If you're thinking about pursuing a career in fundraising at a nonprofit organization, then I say, "Congratulations!" because you are preparing to embark on a dynamic and highly gratifying career path. Needless to say, there will be challenges in your quest to become a successful fundraiser. Probably the first challenge will be getting a job, which means preparing for the interview. As with any line of work, there are certain specifics to know when preparing for the job interview.
Know the Job
For one thing, you will need to have an understanding of what the job entails. Fundraisers at a nonprofit organization are responsible for initiating and developing relationships from private donors to corporate sponsors with the goal of obtaining financial support. While a fundraiser must find ways to raise funds, the position has a much broader range of duties that overlap with the fundraising role. A fundraiser may be in charge of event planning, media/public relations, managing staff and/or volunteers, administration, and training, in addition to his or her role of cultivating new partners and alliances.
Prepare for a Marathon, not a Sprint
A fundraiser's role is a constant challenge, and many fundraisers get burnt out after a few years. Thus, there is a lot for an employer to consider when vetting a job candidate: Can he do the job, and just as importantly, can he work with the organization? Can he deal with the internal politics of the nonprofit? So, expect a spate of questions. I have worked with an experienced fundraiser, and in her last job search she was doing several phone interviews and a Skype interview prior to several in-person interviews. Don’t be surprised if the process takes a couple of months.
Understand What They Really Want to Know
As you move forward in the interview process, the questions will become more focused and even more involved. Expect a few questions such as: What are your top three fundraising skills? Overview the development plan you had in your last job? What were the “lessons learned” and “wisdom obtained” from your previous fundraising jobs?
In asking questions like these, understand that employers want to ascertain that you meet a few basic criteria for the job: (1) you can generate the revenue level they would like to obtain; (2) you have a proven ability to cultivate relationships and alliances; (3) you have worked in corporate relations/engagement where the big bucks are, and (4) you can get them some good PR, which can generate new revenue streams. If you can convince them of that you meet these requirements, then you’ll have a clear advantage.
It’s a Two-way Street
Naturally, you should expect to be asked the heavy questions about strategy, management style, and the scope of the job, among others. Perhaps the most important part of the interview, however, is the questions you ask them. Remember, a fundraiser's role is heavy lifting, no matter how you look at it. Make sure that there aren't any skeletons in their closet, so to speak, that will impede your ability to perform with excellence. It is also a good idea to ask questions pertaining to the vision and direction of the organization. Not only will this show interest in the job, but it will also help you decide whether the position is a good fit for you.
So, if your vocational interests include networking, building relationships, and making a difference in the world, then you might just have the skill set that nonprofit organizations are looking for. Get your resume ready, put your best job interview outfit on, and prepare for your next career in the hectic yet rewarding world of fundraising.