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Where Are The Mentors?

Ascend, MGO, Climb, Reach
Success… some folks are born with a natural tendency for it, but in reality most of us need a little help to achieve it. This is especially true when it comes to career development in the world of non-profit fundraising. Being in my third decade in the advancement profession, I got to thinking recently about those “people, places, and things” that were most helpful and constructive in my training and professional advancement. Overall, these key influencers fall into three categories:
  • Professional training and development
  • On the job (OJT) training (and survival strategies)
  • Mentor largess
Let’s take a look at each individually, and in turn how they work together, to understand the evolving roles coaching and learning play at every point in your fundraising career.

Professional training and development:
There is no substitute for learning the technical aspects, logistics, and norms that make up the facets and mechanics behind advancement. You need to know – or at least be familiar with – the tools of the trade, so you know the language, the research, and the cause and effects of various functions. Although this influencer is somewhat weighted towards newcomers to the field, I would highly encourage even the most seasoned professionals to take two classes or seminars per year. The first should be a refresher course on the basics (which have changed in this new economy). The second should be one that develops new skills that will help you do your job better today, such as a seminar on how NPO’s are using social media for storytelling and development purposes.

OJT, Otherwise known as “baptism by fire”:
People learn best by doing, experiencing, succeeding, and failing Although failures are uncomfortable, embarrassing, and disappointing, often times the most actionable lessons and long term benefits arise from them. When I conduct training sessions and tell development stories, the ones that get the most audience interaction and positive feedback are those of failure. Fortunately, my inventory of failure stories is far outnumbered by those with a successful and happy ending.
Mentor largess:
It is my experience that the most grounded and often the most successful advancement professionals are those who have had sound mentors. Here’s why. From mentors comes real, time tested, “not going to find it in any textbook or classroom” wisdom. One of the first questions I ask job candidates or client advancement officers is about their experience with mentors – either having one, being one, or in a perfect world, both. Unfortunately, only a lucky few have had the benefit of willing and wise mentor relationships. Being fortunate enough to benefit from the experience and wisdom of others is a gift. In effect, it is drawing from the “wisdom of the crowd”, with all its diversity of situations, organizations, culture, and missions.
If you are relatively new in the profession, seek out a mentor or two and go out of your way to do it. It is worth your time and the cost of a monthly or quarterly lunch! Most professionals are flattered to be asked and will respond quite positively to your request. In turn, if a junior colleague asks for advice, remember that everyone has experience to share at each point on their career trajectory.
If you are relatively senior in the profession, I encourage you to be a mentor to promising and talented professionals. It is a most gratifying contribution to the profession and to society. And, it is amazing what YOU can learn from these relationships as well.
On a personal note, I once took a job while knowing my boss would be very difficult and demanding. My gut told me that she would be a good mentor… and I was right on all points. I learned a tremendous amount from her, with a little OJT in the mix as well.
Your takes:
  1. Professional development is multi-dimensional and essential at all points in your career.
  2. Find a mentor to enhance your quality and quantity of professional development. You can have several mentors, each with distinct core competencies.
  3. Be a mentor when the opportunity presents itself.
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Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.