President's Perspective Blog

Mentoring That Matters

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kathy R

You know that feeling … that horrible, gut-wrenching feeling when your solicitation visit ends up going completely the opposite way you hoped it would. The meeting you’ve been planning, strategizing, and rehearsing for weeks on end. Then, just like that … it goes down the tubes. 

We’ve all had meetings like that. But, what now? Who can you turn to for advice?

Your boss? Your fellow colleagues? What if you had someone you could turn to with an objective view and similar experiences? Someone there to listen and share with confidence and trust? A mentor!

Whether you are young or new to the profession or have many years of fundraising experience, we all encounter situations where it would be helpful to have someone with whom we can bounce around ideas, talk to when we have setbacks, or can lend a helping hand in difficult situations. If nothing else, we’d like someone to help us keep our chin up and get back in the saddle again!

I have been blessed with many mentors throughout my fundraising career. There was the team from New York that coached me through the Kresge Challenge after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The volunteer campaign chair who steadfastly encouraged me to meet and exceed the $5 million family challenge gift for the first time in the donor’s giving history. And the countless colleagues who believed in our team and pulled together time and time again to make a difference in the lives of others.

The Mentee Becomes the Mentor

As I progressed through my career, I knew it was time to pay it forward. I decided to serve as a mentor in the inaugural cohort of the AFP/Alford group mentoring program, then called the IDEA: Alford Group Mentoring and Leadership Development Program. For me, being an AFP mentor created an increased awareness of the challenges faced by women today as they balance career development and family life. It improved my understanding of ways to bridge communication gaps in the multi-generational workspace. And it brought a sense of satisfaction when our partnership resulted in the accomplishment of her goals and new career recognition.

Program mentees are equally excited and invigorated by the opportunity as well. When asked about their experiences, one mentee shared, “What I am walking away with is so beyond my expectations! It has been an amazing year that resulted in way more than what I went in expecting!” Others indicated they are more patient with coworkers, better listeners and more thoughtful and authentic as a result. Mentors and mentees alike shared many of the same sentiments. They felt they had grown, not just professionally but also personally, and cited a greater sense of security, belonging and support. 

What’s more, the AFP/Alford Group Women’s Mentor Program is helping to prepare more women for leadership positions. We know the dismal statistics: Over 70% of fundraising professionals in the sector are women, yet men hold four out of five senior positions. For young professionals, only 30% reported having a mentor through their workplace. Yet, of those who did, 84% believe their mentor helped them think about how to advance in their career or assisted them with problem solving, building confidence or other important aspects of their job. This program is an opportunity to shift the narrative on what’s possible and create a new generation of women fundraising leaders.

Now, It’s Your Turn

As fundraising professionals, we make a life by asking others to give. So, what about you? What are you willing to give? Is an hour a month too much? Too much to make a difference in the lives of others just by sharing ideas, charting a new course, expanding opportunities, and growing – both personally and professionally? 

If you’re interested in giving back, now is your chance! January is National Mentoring Month, so what better way to get involved than by helping an emerging fundraising professional? AFP is currently accepting applications for two of its popular mentoring programs.

Which one resonates with you more?

AFP is looking for committed, passionate fundraisers who wish to create a partnership of empowerment and inspiration. Mentors are those who are willing to share, grow and embark on a journey together with their mentee. Mentees are those wishing to improve their leadership and professional skills and plan for their future. Both are committed to leading the advancement of the sector and serving communities through community impact.

More information about program criteria, highlights and application deadlines can be found by visiting AFP/Blackbaud Emerging Leader Mentor Program and the AFP/Alford Group Women’s Mentoring Program websites.

As Douglas M. Lawson, Ph.D., so eloquently stated, “We exist temporarily through what we take, but live forever through what we give.” As a mentor, I encourage you to be the change – for yourself, for others, and for the sector. And as a mentee, I urge emerging and new fundraisers not to miss this opportunity to connect with someone who will impact your career—and life.



Kathy Rabon, CFRE, CFRM, is the chief philanthropy officer at Suncoast Hospital Foundation and chair of the AFP Women’s Impact Initiative.

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