers surprising? Did it change your interest or willingness to pursue that position? Drop me a note and let me know.
Until then, I wish you the best of luck with your job search!