Peer Mentoring Spotlight

Successful Mentorship Starts with Communication and Ends with Reciprocity
By: Derek Lambert, Director of Development, Rush University Medical Center

When viewed through an organizational lens, whether occurring in a formal setting, such as in AFP-Chicago’s Peer Mentorship program, or as an informal connection made between two colleagues –mentoring has long been recognized as a valuable human resource development tool.  But on an individual level, a strong mentorship opportunity can provide skill-sharpening and career development for both mentor and protégé alike.

What makes a good mentorship experience?  An NIH-funded, multi-institutional study defined several values that can make or break the mentorship experience.  The authors write, “Successful mentoring relationships were characterized by reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connection, and shared values. Failed mentoring relationships were characterized by poor communication, lack of commitment, personality differences, perceived (or real) competition, conflicts of interest, and the mentor’s lack of experience.” (Straus, 2013)

We easily understand the importance of good communication and clear expectations, however I believe some may undervalue what I consider to be an extremely important element: reciprocity.  When I engage in a mentor/mentee relationship, I find I have as much to learn as the person I am coaching.  Invariably, challenges and opportunities in their workplace are often different from mine.  As a mentor, I am called upon to think creatively about their challenges.  Rather than just pontificating my own experiences, I am forced to put myself in the role of my protégé and see the problem through his or her lens.  This sort of active listening has proven beneficial for me in multiple arenas.

Not everyone has what it takes to be a successful fundraiser, which is why burnout and turnover is high. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports the typical length of time a fundraiser stays in his/her role is only 16 months. But we, as experienced leaders in our field, have the opportunity to improve this and improve our own abilities as well.

We speak with reverence for those who have served as our mentors in life, as well as in our professions. Just look into the eyes of someone reflecting on the person they consider a mentor and you will see a very special light begin to shine.  And for those we offer our time and experience to as mentees, we accept the role humbly, and with an eye toward paying forward the way we have benefited. To my well-seasoned colleagues, I offer a challenge: give back to your profession by passing on your knowledge and experience to someone who can benefit from it. You might be surprised how much your protégé can teach you.

WHAT IF you had not had your mentor(s) in your life? Do you think you would still be where you are today?

If you have not had a mentor, WHAT IF you did? Do you think your life and career could benefit from one? Do you think you could be the mentor you wished you had for someone else?

By: Barbara S. Khalouf, Director of Development, Access Living  

One of the membership benefits of AFP Chicago is the opportunity to participate in the Peer Mentoring Program. This program, offered twice a year, matches seasoned fundraisers who have a minimum of five years of development experience, with individuals with less than five years of development experience.

When I learned about the Peer Mentoring Committee and the opportunity to become engaged, I was intrigued. I went in search of more information and decided to get involved. I was happy to join the Committee and signed up to be a Peer Mentor! Here’s what I learned…

Peer mentoring is a form of mentorship that usually takes place between a person who has lived through a specific experience (the mentor) and a person who is newer to that experience (the protégé).

A peer mentor is an individual with extensive professional experience that fosters the development and growth of a less experienced individual. While a peer mentor might offer tools, advice, and training, it is up to the protégé to absorb and apply these teachings on a regular basis.

Participation in AFP Chicago’s Peer Mentoring Program offers you a chance to: 

  • Establish a lifelong professional relationship with a protégé or mentor
  • Network with other development professionals
  • Strengthen Chicagoland's philanthropic community
  • Learn new skills and develop existing skills
  • Help foster the development and growth of fundraising professionals
  • Access intangible program benefits valued at $8,000 by a local consulting firm

The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.  ~Steven Spielberg

Steve Jobs mentored Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey.

