Interview Questions for Development Directors

Interview Questions for Development DirectorsHave you been doing the “Development Director Dance?” Constant turnover and churn? Four new Development Directors in three years? Worse?

You’re not alone.

Many nonprofits see high turnover in this position and others, knowing that it’s a buyer’s market for senior development professionals, hang onto mediocrity.

I’m sorry, but fundraising is just too important. You simply cannot accept an unexceptional Development Director.

So when a client tells me how much they’re struggling with a Development Director who isn’t performing, my first question is, “When you interviewed him/her, did you discuss prior asks?”

Cue foot shuffle.

“You didn’t ask them to tell you about the largest individual gift ask they have ever made?????”

In other words, many Executive Directors simply aren’t asking the right questions during the interview process. I can’t begin to tell you how often this conversation happens.

Here are the right questions….

I HAVE NEVER HIRED A NEW DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR

First off, full disclosure. I ran a nonprofit for nearly a decade and never had to hire a Development Director. I just had to figure out that I already had the makings of a great one on my staff. So I promoted her and we were a great team.

And I nearly drove her to an early grave. But that’s another story.

So I was lucky. And in my years working with various nonprofits, I’ve learned that in the end, there are only three components to hiring a great Development Director:

1) Get a good candidate pool.

2) Ask the right questions.

3) Recognize the right answers.

Interview Questions for Development Directors

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR DEVELOPMENT DIRECTORS

Here are ten questions you should absolutely ask prospective Development Directors during the interview process. Forget any one of these at your own risk.

  1. Far too many people see the word ‘fundraising’ and head for the hills. It’s one of the main reasons board recruitment can be a challenge for nonprofits. But you WANT to be a fundraiser. Tell me why. What do you enjoy about fundraising?
  1. Tell me about the largest individual ask you yourself have made. Tell me the story. Did you get the gift? Why or why not?
  1. In fundraising trainings, you often hear, “Your love of the organization must trump your fear of asking.” What do you LOVE about this organization?
  1. I think about fundraising like investigative journalism. You should learn as much as you can before and during a meeting with a prospect so that you can tailor your ask to who they are in the world. What do you find to be the best questions to ask a prospect at a donor lunch?
  1. As someone committed to philanthropy, you no doubt donate to causes you care about. Tell me about your experience as a donor. Is there an organization that treats you especially well (and what does that look like)? Have you ever stopped giving to an organization you care about? Why?
  1. What are the three ideal characteristics of a five-star Development Director?
  1. How would you describe the ideal relationship between the lead fundraiser and the Executive Director?
  1. How do you build and sustain a relationship with your board that positions you as something other than a nag?
  1. One client of mine said, “We don’t have a development committee on our board – we think it sends a message to the rest of the board that they are off the hook.” What do you think about that? Does a board need a development committee? What should the role of this committee be?
  1. The biggest complaint I hear from E.D.’s: “My Development Director is not out asking for money,” or “Why is my lead fundraiser always at her desk?” How do you balance the need for managing the fundraising efforts and the need to be out and meeting and asking?

THE LUNCHTIME SNIFF TEST

This is not a question but rather an instinctual assessment. I find it to be one of the most important pieces of the interview puzzle.

If you can take a final candidate or two out to lunch or coffee, do it. It’s an essential part of the interview process. You could do a “mock ask” but that’s not what I would do. Instead, I would just have a get-to-know-you-outside-the-office meeting – 30 minutes minimum.

All through that time I want you to put yourselves in the shoes of a donor prospect having lunch with this new hire. It’s 1:45 and you have a 2pm meeting. The coffee has just been served and the check is sitting on the table.

Now, what feeling do you have? A nervous twitch and a desire to wrap things up? Or you can’t believe how quickly the time has flown?

WHAT ANSWERS SHOULD YOU BE LOOKING FOR?

It’s one thing to know what to ask. It’s another to know what answers you should be hearing from an exceptional fundraiser.

So here’s what you should do next…

1) Download the Development Director Interview Questions one-pager. This is yours. Use it at your next interview. I want to make it as easy as possible for you to interview well. It’s so important.

2) Read the next post: Answers You Want to Hear From Prospective Development Directors

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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  • Shari G

    These are terrific questions! I would add a very important one (maybe most people understand the necessity of this). That is: What is your experience with culling donor reports and information on trends from a database? And do you understand the importance of tracking every appointment and relationship in the database so others can follow the activity? I cannot emphasize the importance of this. Yes, everything else is important that you mentioned, but part of the job is also record-keeping and understanding the data, targeting audiences, and building a plan based on data trends.

    • very good addition Shari. this of course demands someone who is really really methodical and has ridiculous attention to detail. so if they don’t have the specific skill mentioned above, try to root out how OCD they are 😉

    • Patrick Sheehy

      I agree with Shari. Major gift work is surprisingly measurable. However, measurement isn’t possible if you have no data. I used to say to my MGOs … “If it’s not in Raiser’s Edge, it didn’t happen.”

  • blawton

    It is also very important to see your prospective Development Director in social settings. More than once, I’ve witnessed Development personnel with atrocious manners, wallflowers, and/or indiscreet with alcohol consumption, table etiquette, etc. Typically your donors have been around for a while, and expect to be in the company of people with some savvy.