By DonorSearch

Ah, the tricky business of interviewing. It is difficult in any field, as both the interviewer and the interviewee. The person doing the interviewing has the challenging job of balancing selling the position and assessing the skill-set of the potential employee. And, well, we all feel for the potential employee. Who hasn’t arrived way too early for an interview only to sit in your car for twenty minutes until you’re ‘appropriately’ early? Or, who doesn’t leave an interview and then just play the discussion ad infinitum for the foreseeable future? Okay, so maybe I’m projecting my own anxieties, at least slightly. But, truthfully, interviews and the hiring process can just be incredibly stressful for all involved. If you’re looking to hire a prospect researcher, you want to ensure you’re hiring the best candidate. Prospect research can be hugely beneficial for fundraising organizations, but those organizations need to have the right resources and people in the place to help steer their efforts in the right direction. This guide is designed to lead you through the prospect researcher interviewing process. Approach the interview with a solid knowledge of what the researcher’s place will be in your organization and what will be expected of him or her, so that you can best cater your questions to determining if he or she is the right fit.

Prior to the Interview

You’ll want to assess the current state of your organization’s prospect research before any candidates walk through the door. Think through the following questions:
  • Do you already have a system of prospect research in place?
  • Will the new staffer be establishing a new system?
  • Who will the researcher be working with?
  • What tools will you provide to aid the position (i.e., services from a prospect screening company, like DonorSearch)?
Once you’re apprised of your current research situation, you should then go about curating a prospect researcher qualities wish list. Think of this list as a driving outline of a prospect researcher job posting.

Creating a Prospect Researcher Qualities “Wish List”

These preferences will vary depending on your answers to the above questions, but, in general, contenders for the job should be:
  • Researchers first and foremost (if this is an entry-level position, look for evidence of research skills in academia).
  • Inquisitive and willing to chase down donor data.
  • Proficient with databases.
  • Effective oral and written communicators.
  • Comfortable multi-tasking.
  • Able to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Understand the inner-workings of fundraising.
  • Discreet and capable of handling confidential and personal information.
When you know what your organization needs from a prospect researcher, it’s time to get to interviewing.

The Interview

For the purposes of this discussion we’ll be breaking our recommended interview questions into three categories:
  1. General
  2. Place in the Team
  3. Prospect Research
Once we get to prospect research, we’ll cover both questions for entry-level candidates and those applying for higher-level positions.

#1: General

Every good interviewer needs to do a basic personality and general assessment of the interviewee. These are what we’d consider the universal questions slightly skewed to nonprofits.
  • What appeals to you about the role?
  • What is your understanding of the position?
  • Why do you want to work for a nonprofit?
  • How would you explain our mission to a potential donor?
  • Where do you see yourself in a year, three years, five years, etc.?
  • Who is your professional role model?
  • What nonprofit, besides this one, do you think has an impressive fundraising model?
  • Tell us about a time when a professional project went badly and how you handled it.
  • How would you handle a disagreement with your supervisor?
This list could go on and on. Try to find a good mix of easier questions, designed as a point of entry, and more specific, challenging ones. It also never hurts to throw in one or two fun ones that reveal more about the applicant’s personality — like, what’s your favorite television show?

#2: Place in the Team

Whoever you hire is going to be working closely with your entire development staff. The new staff member might have other prospect researchers to work with or have to coordinate with communications staff. A successful nonprofit runs like an engine, multiple parts working side by side, fulfilling a common goal. A prospect researcher can’t simply be database bound, head in a computer all day. Researchers have to have good chemistry with your team. You’ll need to dedicate a line of questions towards this, such as:
  • Tell us about a time when you had a bad experience working with a team.
  • Tell us about a time when you had a great experience working with a team.
  • How do you balance the needs of multiple people?
  • Would you consider yourself someone who is better as a team member or team leader?
  • How do you prioritize your own tasks and tasks others need assistance with?
Later in the interviewing process, maybe during a second interview, you could introduce the candidate to a few of the staffers whom he or she would be working with daily and get feedback from them, in addition to the supervisor. Additionally, you could have the candidate perform a project where he or she has to work with other members of your team. This allows other people to get to know the candidate a bit better, and you’ll be able to see how the candidate interacts with your existing team.

#3: Prospect Research

These questions are the main course of the interview. You’ll be asking somewhat different questions of those applying to an entry-level versus a higher-level position, but in the end you’re looking for similar qualities and skills. A) Entry-Level Position
  • What is your understanding of the position and the role you would play as an employee?
  • What past experiences have you had with fundraising?
  • What drew you to prospect research?
  • How do you usually perform research, say, for an academic paper?
  • How would you handle prioritizing two important tasks?
  • Do you consider yourself more of a data-driven and detail-oriented or a big picture researcher and analyst?
B) Higher-Level Position
  • Tell us about one success and one failure you’ve had in the past regarding prospect research.
  • What resources do you typically use to perform prospect research?
  • Are you comfortable working in a predetermined system and methodology, or do you have your own established process that you like to stick to?
  • Do you expect to work in a team or individual environment?
  • What is your formula for identifying a top donor prospect?
  • What do you consider to be the most telling details you can discover about a prospect?
The interviewing process for a prospect researcher should not be all too different from any of your other staff positions, especially those in development. As long as you enter the process with a solid understanding of where your prospect research efforts are and where you’d like to see them go, you’ll be able to appropriately evaluate if an interviewee is a good candidate. If you’re new to the field of prospect research, or you’d like a refresher, check out our ultimate guide. Even if you’re hiring a prospect researcher to fill in for your own knowledge gap in the field, you’ll need to know background information in order to properly vet those applying for the job. Bonus tip: Check out this video to learn more about hiring people to work in your nonprofit.
Prospect Research


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The Quintessential Guide to Interviewing a Prospect Researcher