Ace your next fundraising job interview with these easy tips

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You already know the drill when it comes to basic preparations for your upcoming job interview: gathering examples of successes, describing how you handle failure and challenging co-workers, and knowing what to say when they ask you about your weaknesses.

But as a fundraiser, there is additional, specific preparation you should do that will set you apart from other applicants and will allow the organization to better understand what you could bring to the role.

Read on for some simple homework that will get you ready to dazzle your potential employer with your analytical and creative smarts.

First, before you even start researching the charity’s work, look up each interviewer on LinkedIn. Do they have a fundraising background? Is it similar or different to yours? This can tell you whether you’re being brought in to maintain a set program or to instigate something new. Do you have any mutual connections? If you find out that a friend or colleague worked at the organization, call them to get insider information on workplace culture, leadership and challenges. Just remember, in the interview make sure to only bring up connections that are relevant. Bragging or name-dropping might make them question whether you lack discretion.

Next, start researching the organization by looking up their last three annual reports online. These next points assume that you’re in an interview with someone from the fundraising team, not just an initial screening with human resources staff.

Before the interview, look at their fundraising totals for the last three years and note whether they have gone up, down or stayed flat. Ask them about the results in a non-judgmental way. For example: “I saw in your annual reports that fundraising revenue has been fairly consistent over the last three fiscal years. How has your organization maintained funding in this economy?” This should launch a healthy conversation on plans and goals, or at least provide an opportunity to bond over common challenges in the sector.

Ask them how many donors they have in a given year, and what portion are annual, monthly or major gifts. Find out which donor pool they are most interested in growing or protecting and why. Don’t feel compelled to offer a “fix” every time they mention a problem, but be ready with open-ended questions to get as much information as you can. Example: “So you’re looking to grow your number of monthly donors. What would the best case scenario be over the next two years for that portfolio?”

Ask them about their donor retention rate. If it’s below 40%, or if they have no idea, there may be trouble. In any case, be ready to discuss how you could help increase their success. Every position on a fundraising team can impact retention and your thoughts here will show that you understand the importance of this critical issue.

Get them to tell you what kinds of donor stewardship they do. Most charities send regular newsletters and have a thank you and recognition program of some kind. If they ask for your ideas, be ready with examples of stewardship practices that got positive reactions from donors. Be sensitive to the fact that many charities wish they were doing more inventive stewardship, but can’t always justify the resources it takes. Again, this will work for any kind of fundraising role – stewardship should be owned by the whole team.

As someone who has spent a lot of time interviewing fundraisers, I can safely say that few are doing this detailed level of homework before the interview. Candidates who do definitely stand out from the competition - and with just this little bit of effort. If you have other successful interview tips to add, please share in the comments below.

Siobhan Aspinall has more than 15 years of fundraising experience and is currently the Director of Philanthropy at Canuck Place Children's Hospice. In her spare time, she writes a humorous fundraising blog at

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