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Interviewing Fundraising Candidates – Getting it Right

2 women executives

We all know the challenge of finding the right candidate to fill our important fundraising vacancies, including the pitfalls of the interview process. The April 9, 2017 NY Times article, “The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews,” supports beliefs I have had, for many years as a fundraising employer and recruiter, about this process.

The research and examples cited state that undisciplined interviewers and process often result in undesired outcomes. In particular, the interviewer’s bias in asking questions and interpreting responses leads to unpredictable hiring success.

The key recommendation in the article, and one that I fully endorse, is to use a consistent set of questions and rigorous process with each candidate. I would add that you need to construct questions that will reveal subject matter knowledge, job related skills, creativity, and successful experience that integrates all three.

Questions for common fundraising positions might include:

Annual Giving Officer Interview

1. What do you consider to be the pillars of a successful annual giving program?

2. What databases are you familiar with and how do you optimize their features?

3. Given what you know about our organization, what would be the pillars of our annual giving program?

4. How do you determine who to include in your leadership donor portfolio?

5. How do you use giving societies for greatest results?

6. Tell me a story about relationships you have created, and solicitations you have made with annual donors.


Major Gift Officer Interview

1. What are techniques you use to secure discovery visits with new donor candidates?

2. What information do you seek to discover during these visits?

3. What do you do with this information to qualify donor candidates and determine next steps?

4. How do you use the donor database to manage the donor relationship?

5. What do you consider in determining when to solicit a gift and how much to request?

6. How do you close gifts when the donor candidate is not responsive?

7. What are some techniques you use to steward your donors?

8. Tell me a story about relationships you have created and solicitations you have made with annual donors.


Campaign Manager Interview

1. What do you consider to be the pillars of a successfully managed campaign?

2. What systems do you use and how are they structured to manage a campaign?

3. What internal resources need to be managed for successful campaign execution?

4. What types of management and field reports do you consider important?

5. If you have managed a campaign in the past, what worked well and what needed to be improved from your perspective?

These types of questions will reveal a candidate’s interpersonal style, smarts, creativity, story-telling abilities, and likely organizational fit with your culture. By asking the same questions of each candidate, the strongest will become apparent, and you will learn a few tips you can use along the way.


Your takes:

1. Be clear about the core skills and experience you need in a candidate to be successful in the position.

2. Be thoughtful about the questions you ask candidates to ensure that responses will reveal what you need to know.

3. Be rigorous in your interview consistency. Take notes and build a response matrix that scores the quality and strength of responses.




  1. Elena Brandt, Brandt Associates

    Dear Larry,

    Another timely, informative and well written article.

    I greatly appreciate all that you have been doing to educate your colleagues. I always gain new insights after reading your newsletter.

    With appreciation,
    Elena Brandt

  2. Anita Springer

    Very well said. More research I found on mistakes made in hiring is that people too often hire the person they liked the most rather than who has the most needed skills. Also, fundraising is not one skill, it is a set of different skills and no one has all the skills. Hire for the particular skills that your organization needs to take your fundraising to the next level. Thanks for the article!

  3. Jerri L uffelman

    Excellent article! I particularly liked the suggestion to build a response matrix to “score” candidates for better consistency and objectivity throughout the interview process.

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