Mentoring and “Giving Back”

Jan. 26, 2018

Carmel Napolitano

Over the course of my career I have benefitted from many, many informal mentors.  A common way that I’ve found to be “a giver” in our professional lives is through mentoring.

There are several considerations to be made before jumping onto the mentoring bandwagon.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way as a participating “mentor” in different programs:

  • First, is this best way for you to give back? Not everyone feels comfortable extending themselves this way. While many mentoring programs work hard to match participants, you may end up matched with a mentee who isn’t exactly the protégé you expected. If you undertake a formal mentoring relationship you need to be present and psychologically available. The idea is for you to share your insights into your profession and you need to feel comfortable opening your network to a newcomer. If you are someone who feels uncomfortable with that, then try to seek other ways to share your expertise.

Through my work with the Association of Fundraising Professionals New York City I’ve helped to manage its Career Mentoring Program[1] where mentors are expected to conduct a few 15-minute one-on-one resume review/career advice sessions the day of the conference. Nothing more, nothing less. This type of one-off may be better for you if you don’t want a more in-depth experience.

  • Be willing to be Mentored by your Mentee – I participate in a formal mentoring program with my alma mater Villanova University. This is a structured program where participants are matched after thoughtful consideration of the student’s needs and the mentor’s experience. My first mentee was so talented bright. She was able to give me insight into some data management theories she was learning in her classes and I was happy to have her help me.
  • Pace the relationship –Don’t get into a situation where you are overextending yourself and your relationships to an ungrateful mentee. There are people out there who are only “takers.” We’ve all been in situations where people exploit our time. Doling out your time and access to your network in increments until you can assess the intentions of your mentee is the best way to go.
  • Know when it’s time to move on — While the best mentor/mentee relationships can last a life time, there are occasions when things just don’t work out. If you feel that the mentee is abusing the contacts you are providing, it may be time to ease out of the relationship. Or, it may just be that you take the connection towards peer to peer situation.

There are many ways to give back in your profession and mentoring is just one of them.  As the wise Winston Churchill said – “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” 


[1] At Fundraising Day in New York