The Fall Class kicked off on October 30; applications for the Spring 2021 Class will be available in early 2021. To learn more about the Peer Mentoring Program, please visit

AFP Chicago Peer Mentoring Program
Expands Its Offerings
By: Angeline Mather, Director of Development, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University Foundation 

As a member of the AFP Chicago Peer Mentoring Committee, I am excited to be welcoming our newest cohort of protégés and mentors in just a few short weeks. Through the good work of committed leadership and engaged members, the Peer Mentoring Program has undergone a delightful transformation this year. The timing of this refresh coincides somewhat serendipitously with a period that has left many of us needing human connection more than ever. Consequently, in addition to our signature component – one-on-one mentoring – the new programmatic bonuses are plentiful. From Career Discovery Conversations (an opportunity to meet other protégés and mentors in a small-group setting) to reviving our LinkedIn presence (connect with us @AFP Chicago Peer Mentoring Group) to Quarterly Discussion Groups (see July’s spotlight below “Something New for Peer Mentor Group” by Noelle Moore), the new class of mentors and protégés will have even more to look forward to in the months ahead. It’s simply a great time to be involved!

Updates aside, the impact of this experience is ultimately determined by the health of the mentor/protégé relationship. As such, here are a few fundamental tips that may help you hit the ground running: 

  • Agree on expectations: commit to mutually-established, upfront guidelines for everything from scheduling to communication to anticipated outcomes. Proactively setting and managing expectations will improve the endeavor overall.  
  • Be intentional and prepared: continue the dialogue outside of meetings to ensure time spent together is maximized. For example, send progress updates or possible discussion topics in advance of meetings when possible.
  • Fully engage: take advantage of the additional programming opportunities, be open to getting to know others across the cohort and be present in those moments.
  • Make a plan: mapping out a schedule for meetings well in advance can be very helpful to keeping the relationship on track. If establishing a yearlong blueprint isn’t possible, shoot for scheduling your next meeting before the end of your current meeting. 
  • Adapt to a virtual experience: while not ideal, virtual is the name of the game these days. Consider how you might reconfigure meetings to best utilize the new medium. Since travel time isn’t an issue, maybe meeting twice a month for 30 minutes is more meaningful than once a month for an hour? Explore possibilities that best suit your needs. 
  • Assume positive intent: for many of us, 2020 has been a bear. Let us all take into account that few are living their best lives right now. It is my hope that we can extend grace, understanding, and support to those around us during these most unusual times. 

Regardless of your role, thank you for joining us. I wish everyone participating in the AFP Chicago Peer Mentoring Program a wonderful year full of growth and meaningful connection. 

William Nalley, Director of Development, The Theatre School at DePaul University 

Thinking back to my first jobs in fundraising, I’m amazed at the number of times that I found myself reinventing wheels. In those small, community-based organizations, I had no notion that fundraising was a professional discipline with best practices and an engaged community of practitioners in the field. Whether due to staff turnover, abandoned systems, or the occasions when I was effectively a one-person team, starting a new role felt like starting from scratch. I was left to figure it out on my own, perhaps with the assistance of a search engine. I would have been overjoyed to have an experienced mentor with whom I could exchange ideas.

Only upon joining larger organizations did I understand the breadth of knowledge and expertise that existed within our field. Luckily, I joined a fundraising team that placed great emphasis on professional development and collegiality with our team and community. I benefitted from generous leaders who shared their knowledge with me, making me a better fundraiser and teammate. Passing forward lessons learned to new entrants in our field is one way to honor the investment that my mentors made in my personal development.

My start in this profession came at a time of relative stability – if the nonprofit sector can ever be considered stable. During this moment of disruption and upheaval, we find our organizations mapping out new strategies and approaches with the speed necessary to match the rapid-fire changes in our world. As fundraisers, we are drawing upon best practices and previous experience the best we can, but our present economic and societal challenges are creating a new circumstance. When young professionals seek out guidance and wisdom, this highly unusual time makes it crucial for us to embrace them and find ways to support their learning.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to serve in AFP-Chicago’s Peer Mentorship program. It’s a privilege to build relationships with energetic young professionals and understand the ways in which they approach our work. As we all know, the level of churn among fundraisers remains incredibly high. One recent report placed the average fundraiser’s tenure at 16 months before changing roles. Such rapid turnover underscores the need for us, as a community of committed professionals, to nurture our young colleagues and encourage them in their efforts to grow. I encourage you to consider serving as a mentor to young AFP members as well.

