10 Warning Signs for When You’re Interviewing at a Nonprofit
There are thousands of frontline fundraisers interviewing for new jobs right at this moment. You may be one of them. Unfortunately, I am hearing from frontline fundraisers who recently accepted a new job and are regretting the decision.
Many jumped for the opportunity to make 30% or more in compensation only to find out the organization — which originally stated the job was hybrid — now wants the employee in the office full-time. Or, all of a sudden the fundraiser is now having to project manage the annual gala in addition to having to meet an unrealistic revenue goal.
Remember, the nonprofit fundraising world already had a staff retention problem before the pandemic. So, while organizations offering higher salaries or more benefits may seem tempting on the surface, you need to spend more time looking under the covers to see what this organization really is about.
To help with your job hunt and interview prep, I’m going to give you some potential warning signs to be aware of based on what I’ve seen over the years. If you notice any of the following when interviewing at a nonprofit, it’s a serious red flag. And be doubly cautious if the organization offers to pay you double your current salary. Here’s what to watch out for so you don’t make the mistake of leaving one problem only to jump into another.
1. The job description is more than two pages long. This means they expect you to do more than build relationships with your donors and secure revenue for programs. Any job description longer than two pages — don’t even apply.
2. The organization assumes that you will bring over donors from your previous nonprofit. I have seen this quite a bit. This could come up in the interview process. I actually saw this recently in a LinkedIn post.
3. The nonprofit has no structure for mid-level, major or planned giving, and your revenue goal is not attached to individual donors. This means leadership will dictate your revenue goal, instead of basing it on the donors in your caseload.
4. The organization wants you to prospect for wealthy people. If this is mentioned when you’re interviewing, it’s because they need more major donors.
5. The organization doesn’t see the value in you sharing specific examples of nonprofit’s accomplishments to donors. When you ask them about the different projects and programs they have to offer donors, they tell you not to worry about that because their donors just give to the general fund, and they don’t want restricted gifts.
6. The nonprofit has a vague approach to donor qualification. When you ask how the organization qualifies donors, the interviewer has a quizzical look on their face and says that if a person has a high enough wealth indicator number, they qualify for your caseload.
7. The organization works in silos. When you ask how program and finance will interact with you, they tell you there’s no need for that because your job is just to raise money from donors.
8. The nonprofit’s KPIs focus on how many face-to-face visits, phone calls, emails and asks you make. It says nothing about making meaningful connections or working on your plan.
9. The nonprofit has no donor pipeline. This means it doesn’t have a strategic plan to acquire, cultivate, and move doors up to major gifts. The organization may not even have a mid-level program. The expectation is that major gift officers both acquire and cultivate major donors.
10. Your prospective manager was just promoted because they were the top revenue-producing major gifts officer (MGO). This is usually a disaster for the MGO who must be managed by this person.
Keep this list in mind when you’re interviewing for a new position. Just because a nonprofit is willing to pay you more — even a lot more — doesn’t mean you’ll find fulfillment there. You want to work for a nonprofit that adds value to your life, not stress and burnout. Avoid any organization that exhibits any of these problems, and you’ll have a greater possibility of finding that fulfillment.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.