Two Sides of the Same Coin: Exploring the Relationship Between Mentors and Mentees

After a little bit of back and forth on topic ideas for our blog post collaboration, we quickly settled on tackling a familiar subject, networking and professional development for young professional fundraisers in the nonprofit sector, looking specifically at mentorships for diverse fundraisers. Likely it’s a topic you’ve been inundated with from the literally thousands of blogs, webinars, tweets, presentations, what-have-you-nots, but we hope to provide some new insights from our interviews with both mentors and mentees.

Why Seek a Mentor?

From our first conference (AFP Congress) which we attended as students of the Humber Fundraising Program, the concept of networking was drilled into our psyches. Networking is essential to succeeding in the field. It can sound like a dirty word, but to us, it is about making connections to share with and to learn from, especially when the relationship takes the form of a mentorship. As we continue to grow and learn in the field, instructors, bosses and colleagues have become wonderful mentors who have provided us with invaluable advice and support.

This relationship can expand your technical skills and knowledge as a fundraiser, help you make connections, but most importantly, teach lessons learned from experience. A mentor can help provide guidance, from their own personal learnings and insights that prove indispensable. Though it is important to remember that this is a mutual relationship, and learning is a two-way street. We are advocates of mentor-mentee relationships where both parties are open and willing to share, and exchange and learn to help strengthen our field.

It can be quite intimidating, but the best that could happen is anything, and everything. The lessons, connections and opportunities could be life-changing.

A Mentee’s Point of View

We reached out to young professionals with questions on their thoughts on mentor relationships, which all our mentees felt were extremely important to their careers. Our mentees also highlighted that this relationship requires both parties to be equally committed. The cornerstone of a successful mentorship includes respect, commitment, dedication, and communication. When searching for potential mentors, besides looking for the right career experience, it could be beneficial to seek mentors who have similar life experiences. As one fundraiser explained “I am interested in knowing the steps and work required to succeed in non-profit for a young ethnic female. I am also interested in learning from a mentor on how to balance a young family and career and be successful at both.”

We will say it again, a mentorship is a mutual relationship for the benefit of both parties. It is through sharing and exchanging knowledge and experiences that we as mentees can unconsciously transform into mentors.

Frankie: I couldn’t agree more with the response from our survey answers. During the Humber Program, I chose my internship organization solely because the Senior Development Officer was also a Chinese male fundraiser like myself. As a new fundraiser, having a mentor who is both seasoned and someone who can understand my experiences as a male fundraiser of colour in the sector made me realize that my “double minority” is not a weakness but something I can use to my advantage. I would also like to stress that since a mentorship is a partnership, my mentor and I shared experiences and knowledge during and beyond my time with that organization.

Mimosa: Mentorship has enriched my life beyond my career. I have had the opportunity to learn from so many different people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. The lessons have proved to be so important as I navigate through my own career. While I am an advocate for trying new things, and making your own mistakes, it is so helpful to have an understanding of what has worked or not worked for others in the same sector. Best practices are a standard I hope to live my life by, and mentorship is process by which I can gather knowledge from the very best in our field.

A Mentor’s Point of View

We reached out to senior fundraisers to ask questions about mentoring from their perspectives. On the topic of emerging trends with respect to young professionals in the sector, one mentor highlighted a few to note:

  • An increasing number of young fundraisers are taking professional education courses or programs before entering the field. As a result, there is a shift as fundraising is becoming an intentional career path, and as a result we are seeing an influx of formally educated employees.
  • An increasing number of young professionals are seeking roles where mentorship and professional development are offered to help advance their careers.

The latter is echoed in responses from our mentees, where it was noted that high turnover in organizations was often as a result of staff not feeling valued or feeling that there was any opportunity to grow or continue to learn.

On the importance of mentorship, one mentor brought up the fact that young professionals entering the field will someday become future colleagues and leaders. For the growth of the sector, from their perspective, it is a duty to provide young professionals with the tools to succeed.

On the subject of approaching a mentor, the advice is to reach out to learn and connect, not to look for a job. Be candid, but professional. Mentors can provide insights to help find the balance between working in a toxic environment, to jumping from gig to gig, to tips about what questions to ask during your interview, and finding the right fit.

Qualities mentors are looking for in mentees include a “genuine willingness to be open to feedback and change. If they are coming in with a perspective of entitlement, then it makes it difficult to support career growth.” In addition, humility, passion, creativity and a demonstration of both courage and vulnerability are important qualities. In addition the “courage to do the things that need to be done early in your career to launch your path forward, like working hard, authentic networking, and challenging yourself to always be learning are critical to success. And the willingness to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t know everything, that you will need to seek support from others, and to own up when mistakes are made.”

Mimosa: For me, it is important to remember that mentorship is a two-way street, and to get the best out of the experience, it is okay to be selective about who you choose to establish this relationship with (between either party). Sharing knowledge, experiences, ideas, lessons and opinions can be very personal. I think whichever side of the coin you’re on, trust is essential. Trust can be built, but it comes from an openness that is innate, and creates the conditions necessary to allow for vulnerability and courage, as one of our mentors mentioned.


Mentorship for Fundraisers of Diverse Backgrounds

In his blog, Nonprofit with Balls, Vu Le mentions that he has occasionally received emails from other fundraisers of colour who feel isolated because there are so few of us. Although initiatives like the AFP Inclusive Giving Fellowship Program creates opportunities for fundraisers from different backgrounds to come together, there is much work to be done to create an inclusive field. As young professionals who identify as “diverse”, trying to find mentors that have successful careers and also share our similar experiences can be difficult. It is important for the sector to invest in the growth of fundraisers from diverse backgrounds, as it represents the makeup of our nation and is instrumental to the success of nonprofits who are looking to engage with and fundraise in various communities.

As one of our mentors noted, fundraising as a sector does not adequately reflect the diversity found within the Greater Toronto Area, especially when looking at the leadership. It can be intimidating to work towards growing in a field where you do not see yourself represented. We need to redefine who a fundraiser is and broaden the recruitment process.

Frankie: In the past few years, I continued to be involved with the Humber Fundraising Program Alumni Group as I felt it was my duty to give back to the program. Although I don’t consider myself a mentor, I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of ethnically Chinese Humber students from the program. I have noticed that the issues our mentor and Vu have brought up, are especially prevalent in the Chinese fundraising community. Chinese fundraisers who have grown accustomed to the professional fundraising landscape generally have an easier time finding employment and mentors compared to fundraisers who are new immigrants or do not have as much experience working in the sector. Therefore, it is so important for the sector to invest in potential mentors who understand the fundraising landscape of both the mainstream and their own diverse communities and act as bridges for young fundraisers to grow.

Le, Vu. “Why individual donations strategies often do not work for communities of color.” Nonprofit With Balls.