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Catching Up With...AFP Ottawa

July 31, 2012

The AFP Ottawa Mentorship Program

Leah Eustace, CFRE is passionate about philanthropy, and in her day job as a consultant for good works and as president of the AFP Ottawa chapter she has plenty of opportunity to share her excitement for and commitment to the charitable sector.  What began as general involvement in her local AFP chapter has turned into a long-standing commitment, as a volunteer and donor, to the professional development and networking opportunities that the Association of Fundraising Professionals offers. Needless to say, I didn’t have to ask twice when I asked Leah to share information about AFP Ottawa’s successful mentoring program.

Why do you think mentoring is important?

LE: I think professional development and networking is hugely important.  I look at where I am in my career, and I can attribute my progressive experiences to a network that has grown through my affiliation with AFP. Mentoring allows senior practitioners to give those who are new to the profession an opportunity to make connections and build their careers. 

It’s a huge benefit to AFP membership. Protégés and mentors both need to be members. There is also a real monetary value to the program, when time and the transfer of knowledge is considered.

How long has the mentoring program been offered by your chapter?

LE: The program has been running about 10 years.  Right now we have a strong chair in place with a committee of four people. They are very organized, have revamped materials and put program processes in place - including using Google Docs for information sharing. Preserving documentation and information in a central location for future committee members is critical. Our chair has built a foundation for the future.

We currently have seven active mentoring matches – things are a little slower in the summer.  At times involvement has been as high as 20% of our membership. We also have 25 alumni (past protégés) and 8 mentor emeritus.

How does it work?

LE: The committee actively recruits both protégés and mentors.  Both commit to a minimum of six months and up to a one-year mentoring relationship.  There is a “Memorandum of Commitment” agreed to by both parties. The committee checks in at the end of the one-year term and at that point you can opt out – get a different mentor or continue on.

It is an informal process that relies on those involved to inform the committee if there is a problem.  Personally, I found that it is important to have clear communication about expectations, roles and responsibilities. I even talk about working styles. For example, I often have an agenda for my meetings. Not everyone does that.

We also encourage our board members to be mentors.  It’s not a requirement, but close.

Do you have to be in the same city?

LE: Not at all.  You can use email and conference calls to communicate.  It’s very flexible. Membership for our chapter is geographically distant in some cases. You can work with it.

Are there any “next steps” for the program?

LE: The committee is working to integrate it with other professional development programs.  There is an idea to do a “speed-mentorship” program, like the speed-dating model where there are seven mentors in the room and each participant rotates through getting five minutes with each of them.

We also want to leverage the mentorship program to help increase our chapter membership.  We’re gathering testimonials and putting a dollar value to the experience.  We hope to make this program “gold standard” and want to connect with other chapters interested in starting a mentoring program.

What have you learning from your experience?

LE: I’ve been a mentor off and on for eight years. One thing I have found valuable is having the opportunity to connect with protégés from teeny tiny nonprofits. My current protégé isn’t even working in the sector yet, so she’s doing a lot of volunteer work for organizations that don’t have resources or fundraising staff. That helps me in my learning. 

It has also helped me get to know my community better. We spent a half-day touring one of the local community centres my protégé volunteers at. The fact is that the vast majority of nonprofit organizations are small without significant resources. We have to reach out to them to help them grow and learn.

Interested in starting or rejuvenating your chapter’s mentoring program?  Contact AFP Ottawa Chapter for more information and idea sharing, or (613) 590-1412.

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