Be the Mentor You Wish to See in the Nonprofit World

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sometimes I’ll hold my breath before I, almost apologetically, admit that I am…a millennial. (Gasp!) And if there’s one consistent annoyance I hear sitting in on countless conference sessions about how to deal with my generation, it’s that we’re not loyal to our employers and bounce from job to job like we’re at one of those indoor trampoline parks.

Some will say—“it’s not their fault! It’s the society they were raised in! They think they deserve more money, management roles, etc. and they’re inexperienced.” While some of this may be true, consider this: these are the people that WILL be running businesses and nonprofits. How can we best prepare them and retain them?

So often for nonprofits, the funding for a raise or professional development and the structure for promotions are not there. This leaves a big opportunity for mentorship. It’s free. It’s mutually beneficial. It enlightens the employer to the ambitions of the employee and can create a lifelong relationship. In fact, a mentoring relationship is the third most powerful relationship, after the family and couple relationship.*

1. Identify Yourself as a Mentor (or recommend someone who can be)  Can you set aside a bi-weekly or monthly check-in meeting? Do you have an interest in helping someone on your staff succeed? If you’re spread too thin, think about someone who would be a good role model for your employee. Unless there is genuine chemistry, consider mentoring someone who is not your direct report so they can feel a sense of confidentiality and trust.

2. Listen.  Learn about your mentee’s interests at work and outside of work. What motivates them? What are they passionate about? What are their dreams? Sit back, be quiet, discover where you can relate, and when in doubt—ask the childlike question “why?” to get to the root of what makes them tick.

3. Goals.  We live in a world where everything in your work life needs to be quantified. Come together to define what success means today, a year from now, five years from now. What is the plan to get there? How can the steps be measured? Then in your check-in meetings you have a litmus test to hold the mentee accountable.

4. Be Realistic.  While the mentee may want your role in the next five years, help put things into perspective with what needs to be accomplished to climb the ladder—even if that means them leaving your organization one day. If your mentee wants to be a major gifts officer but lack people skills, give them honest feedback of areas they’ll need to work on. This is not a sugar-coated relationship.

5. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses and how to utilize/improve both.  Maybe this person brings more skills to the table than is necessary for their position—how can you identify a way to make them applicable? By shining a light on a talent and letting your mentee creatively weave it into their responsibilities you can bring a little more happiness to their work day. On the flip side, what are areas they are totally lacking in or need improvement? Find ways for them to enhance these skillsets. In my first meetings with interns we review their resume to see what it’s lacking, and I would give them projects where they could work on those skills to fill the gap.

6. Network.  Be a connector. Bring your mentee to a networking event and show them skills to enter or leave a conversation, when to exchange business cards, how to prep. Or coordinate a coffee with someone that brings another perspective to their professional goals. Then encourage them to follow-up with a handwritten note and hold them accountable. Your reputation is on the line too when you bring them into the fold of your contacts.

7. Advise. There is a fine line between being an advisor, a coach and a cheerleader. Your mentee will look for you for guidance, wisdom, relatable experiences. While the ultimate choices are up to them, it’s great for them to consider perspectives they may not have thought of yet.

8. Let them Fail! When my mentor took some of the pressure ­­off of me to go outside my comfort zone and leap without worry was when I pushed myself the hardest. Knowing that it is not the end of the world to mess up is liberating—but always try to anticipate and plan for what could go wrong.

9. Let them Fly!  I remember the day I approached my mentor for advice on a big career move. I knew that even though my departure would be a huge loss to her (as my boss) that she always had my best interest at heart and was my champion. Her preparation and guidance was what helped me to get to the place to move on to bigger opportunities. Our ED always thought when people were recruited it meant our employees were groomed to be the best and most sought after.

10. What’s next?  Maybe your mentee has secured the dream job, or moved cross-country. Don’t let them fall off your radar. Make sure to be connected on LinkedIn and say “hello” once in awhile, share an article they might enjoy—just as they should with you. Now you can move on to working with another mentee, or maybe get involved with some local professional organizations that offer mentoring/coaching within the membership. Whatever you decide, keep sharing that valuable experience!


*Richard E. Caruso, Ph.D., The Uncommon Individual Foundation


Written by Samantha Shirley, Lead Product Manager