Questions to Ask Applicants for the Position of Development Director

By QuickBooks Canada Team

4 min read

A development director has a direct impact on your nonprofit’s resources; great directors can transform your finances by cultivating and nurturing a loyal donor base. Since nonprofits often have distinct cultures and styles, it’s essential to select a candidate with a compatible personality. Open-ended interview questions are the key – they encourage detailed answers, making it easier to evaluate each applicant.

Fundraising

A development director’s main responsibility is to oversee all aspects of fundraising. If your nonprofit has specific fundraising goals or plans, it’s important to bring them into the interview. Try an open-ended question, such as, “We’re planning to ramp up online donations in the next two years. How would you go about that process?” or, “What experience do you have with implementing and managing online donation programs?”Promotion is another key aspect of fundraising; the right candidate must be comfortable with your existing system. If your organization has a robust Facebook and Instagram presence, for example, ask the candidate to show examples of previous social media campaigns. While you know your nonprofit best, each candidate brings unique experience. To understand how they can help you grow, ask questions such as, “Given our planned fundraising efforts, what would you do differently, and why?”

Failure

As anyone who’s undertaken a fundraising effort knows, failure is par for the course. Patrons can be unresponsive to campaigns, gala events might see low ticket sales, and new initiatives fail to spark an emotional response. Although they are disappointing, these fundraising mistakes are also highly educational. Questions about failed fundraising attempts can help you understand a candidate’s breadth of experience. Try, “Can you talk about a situation when a fundraising effort didn’t go as planned, and tell us what you learned?” or “What’s the biggest fundraising failure you’ve ever experienced? What went wrong, and how did you implement the lesson in subsequent efforts?”These questions tell you several things:

  • Whether the candidate has been fundraising long enough to experience failure.
  • If the candidate has the self-awareness to recognize and analyze unsuccessful attempts.
  • The candidate’s ability to learn from mistakes.

Fund Development

The state of your funding efforts should impact the choice of development director, at least to a point. Maturity matters – a small, young fund is different from a large, well-established program. A candidate experienced in mature funding efforts might struggle in a new nonprofit, and vice versa. If you want your new development director to hit the ground running, ask questions that help you understand how your candidates would handle your specific situation. Give each candidate a baseline understanding with a short explanation of your financial situation. Then, ask pointed questions that target the needs and pain points in your organization.

  1. “Can you describe your experience with managing a young donor base?”
  2. “What steps would you take to develop a brand-new funding effort?”
  3. “We have a large, loyal donor base. How would you build a relationship with them?”

Capital Projects

Large projects, such as facility renovations or special scholarships, require special fundraising efforts. If your organization is planning any capital projects in the upcoming years, you should evaluate each candidate’s ability to work with major gifts. Questions such as “Do you have experience securing large donations?” or “Can you provide an example of a time you worked to bring in a major gift?” can help you understand if a candidate is comfortable courting high-value donors.

Resistance

Nonprofits rely on fundraising, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in the organization is always on board. A great development director must be able to handle resistance diplomatically, which requires a blend of experience and personality. During the interview process, ask questions that get at how the candidate handles pushback at all levels: “Have you ever encountered resistance to a fundraising effort from staff members? How did you handle it?” for example, or, “How would you manage a situation where a board member strongly disagreed with your fundraising plans?”

Change of Setting

Interview questions shed light on a potential development director’s experience, but a formal interview can only tell you so much. To determine whether a candidate’s personality and style is a good fit for your organization, it’s important to observe them in different settings. Ask finalists to attend a strategy meeting or a spring cleanup event to see if they gel with your staff and key volunteers. If your interview process is informal, test out the candidates in more formal settings to gauge their professionalism – board meetings and large-donor gatherings are both ideal options. After each session, ask the attendees for honest responses and reactions to the candidate. Try “What did you think of the candidate?” or “Do you think you could work effectively together?” The responses can help you identify positive traits and red flags that are difficult to spot in a traditional interview.

Career Direction

For many nonprofits, the development director position experiences high turnover. If you’re looking for someone to cultivate a long-term relationship with staff and donors, don’t be afraid to be direct. Ask, “We’re looking for someone to stay for at least five years. Are you willing to make that kind of a commitment?” Alternatively, ask about the person’s career plans with questions such as, “What is your ultimate career goal?” or “What are you hoping to gain from this position?”The right development director can create a powerful fundraising program, enabling your nonprofit to serve a broader base. With targeted interview questions, you can dig deep and find a candidate that fits seamlessly into your team.

References & Resources

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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