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The rewards of helping an early career fundraiser with their goals and development are amazing, says Samir Savant. So anyone thinking about mentoring should just go for it!

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Earlier this year, before coronavirus had us on lockdown, I visited the excellent Troy exhibition at the British Museum and was reminded how many things in today’s society have been adapted from the Ancient Greeks. Specifically from the Trojan context, the ‘Achilles heel’ or the famous wooden horse, but more generally, democracy, our alphabet – and mentoring. The word itself is derived from the character Mentor in Homer’s The Odyssey who was both friend and guide to Odysseus and was entrusted with the care of the hero’s son Telemachus. Today the word has evolved to mean an experienced and trusted advisor.

Mentoring is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person. A mentor usually shares with a mentee information about his or her own professional experience, as well as providing guidance, motivation and emotional support. And even during these times of social distancing, a mentor can be there with concrete and practical advice, such as help with exploring career paths, setting achievable and smart goals, introductions to contacts who might prove useful, and identifying appropriate resources, such as good reading material or training courses.

During the coronavirus crisis, fundraisers are needed more than ever and their professional development must continue to grow.

Benefits all round

I am the mentoring lead on the executive committee of the Institute of Fundraising’s Cultural Sector Network and we are currently recruiting mentors to start later this year as part of our completely online programme. I do encourage experienced fundraisers working in arts and heritage to apply.

There are important benefits that we can all enjoy.

1.    You’re giving something back to our cultural community

I have been lucky to have been mentored by some great people throughout my career and have experienced the benefit of the wisdom of someone more established in their career than me, who was able to support me and help me put things into perspective. So, in turn when I became more established in my career and had some management experience under my belt, I felt the urge to give back and became a mentor myself, volunteering my services through various schemes. When Martin Kaufman and I established the Cultural Sector Network, the Institute of Fundraising’s volunteer-led special interest group for fundraisers working in arts and heritage, I was keen that mentoring should become an integral part of our work. I am proud that we now have a fully formed programme which has been running for the past three years, in partnership with Young Arts Fundraisers, and latterly with support from RAISE, funded by Arts Council, England.

2.    It’s hugely rewarding to watch people grow

It has been a tremendous privilege to mentor a range of talented, passionate and committed individuals, all of whom have been in the early stages of their fundraising careers, and very fulfilling to see at first-hand how their confidence has grown and their ambitions have become more clearly articulated. I have been impressed by their drive and resilience, and have no doubt that they will be a great asset to the cultural organisations they work for. I hope to have helped them in my small way, as I have certainly learned a lot from them, including several excellent fundraising tips!

Fundraising is a lot about confidence and self-belief. I remember, as a young and inexperienced arts fundraiser myself, finding my communication skills crumble when faced with major donors or board members who were older and more experienced than me and had strong Alpha tendencies. What I needed most at times like this was the determination to persevere and the conviction of my own ideas, all things a mentor can help with. When listening to my mentees about their experiences I realise that so many are similar to my own. Knowing that I can genuinely empathise and might be able to help with some of their frustrations and the barriers they face is very satisfying.

3.    Your own career and wellbeing will improve – and your network will expand

Fundraising can be a lonely profession. Many of us are the only person in our organisation who has the responsibility for fundraising, so it is difficult to share the highs and lows of our professional lives with colleagues who really understand where we are coming from.

Our mentees sometimes just need someone to cast an extra pair of eyes over a crucially important funding bid, or to say a special ‘well done!’ when we land a major gift. Therefore, with the RAISE mentoring programme, we prioritise applications from mentees who are sole fundraisers or working in smaller organisations. For mentors, it’s always good to connect with people in the sector – we have up to 20 senior fundraisers from across England representing diverse arts and heritage organisations in a mentoring year-group. I myself have met a wide range of people to whom I can now turn for professional advice or questions, and I feel really connected to my peer-group.

Go for it!

My advice for anyone thinking about mentoring is to go for it! The time commitment is not onerous – we ask mentors to meet their mentee for an hour at least six times during the mentoring year. We require all mentors to have some management experience, and to be senior in their fundraising career, but they do not need to have been a mentor before, as we provide guidance and support. The rewards of helping an early career fundraiser with their goals and development are amazing. Mentoring can also be an important time of self-reflection for mentors as hearing about their mentee’s working life can be useful in thinking back on their own experiences and refining their own fundraising practice.

Samir Savant is Festival Director at the London Handel Festival and mentor lead for the RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage mentoring programme.

The Young Arts Fundraisers and IoF Cultural Sector Network mentoring scheme matches early-career fundraisers in the arts and cultural sector, with senior or director level development professionals from a wide range of organisations across England. The programme is funded by Arts Council England as part of the RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage programme.

We are looking for both Mentors and Mentees to join the scheme. The deadline for Mentors and Mentees application is 12pm Monday 4 May 2020. Find out more information about applying here.

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I agree that mentoring can be immensely rewarding for both mentee and mentor. However, not everyone who is good at their job makes a good mentor. Amongst other attributes, mentors need a genuine interest in other people, the ability to commit time and concentration, listening skills, discretion, and willingness to share experience, knowledge and contacts. There needs to be rapport between mentor and mentee. And I suggest that the mentoring process benefits from a degree of formality, and that mentors should have at least a modicum of training. I often find people mistake "buddying" for mentoring; buddying can be valuable, but it isn't mentoring.