In case you missed it, here’s a recap of YNPN RVA’s “Mentoring Matters: Using Mentoring as a Tool for Professional Development” from this past Wednesday morning at Richmond Memorial Health Foundation!
Young nonprofit professionals from all over Richmond gathered together for breakfast and to learn why finding a mentor and networking is crucial to growing your career. YNPN RVA brought in 5 leaders from the nonprofit sector to discuss their journey and how they’ve developed relationships throughout their career that have helped propel them to the next level.
The leaders were from various agencies in different types of roles. The panel was moderated by Tonya Dawson from the University of Richmond and the panel included Chris Hughes, YMCA Group Vice President; Marianne Williams, Bon Secours Health System Talent Acquisition Manager; Charleita M. Richardson, Partnership for the Future President and CEO; Rose Marie Wiegandt, Virginia Mentoring Partnership Program Director; and Stephanie G. Odera, VCU School of Social Work, Instructor and Field Liaison.
When asked about their professional background almost all of the leaders stated that they actually came from the corporate sector in areas like human resources and accounting, and didn’t anticipate moving into the nonprofit world. Marianne admitted that networking and guidance from a mentor led her to land each job, as she climbed to her current role, “your network of support, the connections you make, and your references are key to helping you stand out among other candidates for a position – it’s all about who you know,” she said.
The leaders spoke to how they met their mentors – some had mentors who were previous supervisors, board members, instructors during school, and even family members. Rose Marie said that she has a mentor for various aspects of her life – someone who she relies on for guidance in her professional career, wellness, spiritual guidance and her family life. New to her role and unfamiliar with leading an organization, Charleita depended on a few of her board members to really help guide her into success in her current role as President and CEO. Stephanie spent time building relationships and seeking advice from professors during her studies at VCU – she said she took full advantage of “open office hours”.
A big piece of advice that the leaders agreed on was that finding a good mentor takes time and patience. Sometimes it will take a while to find someone that can guide you through your career and help you get to the next level. Start off by asking a leader or someone in the field you want to connect with out to coffee. Come prepared with questions to ask them, and do your homework beforehand. Most leaders who are passionate about what they do, and have had great mentors throughout their career, are willing to give back and take the time to help you with advice.
Mentors helped the leaders in many different ways – figuring out the “next step” in their career, feedback on handling tough work situations, ways to improve their leadership skills, classes and learning opportunities they should take, dealing with a layoff, people they should connect with and guidance for ways to improve as a professional.
When you are developing a relationship with a potential mentor, be careful not to “unload or dump” too much personal information. “The purpose of finding a mentor to enhance your career is to create a strong, trusting, professional relationship – you don’t want it to turn into a therapy session” Stephanie said. You must build trust over time, only after that trust is built, could you seek more personal advice from a mentor figure, which many of the leaders have after relying on the mentor’s wisdom for many years.
Don’t always assume that someone who has a similar skill set as you will give you the best support as a mentor. Chris Hughes said that some of his best mentors have come from very different backgrounds and have had different skills than he, but they were able to help him gain a different perspective and help him in areas of weakness.
Even though it can be uncomfortable, seeking out a mentor, networking and building a system of support will be critical to your professional journey. You must be open to advice and criticism and willing to put time and effort into building that professional relationship, but you will see the rewards. All who attended the event put their business cards into and drew one out of the “Bowl of Gold” to make a commitment to meet, connect and network with someone new from the event!
If you are looking for a more formal way of building a network of support, there are programs in the region, like MENTOR Richmond from the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. Applications are now being accepted.
The Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence hosts the “Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program” each year through Nonprofit Learning Point – an eight month journey for nonprofit professionals to foster a deeper understanding of their leadership capacity, advance their understanding and practice of leading in the nonprofit sector, and strengthen their network of nonprofit colleagues. Information sessions are now being held to learn more about the program, as well as their robust schedule of nonprofit classes.