Interview Guide – Nonprofit Industry

In Canada, the charitable and non-profit sector employs nearly two million professionals. There are over 170,000 organizations that represent people, organizations or a cause — ranging from industry associations, foundations, social advocacy organizations, charities, cooperatives, trade and credit unions, sports and recreational clubs, and so on. Although nonprofit organizations vary in purpose, the structure remains consistent for most. Each is governed by a Board of Directors who are nominated and elected by the members.  

Interview Questions

  1. Tell me about your professional history that brings you here to this point.
  2. What do you know about our organization? Why are you interested in our organization in particular?
  3. Have you worked for a charity or nonprofit organization before?
    • If no:
      • What drew you to apply to the nonprofit sector?
      • How do you see nonprofit as different from the sector you came from?
    • If yes:
      • In what capacity (full time employee, volunteer, etc)?
      • What do you think are the most important skills and competencies for candidates to possess to successfully work in this sector?
      • What was the key mission of the nonprofit you work(ed) with? What was the organizational structure from the Board to Committees, and key programs?
      • Why do you believe the charitable and nonprofit sector has grown so much in the last 20 years?
  4. What do you know about our membership, the challenges and opportunities we are facing?
  5. What is most compelling to you about our cause or our mission?
  6. How do you think you can assist our organization in achieving our goals?
  7. What interests you about this position?

Level 1: President, CEO, Executive Director
Level 2: Vice President, Senior Director

  1. Tell me about your career and how it relates to this role.
  2. Tell us about your philosophy or style when it comes to Board governance.
  3. What were the Board’s greatest accomplishments during your tenure?
  4. What types of reports (strategic plan update, financial reports, current issues, committee progress, risk management, etc.) did you generate for the Board of Directors? Please explain.
  5. To what extent have you been involved in the election, recruitment, or orientation process of new Board Members? Please explain.
  6. Tell us about your leadership style in working with the Board of Directors to develop the Strategic Plan, and working with staff in developing operational plans? What do you think is the most effective way to measure and report on success to the Board – and to members / donors / clients?
  7. How did you tackle efforts to grow your organization? Provide specific examples.
  8. What experience do you have ensuring compliance to organizational policies and procedures?
  9. What experience do you have in ensuring your organization’s policies and procedures are up to date and reflect current industry standards?
  10. How do you measure performance against set goals or targets? What is your process? Provide a detailed explanation.
  11. What areas of organizational development did you take the lead on? (i.e. membership development, fundraising initiatives, stakeholder relations, etc.)
  12. How closely did you work with each department to ensure the objectives and goals of the organization were being met? What metrics did you use to assess the success of each objective?
  13. What is your level of experience with developing organizational budgets? How have you developed budgets in the past? For what size of organization?
  14. How frequently did you review budget performance in your past roles? How have you ensured budget compliance for your department or the organization as a whole in your past roles?
  15. Do you have any experience with reserve management?
  16. Have you ever had to manage an external audit in your past roles?
  17. Have you ever acted as the official spokesperson for a non-profit organization?
  • If yes: Did you experience situations of crisis management? Explain the context and how you handled the situation as both the problem solver and spokesperson. Were steps taken after the crisis to prevent it?
  1. Outline your previous experience working with a Board of Directors and Executive Director / President of a nonprofit organization. What was your level of involvement with both?
  2. Explain a time that you dealt directly with the Board of Directors, without the involvement of the Executive Director / President. What was the outcome?

Many nonprofit organizations do not have an HR Department or an HR Lead, and the HR function falls within the Executive roles.

