CMF Editorial Correspondent
A new mentoring initiative designed to attract, retain and promote future leadership for philanthropy is one of the key projects developed and launched recently by the Michigan Forum for African Americans in Philanthropy (MFAAP). MFAAP is an affinity group sponsored by the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) and is committed to creating a pipeline of new talent and energy by attracting diverse individuals to the field of philanthropy.
Foundation and other nonprofit trustees, executives and staff joined together to recently participate at the MFAAP’s inaugural gathering at Detroit’s Roberts Riverwalk Hotel. Launching the day-long event was a session entitled: “Mentoring – How to Mentor and Be a Good Mentee” led by Dr. Lynn Wooten, associate clinical professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a nationally recognized leader in the field of creating and building mentoring programs.
“Mentoring is a strategic approach to developing an individual’s goals and skills,” Wooten explained. “It is also a flexible concept that should reflect the unique culture and objectives of your organization.”
The MFAAP session paired experienced individuals with newcomers anxious to learn about – and take part in - the mentoring dynamic. The goal was to bring together and share the rich talents of experienced individuals so they could teach, coach, counsel and encourage those who wanted to explore a collaborative effort for positive change. The relationships begun during the event are expected to form the foundation for successful, multi-year partnerships.
Explaining how the new mentoring initiative works, Wooten said, “It involves collaborative negotiation and joint accountability. Equal participation in this mentoring relationship is a must for it to be successful.
“Mentors can fill one or more roles for their often-younger mentees,” she added. “They can be a career guide, an information source, a friend and an intellectual resource to collaborate on research projects or provide constructive feedback and criticism on new projects, programs or career issues and challenges.”
“The mentor/mentee relationship can only work if both sides develop rapport and build trust with each other,” said Wooten. “Both participants need to start out setting achievable goals together. Mentors need to let their mentees have a say in all activities; model ways to solve problems; and help them explore possibilities for success.”
Pointing out that a successful mentor must help clarify career goals for their younger counterparts, Wooten said the emphasis then must be put on establishing and carrying out a mutually acceptable plan with their mentees so they can reach those goals.
“The responsibilities of a mentor are many and varied,” explained Wooten. “One must provide guidance based on past experiences and this must be done throughout a positive counseling relationship and in a climate of open communication.”
One of the key activities in such a relationship is helping the mentee identify problems and solutions and lead them through the problem-solving processes, she instructed.
Carol Goss, president/CEO of The Skillman Foundation, said Wooten laid out in a concise, constructive manner, informative questions, plans and tips for ensuring a successful mentor/mentee relationship.
“One of my takeaways was that a mentor must always give constructive feedback in a supportive way and share the stories of their experiences as examples, including mistakes that have been made,” said Goss. “We need to tell mentees that mistakes sometimes happen; we just have to learn from them and move forward.”
Kimberly Burton, CMF’s vice president, corporate services and director of diversity and inclusive practices, said the lessons she learned from Wooten can – and should – be carried over to other aspects of one’s professional life, whether in philanthropy or the for-profit corporate world.
“Building relationships is the cornerstone to this entire initiative,” noted Burton. “And while they may seem simple and obvious, the rules and strategies are extremely important: develop rapport and build trust, establish confidentiality, be a friend and not an all-knowing authority, return phone calls and e-mails promptly, and always try to have a positive outlook.
“These aren’t just important mentor/mentee strategies,” she added. “They are key rules for success regardless of what job you hold or whether you are in the nonprofit or for-profit sector. Only good things can come from following these relationship-building lessons.”
Helping develop and bringing forth new leadership into philanthropy isn’t an option, it’s a must-do, said Wooten.
“We must always look to prepare for the future by taking action in the present,” she counseled. “Leadership training through mentor/mentee development initiatives isn’t easy, but it is necessary and important. MFAAP leaders understand that…and their efforts will go a long way to growing and strengthening philanthropy in the years to come.”