A few months ago, Brock Warner set up a mentoring tweet chat. (See the #NFPmentors from August recapped here.) I joined in on that one-hour wild keyboard ride because I believe that having a mentor is a great help in one’s career path. I had such a great first boss (I didn’t know how good I had), someone who allowed me to try, but who also guided me both as a fundraiser and about the politics of the institution. But I never really had another fundraiser who I could turn to who could help me sift through the challenging parts of my professional journey. I did try to connect through a program through the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy when I lived in Washington DC, but the connection just didn’t seem to be there.

Andrea McManus - I can't believe I don't have a pic of the two of us!

Andrea McManus – I can’t believe I don’t have a pic of the two of us!

But now, I think I’ve finally found my mentor! During my career I often the person I reported to if she or he would be my mentor. But it never worked that way. I think your boss can mentor you, but isn’t your mentor. And anyway, I’ve had friends who have been sounding boards, and colleagues who have been generous with fundraising experience and expertise. But I believe a mentor is someone who helps you become a better fundraiser and who may help you navigate the challenges of career and, perhaps, life? There are programs such as one at the Vancouver chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). That might be a great way to go, or through another professional organization to which you belong. Honestly, there are many ways to find a mentor for yourself. It may be as easy as making your interest known. I did it by admiring someone from afar… a fundraising leader at the top of her career, someone who I aspire to be as a professional and as a woman. Smart and savvy. Poised and a thought leader. So when I knew I was going to be in her city (Calgary, Alberta) I emailed her and asked, “Might you be available for coffee? or lunch, my treat?” She said she would be happy to meet. And that is how I got to know Andrea McManus better, and how I have become even more inspired by her. (She is passionate about philanthropy.)

Andrea was Chair of  AFP International Board of Directors for two years (2010-2012), has a thriving consultancy, mother of three daughters, involved in her community and, I assume, a wonderful wife. We connect when we can, at a conference here or speaking engagement there. This post is an appreciation of her for everyone to see. Andrea and I have talked about some of the challenges of being a woman in fundraising, of being fundraisers, and navigating our world.

Last week she may have given me her greatest bit of advice so far. “Have you thought about….?” she asked. We then talked and then she strategized with me on my donor portfolio, asking lots of questions for background and context. “I want you to do this. I know you can do this.” And suddenly I had a new perspective on how to move forward, feeling empowered.

And isn’t that the best thing about having a mentor? A mentor brings out the best in you, drives you achieve your highest accomplishments. A mentor talks things out with you, shares her or his experiences. A mentor doesn’t have all the answers, but rather helps you come to your own answers, find your own strengths, and weave around your own weaknesses. And we all have strengths and weaknesses – the question is how do we work with them? Andrea and I don’t have a formal arrangement. She may be surprised by this post.

But since meeting with the first time two and a half years ago and especially since dinner last week, I have been re-energized. I found myself in chilly Calgary, at a familiar restaurant, answering the the first question, “What drew you to this job?” and everything flowed from there. Your colleagues encourage you, I hope, but many nonprofits have fundraising silos or competition within the ranks.

Your boss may be a great guide, but you don’t want to share everything with the person you report to. And your partner/spouse/best friend may have great advice, they don’t always understand fundraising – in all its maddening glory. Here is where a mentor fits in. Enough distance. Enough caring. Enough questions to help you reflect and become that amazing fundraiser. So here I am, 20 years into my career, so delighted to have someone pushing me, making suggestions based on her broad experiences, cheering for me. If you are reading this and have a mentor (a formal relationship or not), I urge you to send a thanks.

And if you wish you had someone as a mentor, take the simple step to reach out. By phone, email, tweet – however you two intersect. The answer may be yes or may be no, but without asking, it will be no. Go for it! You have so much to gain, whatever year of fundraising you are in.

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