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Guideposts for an Effective Mentoring Relationship: Mentoring in the Age of COVID


Madeleine Durante
Fundraising Innovation Manager, MoveOn




Susan Shapiro
President, shapiroassociates       



From the CEO to the Vice President and the young entry-level professional, everyone can remember that person, friend, family member, or career coach who helped to guide them, find their own voice, and make the best decisions to build their careers.

For years, the AFP-NYC Chapter has provided resume review sessions, career building support, ‎and most recently, re-engineered the Mentoring Program to provide more meaningful ‎engagements for both mentors and mentees.  ‎

In the midst of an isolating pandemic, we had the privilege to enter into a mentoring relationship ‎and offer the following guideposts for mentors and mentees seeking to get the most out of the ‎relationship:

Format and Frequency
A more structured relationship yields greater dividends than ‘winging it’. Knowing what your needs ‎are and how to get what you need, is fundamental to a better outcome.

We decided early on that if this was going to be productive, we need to have more time together. ‎While the availability of the mentor’s time will play a determining role in how often you connect, for ‎the most effective mentoring relationship, we recommend investing ample time into ‎conversations. While the minimum for AFP-NYC’s mentorship program is a one-hour meeting ‎every other month, if possible, we recommend meeting for 45 minutes to an hour every two-to-‎three weeks for continuity that helps to build trust, address issues in real time and plan for future ‎goals. Meeting frequently will allow the mentoring relationship to have the adaptability needed to ‎respond to challenges and opportunities as they emerge. ‎

It is incumbent on the mentee to be accountable to the overall direction of the relationship. No ‎matter how involved a mentor may be, the relationship will be most successful when the mentee ‎takes ownership over:

  • Goal-setting. At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, the mentee ought to set ‎SMART goals for what they aim to accomplish during the period. AFP-NYC provides ‎useful guideposts in their mentorship program.
    • Note: These goals can be adapted as needed, depending on career shifts.
  • Agenda creation. Every meeting should have a purpose, and before these convenings, ‎the mentee should consider what they want to get out of the session, and how it connects ‎back to the overall meeting goals. Quickly pulling together and sharing a purpose, ‎outcome, and process for meetings can help tremendously.
  • Meeting structure. At the outset, we talked about the best way to manage our time to ‎allow for problem solving, coaching and professional support. Be sure that the two of you ‎get clarity on the kind of support the mentor is best equipped to offer. The mentee ought to ‎consider what kinds of support are available to them in their current role, and what they ‎may be lacking (for instance, a one-person shop may benefit from having a sounding ‎board for strategy). The relationship will be most effective when meetings offer multiple ‎convening styles, such as:
    • ‎honing in on skills through role play, review of resources, shared readings
    • ‎collaborative problem-solving and strategizing
    • ‎connecting the day-to-day to the broader professional and personal journey
    • creating space for 360-degree learning for mentor and mentee alike

Sustaining Relationships During COVID-19‎
As we think about our time together, we agree that it feels more like surprising delight vs. ‎obligation. Perhaps this is the pandemic talking and the yearning for connection. In fact, at the ‎time of this writing, we are planning to meet “in person” very soon.

In our business, relationships are paramount. This was true before the quarantines, economic ‎crises, and deep isolation of the past year. But as many fundraisers adapted to a remote-first ‎environment, we found the need to intentionally carve out space for being in relationship with ‎one another. Particularly in a mentoring relationship, we recommend holding dedicated space for ‎a focused, one-to-one conversation. Include time on the agenda to deliberately check in and ‎see how the other is doing. Be present with one another: use video calls and when possible, keep ‎your video on. Choose a meeting time where you can avoid distractions and multitasking.

The Right Fit ‎
Are you comfortable with one another? Give yourselves time to get to know one another and ‎access if the pairing is right for you. Ideally, each person should have multiple mentors. As AFP-‎NYC Mentoring Committee chair Juliana Weissbein writes beautifully on her blog, each person ‎should have a network of “champions, challengers, and connectors” who can offer different ‎insights. In order for the mentorship relationship to be the most effective, the mentee ought to be ‎clear that no one mentor can serve all mentorship roles for you. Identify the strengths in your ‎mentoring relationship and anchor your conversations to getting the most out of them possible.

Please feel free to reach out to us with your thoughts. We’d love to hear about your successes ‎and challenges and if you have any additional suggestions on developing an effective mentoring ‎relationship.

*This article is part of a larger series of content produced by members of the AFP-NYC Mentorship Cohort. We thank the authors for their contribution to the chapter. To learn more about the program, click here.

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