Keeping the Connection, from AFP Chicago’s Peer Mentoring Program and Beyond
By: Lauren Sheely, Development Assistant, Court Theatre

As a professional fundraiser in the early stages of my career, I can say that my experiences as an AFP Fellow and as a Protégé in the AFP Peer Mentoring Program have been foundational to my growth. The structure of these programs, with their regularly scheduled meetings, occasional worksheets, outlined benchmarks, and supportive committees, provided me with numerous resources and outlets to maintain a formal connection to AFP Chicago and get just about any question I had answered by a more experienced fundraiser.

But what happens after the 12 months of your time as a protégé or fellow?

Luckily, I have found that the more formal structure of these programs has easily given way to a more informal but no less valuable form of mentorship and guidance. I was fortunate enough that during our very first meeting, my mentor Sherre Jennings Cullen, CFRE told me that she still regularly keeps in contact with a number of her earlier protégés from the Peer Mentoring Program. Even though we’ve now completed the Peer Mentoring Program, Sherre and I still touch base regularly, emailing, and having breakfast every few months to check-in. She’s been my first call anytime I’ve had a difficult situation to navigate at work, continuing to provide thoughtful advice (and many laughs!) as I navigate my career.

My relationship with Sherre started as part of the Peer Mentoring Program but has continued far beyond. And our story isn’t unique! The AFP Members who volunteer to participate in the Peer Mentoring Program are folks who are eager to help guide the next generation of fundraisers and often continue those relationships past the formal end of the pairing. Twelve months of the Peer Mentoring program might just lead to a mentor and colleague for life!

Something New for Peer Mentor Group
By: Noelle Moore, JD, CFRE, Philanthropy Director, JourneyCare Foundation

New platforms for fundraising. Virtual events. Video chats with donors. We are all experiencing new ways of doing our work but are we innovating fundraising? Should we innovate fundraising?

In June AFP Chicago’s Peer Mentoring Committee launched a Quarterly Discussion Group for the protégé and mentor pairs to expand the network and give the mentoring participants an additional opportunity to meet others in our profession. Our first topic for discussion was inspired by an article from April’s Advancing Philanthropy magazine,Innovation: Is Attempting to Innovate Your Organization's Best Bet” by Steven Screen.

Using the video chat platforms that have become familiar to us all, the 25 participants broke into small groups to facilitate better discussion. We shared recent experiences that required rethinking the tried-and-true in-person fundraising approaches and talked about building relationships over the phone or via video conferencing. We discussed decisions made around whether to move events to a virtual platform, what worked when we did, and the alternatives chosen when we did not. We came back to Screen’s focus on best practices. We agreed that these times may call for new approaches and that those approaches are also rooted in what we already know to be successful. We recognized that we are all still learning and can learn a lot from one another’s experiences no matter the number of years of experience in this field. Protégé Elaine Sundberg noted, “While many of us are learning how best to perform our roles remotely, it was helpful to connect with other professionals through this program to learn how they are adapting and innovating in the current situation. It was a great reminder that sometimes going back to the basics is a great launching point for innovation.”

In its way, the discussion group meeting was an innovation for the committee as well. And it was rooted in the best practices of mentorship—listening, sharing experiences, and introducing newer professionals to others in the profession. By those measures and based on feedback we have received from participants, it seems that our first discussion group was a success. Special thanks and kudos to committee members Jennifer Dettloff and Angeline Mather for coordinating the first discussion group and facilitating the initial discussion’s success. We look forward to continuing the discussion in September!

The Peer Mentoring Committee seeks participation from more AFP members as protégés, mentors, and for committee planning. Visit the Peer Mentoring page at for more information.

Dear Fundraisers:
Your Career Is Not a Cinderella Story

As many of you know, I do a lot of mentoring in my work. One of my favorite mentoring moments is when a fundraising professional realizes that their career is not a Cinderella story.

What do I mean by that? I mean that in our profession, there is sometimes an expectation that if we work hard and hit all of our goals, someone (an Executive Director, a board member, a handsome prince who is also a major donor to your organization) will notice and swoop in -- whisking you off to the ball/larger office/Director of Development role. 

It’s a lovely story, but it hardly reflects reality.  Based on conversations with senior leaders (and in my own experience), you have to ask for the promotion. You have to advocate for that office and pay increase.  No amount of virtue and hard work will replace the need to stand up and request what you need in your career.