  1. What has been your involvement with the recruitment and hiring of new team members?
  2. Was employee retention a significant problem for your organization, and what steps did you take to increase or improve staff retention?
  3. What role have you played in new team member training / development? Provide examples.
  4. What strategies did you use to mentor / coach existing team members?
  5. Describe your thoughts on work-life balance. Do you encourage telecommuting or work-from-home options, or were these not a fit for your former organizations? How did you manage off-site workers?
  6. What was your performance review or annual review process? If an employee is not meeting the expectations of the role or their fit with the organization is poor, what steps were taken to improve?
  7. Have you terminated employees in the past? Describe the steps you took beforehand to prepare for a termination.
  8. Have you had a former employee pursue your organization legally for wrongful dismissal, human rights, accommodation, or Employment Standards? If yes, how did you resolve it?
  1. Can you describe a business situation in which you faced difficult choices, and had to decide to speak up (or not) about the matter? If no situation comes to mind, let’s discuss the financial crisis in 2008-2009. Are you familiar with the situation that occurred at Lehman’s Brothers? Many senior people at the organization knew that the company was taking reckless actions – and remained silent. What would you do if you became aware of a matter that could have bad consequences? In what ways have you implemented constructive feedback that you have taken in for yourself?
  2. What are your thoughts on culture in the workplace? How do you instill accountability? In what context have you had to put humanity and compassion ahead of accountability and responsibility?
  3. Do you see leaders as having to make sacrifices to retain great people?
  4. In the context of achievement and failure, how have you shared the credit and shouldered the responsibility for failure with a subordinate or team?
  1. Describe a fundraising campaign you have been a part of, outlining the purpose, planning and results.
  2. How have you communicated fundraising goals internally as well as to the general public? Please explain in detail.
  3. How do you think you can advance our fundraising goals?
  4. How do you ensure fundraising campaigns are successful? What are your specific analytical, planning and logistics skills? How do each of these attribute to implementing a successful advancement campaign?
  5. How have you kept in touch with past donors in order to maintain a relationship past their initial donation?
  6. Have you been directly responsible for locating new event / program sponsors? If yes, explain the process you take to secure new sponsorship – from the initial call to the follow-up and ultimately securing the partnership.
  7. What type of reports have you provided to sponsors in order to demonstrate ROI?
  8. What companies or industries would you propose we target as potential sponsors for our organization, and why?
  9. Do you have experience with financial management, record keeping and reporting? Provide examples for each.
  10. What is your experience with event planning for the purpose of fundraising? Explain an event you developed, planned and executed. Did you stay on budget? What was your fundraising goal and did you meet it? Describe a time you didn’t meet your fundraising goal and why this occurred.
  11. Have you been responsible for applying for grants in the past? If so, please explain the process and your involvement. What grants have been awarded to your organization?
  12. Do you have experience furthering the development of an organization’s database? If so, how did you help improve the database? What key fields did you use in fundraising to communicate with targeted audiences?
  13. How do you think you can help us strengthen our business, community and industry relationships to support fundraising / sponsorship opportunities? What would be your strategy?
  14. How would you increase our community presence?
  1. Do you have finance experience working specifically for a nonprofit organization?
  2. Do you have any certifications (i.e. CPA, etc.)? If so, how have they benefited you in your profession?
  3. Do you have experience with activities related to the fiscal control of a non-profit organization such as tax planning and reporting, federal requirements for NFPs, compliance to bylaws, CRA rules around gifts / gifts in kind / sponsorship receipts, advocacy, member services, etc.? If so, please describe. How do you stay current as these needs change over time? If not, how can your experience help to further the financial goals of a non-profit organization?
  4. Demonstrate how you have been responsible for managing financial processes, projecting revenue, tracking expenditures and forecasting annual budgets. Provide specific examples.
  5. Have you created budgets for the Board to approve? What has been your role in monitoring expenses against budget targets? Which programs did you use and how often did you monitor, analyze, and take corrective action when necessary?
  6. Have you been responsible for preparing month-end, quarterly-end and year-end reports? Please elaborate.
  7. What financial reports / statements have you prepared to demonstrate that the organization is in good standing with the requirements of the articles, by-laws and unanimous member agreements of the organization?
  8. How closely have you worked with other departments to provide financial reports on areas such as fundraising and sponsorship? Have you worked with other departments to prepare budgets for funding applications?
  9. Have you been a part of an audit for a nonprofit organization? Please describe your involvement.
  10. Have you been responsible for payroll in the past? If so, how many employees and what was the pay schedule (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.)?
