Nonprofit Interviewing: Legal Questions for Interviews

by William J. Moran, J.D., M.S.Ed
The Moran Company  “We Find Great Nonprofit Executives”


When hiring a new nonprofit executive director, usually Board members are involved in the interview process. Many have good hiring experience. However, some need basic instruction on what questions to avoid. At The Moran Company, we work with Boards and Search Committees as part of our recruitment process to develop appropriate and useful interview questions.

Below is a checklist to use with Board members before the interviews. It is an important step to stay away from possible discriminatory and illegal questions. This list comes from, with our edits.

To ensure fairness, do NOT ask the following kinds of interview questions:

  • Concerning the age of the candidate. Be careful using the words over qualified with older candidates.
  • About their arrest record (this is different from convictions – in most states, it is permissible to ask if the candidate has ever been convicted of a crime).
  • About race or ethnicity.
  • Concerning the candidate’s citizenship prior to hiring (It is permissible to ask “Will you be able to provide proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. if hired?”  Similarly, it is permissible to ask “Are you an enrolled citizen or eligible for enrollment in a federally recognized tribe?” if the nonprofit has a tribal citizenship preference in hiring.)
  • Concerning the candidate’s ancestry, birthplace, or native language (it is permissible to ask about their ability to speak English or a foreign language if required for the job).
  • About religion or religious customs or holidays.
  • Concerning the candidate’s height and weight if it does not affect their ability to perform the job.
  • Concerning the names and addresses of relatives (only those relatives employed by the organization are permitted).
  • About whether or not the candidate owns or rents his/her home and who lives with them. (Asking for their address for future contact is acceptable.)
  • Concerning the candidate’s credit history or financial situation. In some cases, credit history may be considered job-related, but proceed with extreme caution.
  • Concerning education or training that is not required to perform the job.
  • Concerning their sex or gender. Avoid any language or behavior that may be found inappropriate by the candidate. It’s his/her standard of conduct that must be met.
  • Concerning pregnancy or medical history. Attendance records at a previous employer may be discussed in most situations as long as you don’t refer to illness or disability.
  • Concerning the candidate’s family or marital status or childcare arrangements (it is permissible to if the candidate will be able to work the required hours for the job).
  • Concerning the candidate’s membership in a non-professional organization or club that is not related to the job.
  • Concerning physical or mental disabilities (asking whether the candidate can perform the essential job duties is permitted). The ADA allows you to ask the applicant to describe or demonstrate how they would perform an essential function(s) when certain specific conditions are met. Check the law or consult with an attorney before moving forward.

At the Moran Company, we work with our clients to develop a list of interview questions that are not only legal and non-discriminatory, but also those that seek to determine professional skills, work style, and most importantly, appropriate fit with the organization. We have spent our careers as executive directors or as senior fundraising staff.  We are able to recruit top professionals as peers and ask the right questions to determine their true strengths. If you are interested in learning more about what we do, visit us at

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© 2017 The Moran Company, “We find great nonprofit executives.” We specialize in searches for nonprofit executive directors, directors of development/fundraising staff, and other top nonprofit leadership.

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