How to ace a non-profit development interview
November 4, 2011 7:51 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a friend: She has an interview next week for a part-time non-profit development/social media job. She has pretty good answers for generic job interview type questions, but what kinds of questions might she prepare for that are more specific to the field? What kinds of skills should she be highlighting?

-The job is at a GLBTQ youth organization in a major city.

-She has a strong training in grant-writing (Grantsmanship Center training, if anyone's familiar) and is a pretty strong writer overall, but has never actually written a real grant. She has gotten in-kind donations for a non-profit before, but not as part of a paying job. How can she best emphasize the experience she does have?

-She moved to her city for an AmeriCorps position at a small organization that deals with similar issues. That position ended under less-than-ideal circumstances. (She resigned; both of the other AmeriCorps workers at her site had done the same thing before.) How should she address this background, knowing that the ED of this non-profit might know her old boss?
posted by brackish.line to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm the ED of a small nonprofit (1 million budget annually).

She needs to convince the agency that she will pay for herself. If she can't pay her own salary with her ability to raise revenues, she's a liability, not an asset, and, to be honest, this is tough in this day and age.

She needs to highlight her people skills (private donations, corporate donations), her ability to connect to those with money.

If she's never actually written a grant, she doesn't have any "grant writing skills" to sell. An ED knows what it takes to write a grant and is not going to be impressed by anything short of success in bringing in $$$'s. She'll want to talk about her ability to understand RFP's and the importance of crafting her proposals to match the RFP. Some examples of her writing would be useful if they are at all related to grant writing. She can certainly talk about the Grantsmanship Center training, perhaps as an example of her willingness to learn and gain skills.

If she has any experience related to the mission of the organization, she should focus on it. I want to know that someone in that position understands who we are, who we serve, and is in tune with our mission.

The social media piece needs a tech focus and she needs to be able to demonstrate that she understands the dynamics of marketing in that environment. Having a facebook account doesn't make her an expert. How to use social media, why, when, etc....

If she has specific questions, feel free to give her my e/mail address, it's in the profile...
posted by HuronBob at 8:08 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of etiquette, software/web apps and lingo involved in social media that if she hasn't yet spent time engaging an audience or keeping a community alive on top of understanding the technologies it takes to actually get the type of results she wants, she might struggle. Hopefully she is familiar with the organization and has been following their current outreach methodologies.

Social can be tough and thankless; juggling the ability to analyze stats/trends, convey a consistent message with a corresponding personality, be as transparent as possible, do some major damage control and still be able to give back something meaningful to your power players -- no less the ability to do this 24/7 (or hope that one of your fellow media peers doesn't flub while you're away).

If she's not familiar with the field, is she ready for that sort of commitment to generate revenue from it?
posted by june made him a gemini at 11:57 PM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just interviewed for a communications position with an LBGTQ organization. They asked me few questions related to the actual work I would have to do. Instead they asked me about my experiences working with various communities. They asked more questions about the trans community than anything else even though the work load would have only been perhaps 1-%-20% on trans issues.

I have been working with LGBTQ groups for ten years now and have found this to be true with almost all such organizations. It is my impression that they will be more concerned about commitment to their issues and experience working with constituent members than actual work history.

If I were your friend I would read every press release they have sent out in the last year to familiarize yourself with their priorities. Then I would identify a possible grant that helps oen of those and sketch out a strategy to get it.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:11 AM on November 5, 2011

As an ED of a small non-profit (5 staff), I will concur with munchingzombie, for the most part. Unless a job is very technical, fit with the organization is the bigger issue. Every single staff issue I've had since taking the job has been around fit or inter-staff conflict. I look for some basic knowledge, common sense (through scenario questions), flexibility and adaptability and an ability and willingness to learn new tasks and become proficient at a variety of tasks, and assume that I can teach the rest. Yes, greater skills and experience will get you the job over someone equal in all other ways, but I'll take someone who demonstrates that they understand non-profits and are passionate about the issues over someone who does not but has greater skill.

To that end, the questions I ask are:
* skills and experience/interest questions
* relevant scenarios (how might you solve that problem, what would you do if?),
* questions concerning awareness of our issues,
* questions around experience with problem-solving and conflict management (tell me an experience you've had with x and how you dealt with it)
* questions about ideal work environments, and experience with those things that are relevant to our organization (working with diversity, those with mental health challenges, etc.)

I also give them an assignment directly relating to the job, either before interview or at it - ie. design a 1/2 hour program session, create a spreadsheet showing x,y & z, write an introduction to a grant proposal for project x.

As for her Americorps experience, I wouldn't bring it up unless they ask. If they do, I would simply explain, without mudslinging, that it became clear that it was not a good match for them and they decided to pursue other activities, but given what they know about this org. that would not be the case with this job. Odds are good that if the organization is the problem, the new org is well aware (non-profit-world gossip is rampant).
posted by scrute at 9:23 AM on November 5, 2011

I have almost this exact job at a local chapter of an up-and-coming nonprofit AND AmeriCorps experience (although slightly different scenario as I was actually placed at the org where I am now staff, and previously had volunteered -urgh syntax). Feel free to MeMail me and I'll pass along my contact info to your friend.

Her strong writing skills are absoLUTEly her strongest asset in this position from what you've described. I'd say doing a job like mine well (both the grantwriting and the social media) is 40% strong writing skills and the rest some cocktail of people skills, common sense, an understanding of the issue/people you're serving, and a willingness to just throw shit at the wall and see what sticks, not getting too attached to any one idea or way of going about things. The grant-seeking process can be incredibly opaque even to people who have years of experience -- sometimes grant decisions are made based on factors you'll never be able to control. Social media marketing for nonprofits is a really squishy field and there are plenty of people out there who all think they know exactly what best practices are -- and they all vehemently disagree with each other.

Her best shot lies in this, IMO: doing the research about this organization and having it down cold. Being able to point to several past projects they've done that she admires. Having two or three solid ideas for marketing strategies or events (I bet you ten dollars events will end up being a part of her job). Getting a good night's sleep the night before and showing up looking like a put-together, reasonable person one might like to spend 40 hours a week with (okay, yeah, important in any job interview, but nonprofits tend to have VERY small VERY close knit staffs so a lot of hiring is based on this factor). Really selling her writing skills -- don't be shy, don't fall prey to the young woman's habit of downplaying what you can do. Confidence!

The AmeriCorps thing is a little tricky. I know that having a history as a volunteer is incredibly important if you're looking for a job in a nonprofit, because how can you sell your organization to volunteers if you're not willing to walk the walk? I would finesse it by saying that she's volunteered at X, Y, and Z organizations + her AmeriCorps organization, or that she's volunteered regularly for ABC years. The fact that she signed up for AmeriCorps shows that she's committed to volunteerism, and that it was a bad placement isn't necessarily a strike against her. As an AmeriCorps alum, I KNOW what kind of shit goes down in a bad placement, and anybody with substantial nonprofit experience will know too.

I hope this is helpful! Good luck to her. Again, MeMail for contact info if you wish.
posted by andhowever at 9:48 PM on November 5, 2011

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