  11. What is your proficiency with Microsoft Excel, QuickBooks or other accounting software?
  1. Tell me about your experience in non-profit program development.
  2. Did you work directly with the Board of Directors and / or Executive Director?
  3. In the past, how have you contributed to the development of marketing campaigns, programs and initiatives within a nonprofit organization?
  4. What do you know about our organization’s programs? Provide a brief description of each. What developments (if any) would you recommend for our programs?
  5. How have you communicated program developments and other initiatives to the public (i.e. through the organization’s website, media release, internal documentation, etc.)? Provide specific examples.
  6. What strategies have you relied on in the past to attract members / donors / clients – and potential members / donors / clients – to the programs offered by an organization?
  7. What is your experience with program budgeting?
  8. Describe a program you developed including the details specifically surrounding budgeting and forecasting.
  9. Do you have website development and content writing skills?
  10. Do you have experience writing media releases and press kits? What were the means of achieving a particular reach (i.e. media contacts)? Did you pay for publishing (i.e. local newspaper)?
  11. Are you familiar with SEO content marketing and writing, including Social Media Marketing (targeting sponsored ads)?
  12. Did you research, write or assist in grant writing? Provide a specific, tangible experience with grant proposals and writing. What was your level of involvement?
  1. Tell me about your experience in nonprofit marketing / event planning.
  2. What do you know about our organization? How would you further communicate our mission through internal and external entities? Explain which means of communications you would use and why.
  3. What marketing strategies have you implemented to further an organization’s reach and expand it’s membership base? Explain the marketing material used (print, digital, etc.)
  4. What kinds of public speaking engagements have you done (large groups, fundraising, media, training, etc)?
  5. How would you rate your public speaking skills?
  6. Have you been the allocated representative for an organization before? Did you enjoy it?
  7. How do you effectively communicate the interests and mission of an organization through your professional face to the community, public, stakeholders and volunteers?
  8. How do you effectively communicate the interests and mission of an organization through written material? Provide an example of a media kit you produced. What marketing collateral was involved?
  9. Have you used social media to leverage the reach and promotion of an event or program? What level of engagement did your content receive? Was it organic or sponsored? How did you track the results of the campaign? Provide an example of how you successfully used social media to leverage an event.
  10. What desktop and website publishing tools have you used for marketing projects? How would you rate your knowledge of each (beginner, intermediate, advanced)?
  11. What is your experience with managing, maintaining and updating websites? Provide tangible examples of impact.
  12. Do you have experience and the required software skills to progress our website development including SEO, content curation, HTML/CSS formatting and writing?
  13. How do you control and ensure you stay on budget for marketing campaigns? Have you ever gone over budget? If so, what was the outcome?
  14. Do you have experience in event planning? If yes:
    • Describe an event you planned. Include how many delegates, guest speakers and members attended, as well as your involvement planning registration, hotel rooms, and transportation.
    • What are the largest and smallest events you’ve planned?
    • Tell me about your most successful event.
    • What made it so successful?
    • Tell me about your least successful event. How did it fall short or fail?
    • Did you work in a team or autonomously to plan events?
    • How do you plan on contributing to the reoccurring events we host?
    • Are you comfortable with working extended hours and weekends?
    • Have you developed event project work plans and project management (PM) schedules?
    • What communication processes have you developed to support an event?
    • Are you familiar with local licensing requirements and legal guidelines for events?Provide a tangible experience where you required licensing. How did you ensure the event followed legal guidelines?
    • Do you have experience managing an event budget?
    • Have you ever worked on an event with a minimal budget where some or all aspects needed to be secured in kind?
    • How would you describe the difference between community building, fundraising, conference and training-based events?
  1. In the past, what level of involvement have you had with an organization’s position on policy, legislation and regulatory affairs to government(s) and other agencies?
  2. Do you have experience developing the positions of members for advocacy purposes? Please explain.
  3. How do you identify, establish and maintain relationships with elected officials and bureaucrats to advance the policy goals of the organization?
  4. What strategic policy developments, issue management or alternative subject area changes to regulations or government policy did you propose? What was the recommended change and what supporting documentation did you provide (i.e. reports)? What steps did you take to convince government to implement the changes?
  5. How have you represented organizational issues in the past? Provide a specific example. How would you represent our cause, ideas, information, issue, and mission? Do you have affiliated contacts in the industry that could support our position?
