• Katie Pooser


Updated: Sep 9

In episode 1, Bruce talked about a couple of mentors that made a difference in his career. About his mentor, John, he said, “If I'm going to change a job, I usually call him or talk to him. I may not even tell him what I'm doing, but it's just like this moment of a connection with somebody that I can get feedback from when necessary. What your parents do for you or should be doing.”

Being a protégé, one who is mentored, is about aiming higher and becoming better through the support and guidance of another person. Mentors may be established through a formalized system or organically happen. For example, one of my mentors was assigned to me through a professional association (my professional mentor) and another is the mother of one of my dearest childhood friends (my personal mentor). Both of my mentors provide me with valuable perspectives that help me make important career and life decisions. Each approach our conversations with non-bias and are seriously interested in helping me identify and find success. Both are on the lookout for opportunities they wished they would have done or did do and want me to experience. Both help me slow my inclination for quick decisions down and have shown me in different ways the importance of and how to practice skills that are helping me in the long term. They provide the perfect sounding board for helping discover and hone in on my personal mission. Here’s a glimpse into elements of our relationship.

Professional Mentor

Formal mentoring relationship. A key element of the relationship is non-judgement.

Offers networking and professional development opportunities

Offers perspective as someone who is more advanced in the same line of work as me—realities of different types of organizations, identifying traits I want in a job and a supervisor

Reviews my resume as someone who knows my accomplishments and goals to make sure I’m capturing those in the best way

Common questions she poses or ways she makes me think

  • You could do that…and then provides silence for me to reflect on if I actually did do that.

  • Have you thought about what that means for you in three years?

  • Is that what you still want?

Themes in her messages to me are: you are enough, the road will wind, no one step will make or break you, you can recover or redirect at any time.

Personal Mentor

Perspective on managing career and family.

She has shown me how she organizes her personal budget. She has been a role model for eating well, staying active physically and being involved as a volunteer.

Questions she asks me

  • What are you reading?

  • How are you taking care of yourself?

  • What’s stopping you?

Themes in her messages to me are: always inviting me to bite off more than I can chew and life is a long haul, you should have short and long term in mind as you make decisions

Each relationship is rewarding for both parties and I find we cover the most ground when we meet in person with no agenda. I can email specific questions anytime. It is a real gift that someone would give you an hour of their undivided attention to thoughtfully help you take your next steps in life. As a Big Sister in Big Brothers Big Sisters, I know that there is no finer news than hearing your protégé is doing well and making good choices.

A key distinction to clarify is that of a mentor versus a coach. A mentor is generally a sustained relationship over time in which the mentor is thoughtful of your overall well-being. A coach is someone who is helping you achieve a time specific goal. Several times I have sought guidance from those wiser than me, I’ve had many coaches. There is room for mentors and coaches as you manage your nonprofit career.

As you seek your own mentoring relationships as the protégé or mentor, let me share what I’ve learned about mentoring and being mentored:

  • Set a meeting schedule for the first two meetings. After you’ve established trust and mutual understanding, your meetings can be effective even if you only get together once or twice a year.

  • If you’re part of a formalized mentoring relationship, respect the protocols of the system.

  • As a protégé, don’t shy away from discussing your aspirations and challenges. Your conversations should be held in professional confidence.

  • If a mentoring relationship isn’t working out, let it go. You’ll both feel better, I promise. You will each find more fulfilling ways to connect with other professionals and not feel the burden of trying to make an imperfect match work.

  • Share your gratitude and how you’ve used their advice. This is very rewarding as a mentor to hear.

There is no one way to establish a mentoring relationship. Let me share how I would approach it. To find a mentor, begin by thinking of those you know or friends of friends whom you admire. Before asking someone to be your mentor, learn all you can from what they offer publicly (ex. read their books and articles, watch their YouTube content, etc.). Look for opportunities to meet the person if you don’t know them already. Once you’ve established a connection then you can ask them to be your mentor.

Much like in fundraising, I suggest you tier your asks, getting deeper into the relationship with each ask. First, ask to buy them a cup of coffee near their office to discuss their experiences and advice. Honor their time by asking for no more than 30 minutes and be early to the meeting to establish a table for your conversation. Prioritize your questions and watch the clock so you are not forcing them to tell you they have to leave. If you believe you have more to learn from them, ask them at the end of your coffee if you can meet again in 3 months. At this second meeting you could ask them to be your mentor and request you talk every couple of months for the next year or you can thank them for their time and advice and ask if you can be in touch in the future. No matter how you choose to manage the relationship, always thank your mentor for their input.

Mentoring relationships are some of the most rewarding. Go for it!

Here are a few additional resources on the subject:

Essential Qualities of a Good Professional Mentor

A Mentoring Checklist

about the author

Throughout her more than 15-year career in results-oriented fundraising,

Katie Pooser has provided thought and strategic leadership at a diverse set of nonprofit organizations, including youth development, health care and environmental stewardship, from start-up to mature, from local to global in scale.

She is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy with an Economics, B.S. and a Master of Public Administration degree. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer having served in West Africa. She currently serves on the board of the Philanthropic Planned Giving Group of Greater New York. She is a guest speaker at undergraduate and master’s nonprofit programs to couple practical experience with theory taught in the classroom. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Katie now resides in New York City with her husband and toddler daughter.

Recent Posts

See All