That's why it's such a powerful moment when a young fundraiser asks for the raise or title change that reflects the work they've been doing for the past year.  The “cause first” mentality we develop working in our sector can make it hard to ask for more, but that moment of recognition  can help ensure that talented, goal-achieving fundraisers stay in our sector, or on a more granular level, stay in their roles long enough to have a real impact on their nonprofit. It's a net good for our cause. 

The only way to get to the ball is to ask for the invitation yourself. You can be your own fairy godmother if you are confident enough to request what you need from your current role. 

Making the Most of the Peer Mentoring Program as a Protégé
Christopher Chantson, Director of Development, Ingenuity, Co-Chair, 2020 AFP Chicago Peer Mentoring Committee

AFP Chicago’s Peer Mentoring Program is an extraordinary opportunity for early-stage development professionals to be paired with mentors who can help support their trajectories. (The next application deadline is February 28.)

If you’re selected as a protégé, here are some recommendations for making the most out of your time in the program (and beyond):

Each protégé-mentor pairing is assigned a liaison from the Peer Mentoring Committee; the liaison’s role is to make sure that your partnership is progressing well and to be an additional sounding board. While your mentor is a great source for networking connections, so is your liaison. Get to know your committee liaison and ask if they have potential connections for you. (Regardless, you should be updating your liaison regularly on your meetings with your mentor.)

The more people you get to know – as peers, colleagues and friends – the sooner and stronger you’ll feel engaged with Chicago’s development community.

Each protégé-mentor relationship is different. Some of your conversations may be open-ended. But if you have a specific question for discussion, inform your mentor in advance of your next conversation, so that they can plan ahead and come with resources and connections that might be helpful to you. While these relationships are reciprocal, they are most effective when protégés are proactive in seeking guidance, in alignment with the goals that protégés articulate at the start of each match.

AFP Chicago offers many events for its members, including educational breakfasts, pop-up talks, and free affinity group and Third Thursday networking events. Ask your mentor to be your “wing-person” at AFP events and introduce you to other people. It’s a great way to make new connections, especially if you would otherwise be attending these events by yourself.  

Having a mentor is one of the most beneficial things we can do to advance our careers. The recommendations above are just some of the many ways that protégés can maximize the value of their partnerships with mentors. We hope you’ll consider joining us.

Is a Big Decision or Question Weighing on Your Mind? Your Mentor Can Help You!
Jennifer Dettloff, Director of Alumni and Volunteer Engagement University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences Development

One of the greatest values of having a relationship with a mentor is the opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with a confidant. Your mentor is someone who can provide advice and offer perspective. This information is offered to help you consider your options and work through decisions. Your mentor is a resource and a sounding board.

I have served as a peer mentor for nearly ten years. During this time, I have had the opportunity to discuss a variety of issues with my protégés including:

  • I’m happy at my job but am contemplating my next steps.
  • I’m unhappy at my job and am contemplating leaving.
  • The organization is undergoing a lot of changes and I don’t know if I can or should stay through the upheaval.
  • I have a difficult relationship with my boss/co-worker and am not sure how to approach this person to discuss the situation.
  • I’d like to ask for a raise and am not sure how to broach the subject.
  • I’m concerned my boss is not happy with my performance. I’d like to address her/his concerns and learn more about how I can meet expectations.
  • I’m thinking about moving to another city but don’t know much about this location/region.

A mentoring relationship provides an outlet for discussion that is outside of your immediate office environment and is intentionally established between two individuals of varying experience levels. While the mentor may not share the exact background of the protégé, the mentor has career experiences to share.

When you are struggling with a big decision, a challenge in your workplace, or another career-oriented question, your mentor is a great person with whom to speak. S/he may have had this experience in the past and can share information from personal experience. They can ask you questions to help you evaluate the situation. Your mentor may be able to direct you to other resources of value. Additionally, your relationship with your mentor is confidential and outside your other professional relationships.

Are you interested in developing a relationship with a mentor or in serving as a mentor? Applications are now being accepted on the AFP website. The deadline for the spring 2020 match is February 28.

