Successful Mentoring Tips from Both Sides of The Table - Part I


Part 1 of this blog post focuses on how a mentor can successfully encourage and advise mentees toward success. Part 2 — posted next week — outlines the role of the mentee in the relationship.

Turnover in the nonprofit industry is estimated at about 20%. That means there’s a good chance as many as one in five of your front-line employees are new to their job, new to your organization, or new to the industry entirely.

One of your most critical management assignments then, is to ensure these individuals have the skills and understanding they need to do their job well. This, at least in part, will depend on effective mentoring.

In my experience, it seems there are a few key qualities that are essential to a successful mentoring relationship.

From the Mentor’s Perspective

  • Initiative. As a manager, you need to get to know the individual, their perceived strengths and weaknesses, dreams and aspirations, as well as their fears and limitations. We tend to think of initiative as taking action; in this case, active listening should be one of your first steps.

  • Sense of direction. Have you defined the job requirements and organizational goals? It’s going to be tough to determine the most appropriate path to needed skills if you haven’t.

  • Flexibility. At the same time, it’s not simply a matter of a one-size-fits-all directive. Guide as the opportunity presents itself, as much as possible adapting your “lessons” to the learner’s style and personality.

  • Humility. Leadership is often not about having the right answers, but asking the right questions. You can “show the way,” but with the understanding this is your way. Your goal is to help this individual find the way that’s best for them.

  • Openness. Be willing to share your experiences, good and bad. What are the lessons you’ve learned? How did you learn them? What difference has that made for you?

  • Honesty. Be genuine. Sure, there’s a “company line” you want to convey – established practices and procedures, culture and tradition. But it’s in how that company line is personified that it becomes real. You can describe this, but you’ll be even more effective when you demonstrate it … in a manner that’s real and personal to and for you.

  • Positive. While some managers think their primary role is to correct and keep in line, I’d argue that as a mentor, one of your primary roles is that of cheerleader. How can you affirm growth as it happens and inspire it to continue?

A successful mentoring relationship is a two-way street, depending as much on the qualities of the mentee as the mentor. Not surprisingly, these are two sides to this same coin. Next week’s post explores helpful ideas for mentees to keep in mind.

Seeing Storytelling as Stewardship


Yes, it’s commonly known that story writing inspires fundraising.

But there’s another secret weapon of storytelling, one that doesn’t get as bright of a spotlight: storytelling as stewardship.

Frequently, organizations will engage M&C to interview top donors…those who’ve made large or planned gifts. In these cases, often the process of gathering the “why” behind the gift is just as important as the resulting communication piece.

I interviewed a man once who had made a substantial gift to a veterans’ cause. He wasn’t a veteran himself. He didn’t have a family member who had served. It wasn’t a “typical donor” for this organization.

I asked him what inspired his gift. His childhood best friend went to Vietnam and was killed. Tearfully, he told me his friend was the best person he’d ever known. He hadn’t seen him since grade school.

Telling the story was cathartic for this donor. He regaled me with tales of their neighborhood, boyhood bloopers and why this tribute made his life come full circle. The act of sharing this story was powerful for this donor, and I was honored to be part of it. I know the experience made him reflect positively on this organization as well.

So why are these profiles so effective all around?

  1. They show donors that your organization appreciates and honors them. It says thank you.

  2. It offers a platform for donors to pay tribute to others who may have inspired their gift and provides an enduring testament to their generosity.

  3. It offers your organization another warm touchpoint, a way to express how their gift will be used and reinforces the impact (which platforms for future giving).

  4. It highlights giving possibilities to potential donors. It also helps people to see that it isn’t always gazillionaires who make these types of gifts.

One last reminder. Once the stories are drafted, be sure to get full approval from the donors (and a photo release). It’s an important step and one that shows respect for the donor’s time and experience. Be sure to use the content in a variety of media, including your website, social media and send a printed copy to the donor.

Upping Your Game?

I set out for a drive this past Saturday, eagerly anticipating a couple of uninterrupted hours of NPR’s Weekend Edition.


My spirits fell, when I learned it was the first day of another membership appeal. I started to reach for the dial, but stopped and reminded myself how much I like this station.

I’m a huge fan of National Public Radio. And we’ve been long time supporters of our local affiliate as well.

There are just so many things they do right:

  • Like using well-recognized local personalities and tying into local civic organizations to staff the phones. When you call in to pledge, you can feel the genuine support and appreciation on the other end of the phone. And many of these individuals are advocates who promote their participation in their own social circles.

  • Or encouraging donations in low, very affordable monthly amounts. A monthly commitment of $10 or $15 adds up quickly…and as we all know, that donor is far more likely to renew than someone who makes a one-time contribution of the same amount.

  • And recognizing callers as they call in, using limited-time matching gifts, tying appeals to the program time slots, and so much more.

But, I wondered, as I listened to that and subsequent appeals, could they do even more?

How could you build in recognition of and appreciation for people who are already committed supporters? Maybe call out a long-time contributor or two. Or someone who first pledged during this programming “X” years ago and continues to support the station.

Surely this could be done in a way that does not interfere with the appeal for new members. In fact, I would think showing you respect and value your supporters could only encourage further support.

What do you think? More importantly, how do you recognize past support, even while building the case for additional assistance?