  6. What administration motivations and constraints do you foresee for our organization as the Government Relations and Public Affairs Advisor? Provide one strategy for each.
  7. What is your experience with media relations to support achieving your advocacy goals?
  8. Have you prepared media collateral and press release kits? Provide the scope of public affairs.
  9. Have you engaged the services of a Government Relations firm?
  1. How would you describe your verbal and written communications skills and why?
  2. How would you describe your organizational skills and why?
  3. Are you self-motivated and flexible with the ability to multi-task? If so, why do you think so? Please provide examples.
  4. What type of member / donor / volunteer / client involvement have you had in the past?
  5. What was your main form of communication with members / donors / volunteers / clients?
  6. Give an example in which you provided excellent judgement, diplomacy and professionalism while interacting with a member / donor / volunteer / client.
  7. How do you work effectively with members / donors / volunteers / clients? Provide an example for each.
  8. Have you managed a website and / or social media channels as a means of communicating with the community? If so, which ones, what did you do, what was the impact?
  9. What strategies have you used to develop community relations and / or attract new members / donors / volunteers / clients to the organization?
  10. Have you worked with Association Management Software (AMS) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in the past? If so, which one?
  11. What Content Management System (CMS) do you have experience with?
  12. What experience do you have working with a database?
  13. What information did you enter into the database and how did you use that information to further your internal communication efforts?
  14. Do you know how to input media, notes, actions and other relevant information into the database? Have you or do you perform database reconfiguration and clean-up plans? Did you provide areas of opportunity or recommend improvements? What were they and why did you recommend them? What impact did these changes have on your internal communications?
  15. What was your role or tasks associated with grants? Were you in charge of finding grants on a regular basis? Did you liaise with other departments? Did you track grant deliverables? Please explain.
  16. How do you ensure service users know they are appreciated (i.e. special event invitations or holiday cards)? How would you distribute and track?
  17. Describe a time you had to interact with a displeased service users. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?
  18. Have you ever been responsible for online reputation management? If so, please explain your approach.
  19. Did you actively ask members to post positive reviews for you on such sites as Google and Yelp? List others if applicable.
  1. Have you volunteered before? If so, where and why? What was your role and how long did you volunteer for?
  2. Have you ever worked with or managed volunteers before?
    If yes:
    • What was your role in relation to the volunteers you worked with / managed?
    • Were you responsible for scheduling volunteers?
    • What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced while working with volunteers?How did you deal with that?
    • What is your experience prioritizing multiple volunteer needs?
    • How did you manage conflict amongst volunteers?
    • How did you manage conflict between volunteers and employees of the organization?
    • Provide an example where there was an issue and how you tried to solve it.
  3. What is your experience in volunteer coordination, recruitment and management?
  4. Tell me about your recruiting volunteer experience:
    • Did you work autonomously or in a team?
    • How many volunteers did you recruit at a time?
    • How did you find the volunteers?
    • Do you have experience writing volunteer position descriptions? How do you go about this?
    • What types of questions did you ask, what type of screening process did you implement?
    • How often did you recruit volunteers?
    • Who were the volunteers and what were they needed for? Were you recruiting for specific volunteer qualities and skill sets?
    • What was your turnover rate for volunteers like?
    • What were the reasons volunteers provided when they no longer wanted to volunteer?
    • Do you have experience recruiting for a particular demographic?
    • What draws you to being a volunteer recruiter?
  5. Once selected for a volunteer role, what type of training was provided? Who executed the training? How did you evaluate the effectiveness of the training?
  6. How do you keep track of volunteer projects and contact details? What kind of software or systems have you used? How do you manage and maintain projects and databases?
  7. How would you rate your communication and management skills? How prominent was communication with internal and external parties in your previous position? Specify the groups of people you spoke with most frequently. Provide a time you ran into a communications issue, how did you resolve it?
  8. Hypothetical: Your fellow staff members are not happy about your volunteer program. They feel they do not even have a spare minute to get a job ready for a volunteer, they do not want to supervise them and they think they are just one more burden in an already busy day. Also, some may be worried the volunteer could ultimately take their job. What would you do to help your colleagues with their concerns or alleviate their resistance?
  9. Hypothetical: You are short a few volunteers, but one of your dependable volunteers is suddenly not showing up for shifts, and/or is always late. How do you address? If ultimately you decide to let them go, how do you go about terminating a volunteer? Have you ever had to let someone go? If yes, how did you handle it? What, if anything, did you learn from the experience?

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