Successful Mentorship Starts with Communication and Ends with Reciprocity
Derek Lambert, Director of Gift Development, Rush University Medical Center

When viewed through an organizational lens, whether occurring in a formal setting, such as in AFP-Chicago’s Peer Mentorship program, or as an informal connection made between two colleagues –mentoring has long been recognized as a valuable human resource development tool.  But on an individual level, a strong mentorship opportunity can provide skill-sharpening and career development for both mentor and protégé alike.

What makes a good mentorship experience?  An NIH-funded, multi-institutional study defined several values that can make or break the mentorship experience.  The authors write, “Successful mentoring relationships were characterized by reciprocity, mutual respect, clear expectations, personal connection, and shared values. Failed mentoring relationships were characterized by poor communication, lack of commitment, personality differences, perceived (or real) competition, conflicts of interest, and the mentor’s lack of experience.” (Straus, 2013)

We easily understand the importance of good communication and clear expectations, however I believe some may undervalue what I consider to be an extremely important element: reciprocity.  When I engage in a mentor/mentee relationship, I find I have as much to learn as the person I am coaching.  Invariably, challenges and opportunities in their workplace are often different from mine.  As a mentor, I am called upon to think creatively about their challenges.  Rather than just pontificating my own experiences, I am forced to put myself in the role of my protégé and see the problem through his or her lens.  This sort of active listening has proven beneficial for me in multiple arenas.

Not everyone has what it takes to be a successful fundraiser, which is why burnout and turnover is high. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports the typical length of time a fundraiser stays in his/her role is only 16 months. But we, as experienced leaders in our field, have the opportunity to improve this and improve our own abilities as well.

We speak with reverence for those who have served as our mentors in life, as well as in our professions. Just look into the eyes of someone reflecting on the person they consider a mentor and you will see a very special light begin to shine.  And for those we offer our time and experience to as mentees, we accept the role humbly, and with an eye toward paying forward the way we have benefited. To my well-seasoned colleagues, I offer a challenge: give back to your profession by passing on your knowledge and experience to someone who can benefit from it. You might be surprised how much your protégé can teach you.

Top Reflections on the Peer Mentoring Program 
Melanie Dykstra, Senior Major Gifts Officer; Director, Scholarship Campaign, Dominican University

As vice-chair of AFP-Chicago’s Peer/Mentoring Committee for 5 years, I have found the experience to be deeply rewarding, both personally and professionally.  Working with chair Sherre Jennings Cullen, CFRE and numerous committee members throughout the years, has been an honor and a blessing.  At year’s end, I will relinquish this role, and so I reflect on what I have learned:

  • We provide amazing opportunities for new-to-the-profession and more seasoned development professionals to grow and learn and network and make new friends
  • Our year-long Mentor/Protégé relationship has real market value – but is offered as a benefit of AFP membership
  • As a Mentor to numerous young professionals, I believe I have genuinely helped in their career growth and journey.
  • Each of my Protégés (Alex, Shannon, Carlos, Katie, Perrine, Laura, Hailee) have flourished in their careers, and I take great pride in their success (see deeply rewarding, above).
  • As a Mentor to numerous young professionals, I KNOW I have genuinely learned from each of my protégés as we worked together.  I am grateful to call many of them friends.

Sherre Jennings Cullen, CFRE – As Chair of the Peer Mentoring Committee for the past 5 years, and vice-chair for several before that, I echo Melanie’s thoughtful words as I, too, hand over the reins to new leaders.  It has been both a privilege and a pleasure to be a Mentor and to work with the many Committee members, Protégés and fellow Mentors.  I especially want to express my gratitude to my Protégés (Melanie, Charles, Maggie, Ben, Stephanie, Amanda, Allison, Lauren, Keelie, Camille, and Louisa) for your inspiration, curiosity and most importantly…your friendship.  Many of you are like family to me, and I am just so lucky to have you in my life! 

Together, we say THANK YOU AFP-Chicago, for the opportunity to serve our profession and our members through the Peer Mentoring Program!

Top Six Ways I Can Help You in Your Job Search 
Amy Funk, Sr VP, Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt, LLC

I’ve been fortunate enough to mentor a lot of fundraisers in my career – either through AFP’s Peer Mentoring program, the Development Leadership Consortium, or individuals who were referred to me through colleagues and friends. I find genuine joy in the mentorship process and helping fundraisers advance their careers, and at least 3-4 times a month, I get a request from someone asking for help in a job search. 

