A few weeks ago, I visited a man I mentored when he was in his first fundraising job after a successful decade working in the for-profit world. He’s now the vice president of development at a growing nonprofit, and his career continues on an upward projectile. I am very proud to call him a colleague, and I like to think that I played a small role in his success.
While having a mentor wasn’t the magic bullet for his (or anyone’s career), a mentor/mentoree relationship can be very beneficial for both parties. Several local chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals offer mentoring opportunities, as do other professional groups.
So, is it time for you to find a mentor — or be a mentor? Take this short career checkup, and see if mentoring is what the doctor orders.
Are you fairly new in fundraising?
A mentor won’t take the place of continuing education or reading magazines and books — or experience — but he or she can help point you to the most useful opportunities for learning. Your mentor can also teach you a few things that you may not learn from seminars and reading — things that are often only learned by trial and error. Look for a mentor who has specific skills that you are most in need of. For example, if you are uncertain how to measure your fundraising success and make decisions based on the numbers, seek a mentor who has strong analytic skills and is able to explain concepts in language you can understand.
Are you stuck in your career or unable to think beyond the current situation?
Remember, a mentor isn’t a magician to help you solve your problems, but he or she may be able to help you think through options, explore possibilities, think outside the box and all the other clichés out there. Sometimes spending time thinking about what could be (instead of always focusing on what is) can help. But never look for a mentor to make the decisions you don’t want to make yourself. Instead, look for a mentor who can help you learn new things and explore ways to apply them.
Are you interested in moving into another nonprofit vertical?
You may benefit from a mentor who works in that vertical and can help you understand the unique aspects of fundraising in that arena. For example, if you have always worked for environmental groups and want to move into educational fundraising, a mentor with a background as a development officer at a college may help you discover what skills are transferable and where you need to get additional training or experience — or where you should focus the next year or two — in order to successfully transition. Don’t expect the mentor to be your personal employment counselor or to find you a job. Rather, the mentor’s job is to help you understand what specific skills the new vertical values so you can focus on those to prepare yourself.
Do you have a love for fundraising and a genuine desire to share that love with others?
If so, being a mentor may be the perfect opportunity for you to demonstrate your passion and help another person (and therefore, another organization) grow through your knowledge-sharing. Taking time to mentor someone is personally rewarding. It may even remind you of why you became a fundraiser in the first place, as you see the excitement in someone else who gets an idea from you, implements it and sees how it makes a difference in his or her fundraising program.
Some of us started in fundraising intentionally, and others of us kind of stumbled into the field. We’ve learned things through structured testing, making mistakes, and the guidance and example of others. Being a mentor — or giving someone else the opportunity to mentor you — is a rewarding way to give a little more back to the nonprofits we believe in.
Who inspired you — or is inspiring you now — in your career?
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.