I attended the YNPN Celebration this year on Feb. 24th where Katie Keiling Arnold was awarded the Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year <http://www.ynpnchicago.org/s/269/index.aspx?sid=269&gid=1&pgid=548>. Katie made brief remarks when the award was announced, and I was very interested to hear her talk not about herself and her own experiences as an extremely productive and positive professional, but about, and directly to, her mentor Linda Sandman who was in the audience. With her comments, she dedicated the award to her mentor. She shared with Linda her success and never once took full credit. I thought this spoke to the integrity and strength of their relationship and I wanted to know more. I asked Katie and Linda to write about what makes their particular relationship so successful, so that the rest of us can glimpse a mentorship that works.
Linda Sandman is a mentor to me in my work and beyond. When Linda and I first met, we immediately developed a mutual respect for each other where not only was I learning from her, but she also made me feel valued in the skills and knowledge I had to share with her. She is my “go to” person for advice, when I’m feeling discouraged, and to share my successes. Linda has taught me the importance of living a balanced life and making sure to laugh and have fun while working hard for important change.
I wish that every young person were so lucky to have a role model and a friend like Linda. As a young professional, I have learned how important it is to find good mentors, yet it is not always as easy as it sounds. I am now at a stage where I in turn take opportunities to mentor others by imparting my own knowledge and experience. I think it is important to pass my knowledge and insights on to other young people to keep developing new leaders.
The qualities of mutual respect, support for each others’ ideas, shared interests and an attitude that we can learn from each other all help shape my relationship with Katie Arnold, the winner of this year’s Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year award.
I can give you an example. In 2008, I had begun collaborating with Katie on a project at work (we each work in different but related areas). A group of us met to do a strategic planning exercise led by Katie. After a couple hours I left that meeting thinking “Wow!” and felt energized about the direction our work was going. I recognized Katie’s leadership skills and quality of her work. Her collaborative style welcomed input from others and her passion about our work’s mission shone through.
Since then we have sought out many more opportunities to work together and our work collaboration has deepened into a friendship. Katie has used me as a sounding board and appreciated my perspective, which can help give context to the highs and lows of her work. I believe the best mentor relationships are shaped by an attitude that each individual brings qualities to the relationship that can help the other learn and grow, resulting in a true “win-win”.
For me, meaningful mentoring relationships have taken a more informal shape. People can be mentors even if they don’t know it. I have collected many bits of information over the years from unsuspecting mentors. Like when a former colleague told me to “dress for the job you want, not the one you’ve got,” or when my college friend told me “the world is not a meritocracy.” These adages loop in my mind when the going gets tough and I need to rely on the strength of my experience to get me through. Whether they know it or not, I stand on the shoulders of all the folks who have offered help, given (solicited or unsolicited) advice, or just dropped some knowledge on me over the years. When the job calls for a no nonsense approach, I channel my former coworker who would advise me to take no prisoners. When the job calls for compassion and clarity, I converse in my head with my emotionally intelligent former boss. Nonprofit work is real and demands a full range of interpersonal and professional skills. No one is expected to come ready with all of these skills. You learn some on the job, and you’re taught some of it informally by others. And sometimes, rarely as Katie and Linda point out, you find that mentor who is also a friend. So while we all hold out for the magic mentorship that elevates the work of each party through mutual respect and positive progress, we can expand our definition of mentor in order to experience some benefits of this powerful type of relationship more informally. And don’t forget to share what you know with others!
Marissa Filippo serves as the programming co-chair for YNPN Chicago. She is also the Nonprofit Programs Manager at Donors Forum.