As someone who has turned to my network for help in my own job search efforts over the years, these requests have made me realize that job searchers often don’t take some simple steps that can greatly impact people’s ability to help. If you’re considering a job search, here are six things your network wants you to know:

  1. You might need to email me more than once - if I respond affirmatively after you’ve reached out, and the dates we're talking about don't work it's OK to reach out again.  
  2. Let me know if you get called in for an interview to an organization I've referred you to. I can drop the hiring manager an email letting them know we chatted – and I’ll be prepared if they reach out to me to ask about you.
  3. Let me know if you get hired. (So we can celebrate, and so I know not to refer you for additional jobs.)
  4. Let me know if you don't get hired -- I don't have any way of keeping you in mind if I don't know you're still looking.
  5. Be really specific about where you want to work - salary, title, etc. Lots of jobs/connections cross my desk and it helps me determine which are the very best fit for you. 
  6. Use my LinkedIn network -- and don't just apply to open jobs. It's actually more helpful for me to connect you before the job is posted. (And it greatly increases the chance you might get hired!)

This last one isn’t really a tip to help you find a job, but rather a gentle reminder that it’s always great to reach out for coffee or to touch base when you're not looking, too. It’s always nice to catch up over lunch and talk about your successes. Best wishes in your search!

“I am not an idiot!”: The Young Development Professional’s Mantra

Wearing 20-30 different “hats” over the course of a week (sometimes even a single day) is the development professional’s M.O. It is well known that we play a lot of different roles and, widely, the expectation is that we do so with grace. Meanwhile, we are panicking internally and wondering when that whole cloning thing is going to hit the mainstream market so we can actually get everything done without losing our minds. It’s far too easy to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and end up with a feeling of failure despite all the wonderful achievements made through the work we do. For young development professionals (BTW: When do we stop being deemed “young”? Who decides the cut-off for that…have we reached a consensus?) we are even more susceptible to a crippling inferiority complex that stems from seemingly limited experience that leads to self-doubt. “What if I’m given a hat I’ve never worn before?!”, “what if I’m asked to make a hat? I’m not a hat maker!”, “What if someone gives me their old hat and it doesn’t fit on my weirdly shaped head the right way?! Then what?!”

I’m here to clue you in on a little secret and give you a major pep-talk, peer-to-peer. You ready?! First, throw all the dumb hats out the window. Enough with the hat talk already; just forget about the hats. Our age and/or years of experience do not accurately reflect our true value to the organizations we work for or our ability to do our jobs and do them well. We need to stop letting the feeling of not measuring up, get in the way of being effective in our role. Now, take a deep breath. Let that sink in for a minute because I know how incredibly conditioned we all are to use years of experience as a measure of worth. Experience is valuable, yes. Lessons learned from missteps and obstacles over the years help us develop and grow. I’m certainly not going to discredit that. The point I am trying to make here is that we need to start doing a better job of identifying and measuring our value in other ways. Younger does not = dumber, less experienced does not = less competent. Until we are convinced of these concepts and start taking ourselves seriously, we can’t possibly expect anyone else to take us seriously either.

Here are some daily mantras along with a little advice and encouragement to snap you out of that pesky little inferiority complex that’s weighing you down as a young development professional.

“I don’t know everything. It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine!” Get comfortable saying “I don’t know.” Say it repeatedly until you don’t feel yourself shrinking in your seat when you say it out loud. Reality check: Your colleagues and your boss don’t know everything either. No one, not one single person on this planet, knows everything. Honestly, that sounds like it would be awful. The key here is all in the action you take following your response. It’s super easy. Go find out. Report back. That’s it. That’s not too scary or intimidating, and yet we’re all guilty of that deer in the headlights look followed by panicked word-vomit that may or may not sound like an actual answer but 100% makes everyone in the room feel incredibly uncomfortable and convinces them not to trust you ever again. So, don’t do that. Stop being a weirdo, sit down, be humble. It’s okay to not know, as long as you go do something about it. People will respect you for your honesty and initiative to learn.

