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How to Use Your Donor Relations Skills to Land Your Dream Job

Woman smiling with her hands up excitedly with purple overlay and text with blog post title.

Are you looking for a new job? Maybe it’s a promotion you’re seeking, or you’re looking for a more supportive culture, or it’s time to expand your skill set. Whatever the motivation, there are a few great ways to apply the art and science of donor relations to your search.

Now stay with me…you find the job that you want to apply for, it’s with an organization you want to work for, the job skills align with your experience (maybe not every single one, but you apply for it anyway, because you never know what they’re looking for and you could be it!), and they offer a competitive salary and benefits - now what?

It's time to tap into your donor relations skillset to help you land that dream job! Here's how:

  1. Informational interviews - What is an informational interview and why should you do one? When you find a job that you’re really interested in or curious about, reach out to the hiring manager or to someone in HR if you can’t find the hiring manager’s name. Most hiring managers are happy to speak with potential candidates to help answer questions, establish expectations about the role, or to provide some context around the job description. This is by no means an official interview, but is a way for you to learn more about the job, team, and possibly the reporting and team structure. Think about this as your first interaction with a donor to get to know more about them and their areas of interest.

  2. Your resume and cover letter - This is the first thing a hiring manager will see and is often the tool they use to determine whether you’re qualified for the position and if they want to move you forward to an interview. Your resume and cover letter should be complimentary documents and should accurately and concisely describe your past work experience. Think about your resume and cover letter like you would an impact report. It should be visually pleasing but not too cluttered or overwhelming, and should easily illustrate the impact you have had at your current and previous organizations. Additionally, you wouldn’t address an impact report to a generic person at an organization or leave a name off for an individual, so do your research and find the name of the hiring manager for your cover letter. If you can find their name and title, that’s fantastic - sometimes postings keep those things under wraps, so at the very least address your materials to the hiring contact, this is usually an HR contact or the head of the search committee. These small touches go a long way - it shows you are serious about the job, attentive to details, and created your materials specifically for this job and not just a mass send.

  3. When you get an interview - Be kind and attentive to anyone you communicate with about and throughout the process. Maintain formality when communicating - it’s so easy to be casual and brief in communications due to the number of chat and texting options we all use now, but how you show up in writing plays into how you are perceived by the hiring manager and all other team members helping with the search. In addition, keep your donor relations and stewardship tools in mind through the entire process. Be kind and attentive to all involved with scheduling, communicating, and organizing your interview(s). You never know who is helping with scheduling and what influence they have in the process. If someone is rude or dismissive to support staff, what kind of team member will they be? Remember, you’re cultivating potential future colleagues and collaborators just as we cultivate our relationships with our donors!

  4. Preparing for the interview - Know who you’re meeting with! Think about an interview as you would a donor meeting, and do your research. Research who you’ll be meeting with - look at their current role, past experiences, professional connections, and evaluate how any of this information may or may not apply to you and the role you’re seeking. When preparing for the interview, be specific and address questions to people based on their role. Make them feel seen and show them that you did your homework. Don’t forget to research the organization as well. Are they in a campaign? Are they getting ready for a campaign launch? Do they have public fundraising goals? If so, what are they? Is there a strategic plan they’ve publicly shared? What are the pillars and how would you be contributing to that plan and those goals?

  5. Show up - Bring your whole self to the interview, people want to know who they’ll be working with. Be curious - ask position specific questions. Dress appropriately for the position and the organization. Each place has slightly different standards, so be aware of what’s appropriate and what’s not. Be prepared - have questions ready, know what the schedule entails, be ready for something to not go right or for some conversations to feel awkward. It’s okay and people are very understanding. You may be nervous - that’s okay - just breathe and stay focused. It’s perfectly normal to be anxious about something that you really want, that just means it’s important to you.

  6. Send thank yous! - In our line of work, most of our focus is on acknowledgements, impact reporting, and stewardship of gifts. Yet, when it comes to interviewing donor relations staff the thank you for an interview is often overlooked. If you get an interview, send a thank you note. It shows that you continue to be interested in the position(if in fact you are), but it also shows that you are committed to the practice of donor relations and “walking the walk.” If you are invited for an in-person interview, never underestimate the power of a handwritten note. Have a pre-written note to hand to any support staff that helped with your scheduling, or to the hiring manager at the end of the day. Again, much like we want to surprise and delight donors, be sure to go that extra step for a job that you really want. You’ll stand out from the rest!

Now you’re ready! Go use your charm, intentionality, and thoughtfulness to land that next job. Donor relations and stewardship are the art and science of cultivating and maintaining a relationship, often going above and beyond to bring joy to those that support the organizations where we work. Use that same logic and skill to find the next best place for you and show them what it really means to be a donor relations rock star!


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