Non profit jobs - how to assess before accepting an offer
May 6, 2019 8:32 AM   Subscribe

What kind of questions can I ask, and what types of details can I find online to figure out if it's a good place to work?

What kind of questions can I ask in an interview to assess the culture of a non profit? ie: how can I tell whether it's well managed and a nice place to work, or whether everyone is overworked and burned out? How can I phrase these in a diplomatic way?

Also what would be signals of a toxic work culture that I could pick up on before accepting an offer?
More generally, what types of questions could I ask a potential future boss to suss out whether I think they would be supportive of my career aspirations ?

posted by winterportage to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I asked a similar question a few years ago: Some good answers here
posted by geegollygosh at 8:36 AM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a newly established non-profit I'd ask about their funding model.
posted by bdc34 at 9:09 AM on May 6, 2019

990s are publicly available. I would first want to understand their revenue model (percentage of funds coming from grants vs. individual fundraising for example).

Ask about turnover and growth opportunities and potential.
posted by something_witty at 9:13 AM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Why did the incumbent/predecessor leave the role? How long has the role's manager been at the organization and in that role? Do people in different parts of the org communicate regularly (open door policy)? How long has it been since the last reorg? Ask for a tour, see how people look, is the kitchen being used, is there lively conversation? Are most people here because of the specific mission of the organization? If not, why are they here?

(I work at a nonprofit and have worked in many kinds of organizations.)
posted by wellred at 9:22 AM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ask about turnover and growth opportunities and potential.

Id specifically point out that either too much or not enough turnover would both be red flags for me.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:23 AM on May 6, 2019

In the past, I reached out to someone who had just left an organization to see if they'd be willing to have coffee to talk about their experience. (I made it clear I wasn't looking for help getting the job.) They were a connection of a connection on LinkedIn. If there's a way that you can do this without awkwardness, it could be very helpful, though of course some people might be hesitant to say anything negative...I do think it has to happen in person or potentially on a phone call rather than over email so someone opens up more.
posted by pinochiette at 9:41 AM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

How long have the current executive(s) and board been in place? If it's too long, then they'll be burned out probably.

Also - Do the staff have regular outside/social lives.
posted by amtho at 9:45 AM on May 6, 2019

Is there any way you could plausibly ask to see the org chart? The non-profit I work for is plenty dysfunctional now and it's largely because a single C-level person is trying to control everything instead of spreading out responsibility/authority. Look for an org chart with no empty C-level positions and a reasonable ratio of supervision at every level.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:12 AM on May 6, 2019

I once took a gamble in a second interview and asked why they had several negative Glassdoor ratings (couching it as "I was surprised to see this because I've gotten a good impression of the work environment so far, can you shed any light?") My interviewer/prospective boss was very candid in her response and made it clear that the org was coming out of a transition and had made some big changes, many of them on the issues that had been complained about on Glassdoor. I wound up taking the job and it's been a good fit! But I think the biggest green flag from that conversation was just the fact that the interviewer didn't get defensive at all - she took the question at face value and answered it honestly. That's what I would look for, a willingness to be candid about the work environment.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:18 AM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

When it specifically comes to the hours/burnout, my strategy (in a situation where I was worried about getting an honest response) would be to ask about it in as neutral a way as possible. Like, "I understand that in this industry there will sometimes be long weeks or late nights, can you give me a sense of how frequently that happens in this office/this role?"

I also like to ask prospective bosses "how would you describe your management style?" Another good one is "what are some challenges that previous people in this role have had?" Or "What would distinguish an excellent fit for this role from a decent one?" Just, in general, try to get them to talk about the job without implying what answers you'd like to hear. (This trick also works for roommate interviews - don't ask "do you always wash your dishes within a day," ask "tell me about how you deal with dishes," etc.) It's not a guarantee of an honest response, but it helps.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:25 AM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would definitely ask about how they support professional development for staff. Will they help you to pay to attend conferences? Are they part of any local networks/coalitions you can be a part of? Is there room in the budget to help you cover the cost of attending a workshop or getting a certification? If it's a big organization will they set you up with a mentor?

Also ask about the onboarding procedures. Will they train you or just hand you a manual and say "good luck"?

Ask about how they handle check-ins, staff meetings, staff retreats. I would want to know if there was a structured way to communicate, get feedback, and reflect on the work you're doing and results you're getting.
posted by brookeb at 1:21 PM on May 6, 2019

I'd really want to know how they handle equity/inclusion/representation. Even if you are not a member of a group that's marginalized in your area/field, it's important to know whether the org is thinking about and acting on this stuff, or if they're fucking over marginalized staff/volunteers/members/etc.
posted by ITheCosmos at 1:44 PM on May 6, 2019

How many of their employees are married to each other or otherwise familially related. I was shocked to discover this is not uncommon in nonprofits, and you should run from any place that practices this. I once worked for a place where you couldn't find a staff member who was not married to or a sibling and/or the college roomate of someone else who worked there. It was awful.
posted by archimago at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

990s are publicly available. I would first want to understand their revenue model (percentage of funds coming from grants vs. individual fundraising for example).

The OP is in Canada, so a more relevant source of financial information for wherever she's applying would probably be the Canada Revenue Agency's List of Charities. This tool allows you to pull the last five years of tax returns for registered charities (as in, the type of non-profit that can issue a tax receipt for donations, which probably covers most of the types of organizations you're looking at). This will provide similar information to a 990 in the US. A non-profit in the colloquial sense that isn't a charity

Also, definitely take a look at their recent annual reports and, if they have one, their current strategic plan. If you are applying for a role that is associated with a specific program or initiative it would be reassuring to find evidence that it was important enough to make its way into an annual report or strategic plan if it's been in operation for a while. Also look at how that initiative is funded. If you're applying for a position to support something brand-new or that's being taken off hiatus, the questions in earlier answers about funding strategy are good.

I can write a novel on this; I'll be back later with more Canadian-specific suggestions on background work that can help.
posted by blerghamot at 2:17 PM on May 6, 2019

A few things...

Research. Look at tax or financial statements. In the US, the top paid executives' salaries are listed in most instances. This will help you understand where you fit in that pay structure (just a bit of insight). You may see the amounts paid to vendors. Are these vendors working on something that you are interested in? If so, know that you won't be doing that interesting work. The vendors will. How big is the organization? What does the org chart look like? Where does your position fit into it.

As for career path: my experience in the non-profit world, small organizations will train you better as a generalist. You will do lots of cross-function roles. You will develop a breadth of knowledge just because of proximity. Large non-profits, generally, have more specific roles. Less cross-functionality. You will do exactly what they hire you to do. Generally speaking. I guess it depends on your interests (general or specific job experiences).

I'd ask:

How people in your role seek assistance.
How performance appraisals work.
If not an exempt employee, how flex/comp time works.
What is the work/life balance at the organization (are you answering emails at 10 PM)
How are benefits administered.
What kinds of skills would a finalist possess.
How they see the role expanding as the pre-requisite work in completed.
Where is the organization going in the next 3 years.
What is their timeline for hiring or next interviews.
What do the people interviewing you do at the organization.
How do they interact.

Just a few thoughts. Hope that you find any part useful. Drop me an memail if you want to chat offline.
posted by zerobyproxy at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2019

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