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Tips and Tricks: Boost Careers with a Thriving Chapter Mentor Program

September 27, 2008

(Sept. 29, 2008) Professional peer mentoring can be a rewarding experience and a great addition to your chapter programs. AFP members share some valuable advice for starting up or reinvigorating your chapter’s mentoring program.

We recently spoke with Robin Todd, CFRE, director of development at Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, N.J., and chair of the mentoring program at the AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter. Todd has chaired the chapter’s long-running program for six years. We also got input from Molly Rand, senior consultant at Campbell & Company in Chicago and chair of the mentoring program at the AFP Chicago Chapter.

First of all, both Todd and Rand say there’s no exact science to matching mentor to mentee, but sometimes the sector in which they work (i.e. the arts, health organizations, education or advocacy) can be a big factor. Find out what each participant is looking to get out of the program, his or her level of experience, availability and geographic location. Are they hoping to sharpen certain skills? The mentor will ideally have experience in that area.

It’s also a good idea to consider pairing mentors with mentees in phases rather than making pairs one by one. Rand says her chapter originally started with rolling applications, pairing mentors with mentees (called protégés in her chapter) as they signed up throughout the year. This became difficult to manage, she said. Now the Chicago chapter enrolls classes twice a year, starting a group in January and another in June. The value to enrolling mentoring pairs in cohorts can also be valuable to the pairs themselves, who you can bring together as a class to share successes and ideas with one another and network.

Here are five more ways to strengthen your chapter mentoring program.

  1. Lay the ground rules. Rand says they are up front with applicants that the mentoring program is not a job placement service; you have to be employed as a fundraiser at a nonprofit and have been employed in the field for at least a year. “We have found that people who have just walked into a development office for the first time really don’t know yet what they don’t know,” Rand says. “After a year we think people are ready to identify areas for improvement, prioritize and set effective goals.” Rand also makes it clear that the mentor program is not a free consulting service, but rather a way to work on broad goals for improving skills and advancing your career.
  2. Encourage creativity. Mentoring takes many forms. Pairs might meet in person every couple of weeks or just monthly on the phone with specific assignments and projects for the mentor to accomplish between meetings. Great mentors find ways of really challenging their mentees, Rand says. Todd and Rand agree that pairs can form lasting bonds and often stay in touch long after the first mentoring year is complete. “We’ve seen some amazing success stories,” Todd said. “One mentor joined the board of her mentee’s organization.”
  3. Get feedback separately. When you, as the program leader or coach, want to check in on the success of your mentoring pairs, you can sit down with them both in person, but you’ll get more honest feedback about the success and progress of the mentor pair if you speak to the mentee and mentor separately. People can then share openly what is not working and why. If the match does not work for any of a variety of reasons, you can match a new pair.
  4. Promote the program. Rand finds that mentors can be tough to come by. Promote the rewards reaped by all involved. Make it clear just how important you can be to a fellow colleague. There is a great feeling of accomplishment in seeing a colleague make leaps. “Every successful fundraiser has had a mentor along the way,” Rand says. “People do not get where they are alone. It’s also an amazing way to give back to the profession,”
  5. Be realistic. Mentoring can change people’s lives, but not everyone has the same experience in the program. A handful of the matches you make may need to be re-paired or may just fizzle out, Rand says. Don’t get discouraged by drop-outs or complaints. Mentoring is a relationship and not an exact science. Those pairs that really work benefit each other and often become enthusiastic contributors to your chapter.

Finally, don’t forget that mentoring happens at all levels. It’s not just for beginner fundraisers. “No one’s above mentoring,” Todd points out. Whether you have been in the profession for 15 months or 15 years, there’s always more to learn, new positions and new challenges. So don’t forget to encourage all chapter members to seek out mentoring. They will hopefully soon volunteer to be a mentor themselves.

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