“I have important skills. I can do things no one else can do” Start bragging about yourself a little bit! You have skills and you are great. Start flexing those muscles and showing everyone what you’ve got. Demonstrate your skills every chance you get. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to be awesome. Don’t be shy, people should know. Here’s why: When people know what your existing skillsets are, they can start to identify opportunities for you to contribute to projects in a greater capacity, make your team more efficient, and ultimately allow for greater success in accomplishing meaningful work together. You are then identified as absolutely necessary to the overall effectiveness of your organization. BOOM! I’m pretty sure you just became a hero and saved the day. Good work. You can go home now.

“Hey there, buddy! I have important, insightful, intelligent things to say.” Don’t be afraid to speak up! As fundraisers our expertise lies in our ability to inspire through storytelling. Be a storyteller to your colleagues too. You have things to say so make sure you communicate those things with people. Share your opinion, insights, and provide feedback because it is valuable and critical to the success of your team in achieving your overarching mission.

“I’m a good person. I make a difference” Hey, buddy. Where’s that ego of yours? Get that guy back over here to party. So often, I hear people using the term “ego” with a negative connotation attached, as if it’s such an awful thing to have any degree of self-worth. Recognizing and acknowledging yourself for all the great things you do every single day is IMPORTANT. It’s not narcissistic, it’s healthy.

“I am not an idiot!” This one is my favorite, so I saved it for last. Go ahead and look at yourself in the mirror and repeat after me: “I am not an idiot! I am not an idiot!” So we don’t know everything, we’ve established that, but just because your colleague has 20+ years of experience over you, doesn’t mean you’re an idiot. You do know what you are doing, and you also have important knowledge to share and skills to bring to the table. We work in a high demand field. A lot is expected of us and we are often spread extremely thin over many different projects. If you want the honest truth, no one who is doing it well is doing it on their own. It may look like they are, but trust me, somewhere hidden in the shadows that person with 20+ years of experience over you has a team of people helping them pull it all off. Don’t fall for the illusion. You are brilliant, you just need more time to grow your team of secret helpers.

Allison Houle
Program Manager 
Foundation for Endodontics

Why I Mentor

I was fortunate in my early career to have three wonderful colleagues who became mentors. Each shared lessons from their own experiences, guided me in learning about development, and set me on the path to my next career move. They saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself and helped me to learn what I needed to know to be prepared for what would come down the road. Working for and alongside these people, I gleaned the techniques and ethics of the fundraising profession before “Fundamentals of Fundraising” was offered. I witnessed the soft skills firsthand and gained practical wisdom for managing projects, plans, departments, and organizations.

When it was clear to her that my professional growth would be best served by moving to a new position in a different organization, my first mentor helped me to take that step. And when that move turned out not to be what I hoped for, she recommended me of a position with the organization where she had learned the profession and found her own mentor, who then became my second mentor as well.

When I had questions about organization finances, financial statements, and program data, that second mentor connected me with another colleague who taught me the basics and shared more information as he saw my curiosity grow. He and I built a strong relationship based on trust and ended up working together at three different organizations. To this day, I think of him and silently thank him anytime I use an Excel spreadsheet—so, practically every day!

These relationships formed organically, and I understand now how lucky I was in that. I found these generous professionals through the work we did together in the organizations we were with at the time. Having worked in other places where mentorship did not come naturally, I grew to value these colleagues even more. I also started to “give back” by informally mentoring colleagues as I was able.

Thankfully, early-career fundraisers no longer need to hope for the best when it comes to finding a mentor. AFP Chicago’s Peer Mentor program sets out to match learning fundraisers with more experienced professionals to build the skills and knowledge across the development field. With more structure, proteges and mentors in the program are matched, attend an orientation together, and commit to regular meetings for one year. As a mentor in this program, I have expanded my network and shared my experiences and knowledge. I’ve also had the opportunity to reexamine my assumptions and revisit the fundamentals as I pass along what I have learned in my career while also stepping away from a direct supervisory role in my everyday role to focus on the fundraising.

As a fundraiser, I build relationships – among my colleagues, with my organization’s donors, within the profession. I share my knowledge and my experience in my work every day. Being a mentor to another fundraiser is a natural extension of this.

