These questions were first written by Kathryn Britton for Positive Psychology News, and reprinted in Catherine Mattice’s blog, No More Workplace Bullies. I am indebted to them for their hard work on how to uncover a hidden workplace bully right from the first ten minutes you meet them. This is my spin on the nonprofit fundraising interview questions.

When you go in for that nonprofit job interview, pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes. Nothing escapes you. Look around. Is this environment going to support you and your goals? What kind of question is that? Isn’t everyone scrambling to find a job? Even if you are scrambling, and you feel that you HAVE TO take the job, these questions are here to help you decide if this job is going to be a difficult one.

For example, Donna is about to go to her fundraising job interview. She just left an abusive nonprofit work environment. When she tried to speak out against her boss’s abuse of her peers, and also took her issues with her boss to the board chair, nothing happened. Donna accepted the offer of this post against her better judgment, because this boss wanted to raise $1 Million the first year, from a budget of $400,000, and she didn’t think that was reasonable. (It wasn’t.) And it wasn’t her first experience with an abusive boss. How does she avoid yet another abuser?

Get out your toolkit, and ask these questions.


1. Who will I learn from and how?
Will your direct superior teach you about fundraising? If not, who will? You can’t just read blogs all your life! Is anyone there going to mentor you? Who is going to understand what you’re going through, who is going to laugh and cry with you? Or does your nonprofit leader tell staff, “Tough luck, you’re responsible for your own career”?

Use your powers of deduction, and ask this next question.

2. Who is held up as a hero here? What for?
Are individuals or teams held up as heroes? What behaviors are valued here? Are the heroes people who raise a lot of money, but spend 80 hours working every week, neglecting their families? Or are the heroes people well known for setting boundaries, raising the money, but spreading out the work, working smarter, not harder, and collaborating and creating great teams?

Got your lockpicks? Excellent!

3. How do you resolve conflict here?
I wish I had asked this in my interview. Often nonprofits have high turnover because they don’t have a process, or worse, the process is ignored. A healthy nonprofit will have a process whereby a staff member will be informed of expectations and given a chance to improve their performance. Sadly, many nonprofit staff members are blamed for the faults of their superiors. And according to several research studies, people who instigated abusive comments were three times as likely to have more power than their targets than to be peers or subordinates.

4. How willing are people to help each other?
Is helping others valued and expected? Will you have access to the receptionist if you need help with a mailing? Are you going to get drawn into helping with someone else’s event? How is work divided up? Are you expected to do the work of an event manager, a volunteer manager, a grantwriter, a communications manager, and a development manager? If this is all in your job description, this is a very important question to ask.

5. How do you celebrate what’s working?
I remember a supervisor who would always start meetings with what wasn’t working. So if you’re supervising someone, change your attitude from: “What is going wrong with your project?” to “What is going well with your project?” You can still talk about what’s going wrong, but if possible, begin and end on a high note. Communicate to your supervisor what works best for you in terms of meetings and communication.


What can you uncover in ten minutes? Sherlock uncovered a hidden room.

6. What keeps you going when things get stressful?
Fear or a dedication to the mission? Competition or comradeship? You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that job environments matter to people. It’s even said, “It’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with,” when it comes to jobs. If you have a team you trust, and a team that can support you, this can keep you going. Mission dedication is important, but it can’t keep you going forever. Are you supported now? If not, how can you make that happen?

Your senior management needs to have emotional intelligence to keep your nonprofit running and fulfilling its mission. I’ve said it in previous posts, but it’s worth repeating. You will raise money if your nonprofit is actually doing the work, and if the perceived impact is high. People give to a cause that is really helping. Nonprofits that are run poorly will not get funding. There’s not much you can do to raise the money your cause needs if the community sees that you are NOT actually doing the work, and you are getting demotivated by senior management.

So in closing, you have a few essential tools in your kit now to go out and find the truth! I have a lot more essential questions/(lockpicks/chemistry kits) that you need to ask in the interview here:

You got the interview! Now What?

10 fundraising interview questions to help you succeed in your career

Should you apply to that job? One simple test

Are you feeling stuck in your job?

These questions were first written by Kathryn Britton for Positive Psychology News, and reprinted in Catherine Mattice’s blog, No More Workplace Bullies.

If you want 65 more fundraising career resources, just go here.

If you want 99 more nonprofit leadership resources, click on over here.