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Jim Eskin’s Guide to Successful Mentorship

Jim Eskin's Guide to Successful Mentorship

Jim Eskin’s Guide to Successful Mentorship looks at the win-win relationship between the mentor and the mentee.

Mentoring is a word that is loosely tossed around, and just about everyone encourages it. Large organizations strategically invest in formal programs that match senior with junior employees. Undeniably, mentors are worth their weight in gold. Typically, the enrichment is viewed through the lens of the mentee.

After 40 years in the workplace, I now have a profound perspective of how both mentor and mentee win for mutual benefit.

Let me begin by saying whatever success I have enjoyed in my career would not have been possible without the enormous support I received directly and indirectly from those who played significant roles in developing my skill sets, work ethic and unapologetic pursuit of challenging goals and objectives. This goes back to my first boss — or more appropriately, my boss’ boss — in my first full-time job out of college.

In 1975, I graduated with a degree in urban affairs from George Washington University. I didn’t have a clue what to do with that degree. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to pivot from being a part-time assistant to a full-time job with a trade association that kept me in the nation’s capital. It was one of the wisest decisions I ever made, particularly, because I had the rare opportunity to learn from, be nurtured and inspired by one of the most brilliant individuals I ever met. Allen Paul was the executive director of a trade association called Agriculture Council of America. He had exceptional written and oral communication abilities honed working for the Associated Press and as a political speech writer.

The truth was I wasn’t a good writer coming out of college, maybe average at best. Allen generously took me under his wing, and shared hours of his time to give me invaluable lessons on how to write clearly, succinctly, and most importantly, persuasively. I worked for him for seven remarkable years. Each day was the equivalent of a graduate level course in communications, PR, and strategy formulation. His kindness was incredible. Knowing that I was alone on Thanksgiving he even invited me to spend the holiday with his family.

I am so proud that nearly a half-century later we continue to speak weekly and support each other’s progress. I’ve featured his vast knowledge of writing in several of my webinars. It’s no surprise that Allen continues in an energetic style as a best-selling author on subjects as diverse as Polish history, his favorite canine companion, reforming college sports and now the huge success story of the North Carolina Research Triangle.

There were many other mentors in my journey as I transitioned from public relations to advancement and fundraising work for institutions of higher education. These included supervisors, colleagues, board members, donors and others devoted to similar causes.

Today, I am having the time of my life venturing out on my own and serving as a fundraising trainer/consultant. I am applying everything that I have learned during my career and sharing it with professional and volunteer non-profit leaders, especially those who are terrified of asking for major gifts face-to-face. Other consultants have contributed to paving the way for this most recent transition.

This brings us to the mentor phase of my journey, and my own chance to give back to others who are now in the earlier stages of charting their career paths.

In April 2023, I was contacted by Rhanda Luna, whom I met in San Antonio when we served together on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals-San Antonio Chapter. She had moved north to Austin, and reached out to me for advice and counsel. She has proved herself raising funds for three different opera companies in Texas.

We began to exchange e-mail, and then enjoy frequent phone conversations. The better we became acquainted, the more I saw that she had a great combination of the attributes of a knowing head and an honest heart that lead to success in the non-profit sector.

With each conversation, we developed a collaborative relationship in working to support the success of non-profit clients. We discovered that, despite superficial differences, we share much in common when it comes to important things like a passion for social justice.

In the fundraising field, mentors take on added importance since the one-on-one solicitation experience, especially of major gifts, doesn’t happen until you advance in your career.

On my end I have benefited by engaging Rhanda in our non-profit empowerment programs for professional and volunteer non-profit leaders, especially, a webinar series devoted to subjects essential to success in the social sector and more broadly to success in life. She provides much-needed gender and generational perspective to the delivery of our educational initiatives and is a positive force in helping me to think more creatively.

It is clear that Rhanda has great potential in the advancement profession. She understands what I call the power of patience and persistence and is grasping opportunities to learn something new each day about the non-profit sector and those who drive positive social change.

After receiving so much wisdom from numerous mentors in my life like Allen Paul, it is uplifting to change seats and now be the one who is able to share the lessons, experiences and insights that I have gained during my professional journey.

Mentoring is a great gift to receive and give in career growth. And I bet the cycle will extend into the future when Rhanda has mentees of her own.

Jim Eskin’s consulting practice, Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his more than 250 fundraising workshops, webinars and podcasts and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure major gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription.  He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here.

Jim Eskin’s Guide to Successful Mentorship was first posted at INSIDE CHARITY

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