I believe that every fundraiser needs a mentor.
Throughout my career I have been blessed by great mentors. The person I would consider my first mentor was one of my first supervisors who was also the CEO of the organization. Although I was fresh out of college, with limited experience, he took the time to mentor and coach me. He not only took an interest in my professional success but cared about me personally as well. In fact, he volunteered with his wife to help my family move. (You know your boss truly cares about you when he is willing to help lift a washing machine up your basement stairs on a Saturday). To this day I credit much of my fundraising knowledge to him.
Fifteen years later, I still have mentors in my life. When most people think about having a mentor they think about helping young adults or college students, but having a mentor doesn’t need to stop when you become a seasoned professional. Here are 5 reasons why every professional needs a mentor:
Mentors challenge you:
No matter where you are in your life’s journey, it is important to find someone who challenges your ideas. The longer you work in a specific field the easier it is to fall into a routine of making decisions based upon your past experiences and knowledge rather than challenging yourself and your views to find new fresh ideas and solutions to problems. The danger of basing future decisions on past knowledge and experiences is that you are limiting your growth and ability to solve future problems because of your unwillingness to learn new things. Great mentors challenge you to think about obstacles not as problems but as opportunities for growth. They challenge you to think about alternative ways to solve the problem that are often outside of your comfort zone or experience. One of the most powerful questions a mentor can ask is “why?” Why do you do things the way you do? Mentors don’t allow you to answer by saying “that’s how it has always been done” or “because it is too hard to change” because neither answer is a good excuse. I once heard someone say; the one excuse history will not accept is that the problem was too difficult.
Mentors share new ideas:
While I am a huge advocate of reading new books to increase my knowledge and skills, one of the benefits of having a mentor in your life is that they share real-world ideas and examples which you can’t find in a book. Most mentors have either been-there-and-done-that or are currently going through the same situation as you and can provide new ideas and a fresh perspective to the problems you are facing.
Mentors provide feedback:
A bad habit professionals get into when they are faced with a challenge is asking family and friends for advice, even when they don’t know anything about your field of expertise. I have a family member who loves to give advice to anyone on any subject, even if they know nothing about the topic. This advice usually falls into one of two categories. The first form of advice is flattery. They will tell you how wonderful you are and what a great job you are doing. While there are times everyone needs a compliment, the reality is that this type of advice does very little to help because it doesn’t provide you with constructive feedback to help you grow. The second form of advice family and friends often give is that of being the pessimist. They tell you all of the reasons why you can’t succeed in your current role. Neither form of advice is helpful. Mentors on the other hand provide feedback which is productive, constructive, and action oriented. Their feedback is usually direct and focused on improving you personally and professionally.
Mentors provide perspective:
One of the benefits of having a great mentor is that they help put your problem into proper perspective. They help support you during bad times and listen to your worries and frustrations, and challenge you to stretch further during good times. They don’t allow you to wallow in self-pity. Their goal is to remind you that any goal worthwhile requires effort which means you will probably fail 10 times before you succeed once. Great mentors don’t provide all of the answers for you, because they understand that growth occurs not by avoiding challenges but by working through them.
Mentors hold you accountable:
One of my mentors refers to herself as my accountability partner. After we exchange pleasantries, I can count on the fact that she is going to ask me for an update on the progress of the projects we discussed during our last call. When I have completed all of the action items from the previous week I am excited to share with her my results. When I am delaying taking action, I know she will call me out for procrastinating. Because I feel accountable to her, I perform better. (Even if the progress occurs an hour before our call). One of the benefits of having a mentor is having someone who can hold you accountable to do what you said you would do when you said you were going to do it.
How to choose the right mentor:
A common misconception is that finding a mentor requires that you reach out to people you don't know and ask for their advice. The reality is that oftentimes mentors are someone you already have a working relationship with such as a supervisor. The key is to find someone who has an interest in helping you reach your full potential and is willing to take the time to coach you. On the other hand you may find a mentor who has already accomplished a goal that you are working towards. The key to finding a great mentor is to ask the following questions:
- Do they care about you and your success?
- Do they have the appropriate knowledge and skills?
- Do they challenge and hold you accountable?
- Will they provide constructive feedback?
If you are new to the profession, I would encourage you to attend monthly AFP meetings and connect with a seasoned fundraising professional to help mentor you on your career path. If you are a seasoned professional, please consider sharing your knowledge with others. This could be through one-to-one mentoring or by participating in an upcoming AFP meeting as a speaker or facilitator on a topic you excel in. Another great way to find a mentor is by volunteering with AFP at one of our many events which are held throughout the year.
As a board, one of our goals is to help mentor YOU in YOUR career path. A benefit of belonging to a national organization such as AFP is belonging to a group of like-minded professionals who are there to help each other.
If there is ever anything, we can do to help YOU let me know.
Aaron G. Javener C.F.R.E