This is why I mentor.
Noelle A Moore, CFRE, Philanthropy Director, JourneyCare Foundation

Lifelong Learning Through Peer Mentorship

Gregor Thuswaldner is a lifelong learner, with a distinguished career as a professor of German and linguistics. Following a 13-year tenure at Gordon College, in 2016 Gregor accepted the role of Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at North Park University. Along with this important opportunity, Gregor began pursuing a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, where – as part of a course on fundraising – he was introduced to AFP. While fundraising is not an explicit responsibility for his current position, Gregor became inspired to learn more about the profession, join AFP Chicago, and take advantage of the many resources available to AFP members.

Gregor also applied to be matched with a mentor through AFP Chicago’s Peer Mentoring Program in an effort to build connections and to see how fundraising works in other higher education contexts. Today, Gregor meets at least monthly with his mentor, George Rattin, Executive Director of Development at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science; they also connect through regular phone calls and emails.

Through this partnership and their easy rapport, George offers support and shares resources, along with ideas about how Gregor might grow his fundraising skills and experience. Gregor appreciates that George holds him accountable during their conversations, following up on topics that they have previously discussed. Most notably, George has connected Gregor to other higher education professionals who have shared invaluable insights and knowledge about fundraising. All of these opportunities have helped Gregor become even more excited about building relationships with donors, and intentionally participating in fundraising efforts with his North Park Advancement colleagues.

The Peer Mentoring Program offers value to all participants, including those who may already have lots of work experience but who are new to fundraising. Says Gregor: “Regardless of where you are in your career, it’s always important to expand your network and have meaningful connections that are outside your primary field. Being able to sit down with my mentor and his colleagues has alone made the experience worth it, and helped me see my own organization with a different set of eyes.”

Christopher Chantson, Director of Development, Ingenuity
Member, AFP Chicago Peer Mentoring Committee

Applications for the Fall 2019 Peer Mentoring class are now available, and due on Friday, September 27.

Don’t Delete that Mentoring Email!

Getting to Know Laura Sonnefeldt Curley, Managing Director of Institutional Advancement, Notre Dame College Prep

If you’ve been in the workforce for more than a day, you’ve heard the importance of getting a mentor. With regularity big publications, Wall Street Journal, Crain’s and Forbes, along with more industry-specific periodicals, talk about the importance of getting a mentor when it comes to advancing your career. Each year thousands of college grads enter the workforce, and by now we know that having a mentor is good for professional growth.

But what about BEING a mentor? For too long mentors have simply been the wizened, benevolent old-school CEOs who take protégés to the club or lunch and introduce them to the movers and shakers. When I hear that word the image of Eddie Murphy in Trading Places came to mind. I don’t see myself as that wizened professional who can open doors and ordain the next rising star! Another very real challenge is “What’s in it for me” thought when asked to be a mentor. I know, because I experienced it. According to polls, work-life balance is among the most important considerations in one’s professional life. Why should anyone agree to sacrifice some of their hard-earned free time?

Spoiler alert: Mentoring is as beneficial for the mentor as for the protégé!

Certainly, there’s that touted feeling of doing a good thing and helping others; I don’t want to minimize that; it’s a very real benefit! Recently LinkedIn informed me that one of my first AFP protégés landed a new position. Because of our time together I knew that this new position was a stepping-stone in her planned career growth. I felt like a parent, taking pride that she was progressing down the career path she dreams of. I like to think I helped a little bit.

But there are tangible benefits that are often overlooked.

  • Do you know EVERYTHING? Being a mentor challenges you to learn new things and keep up with the latest trends. If a millennial asked you about taking Venmo or Zelle donations, would you know how to answer?
  • Mentoring will inspire you. Have you ever met with someone, and even as you speak your plans become more refined or take a new appearance? Every time I’ve met with a protégé I’ve gotten with a fresh perspective on my ideas.
  • Listening to someone talk about their organization and boss gives me ideas about how I do (or do not) want to manage my team!
  • Crazy workdays make “me” time difficult to come by. By mentoring someone I have time specifically carved out to think strategically. My protégé is planning for her future, and as a natural course, I end up evaluating mine, too.

So next time you see AFP Chicago asking for mentors, take time to reach out to a committee member and ask about the opportunity. It’s good for new fundraisers, it’s good for the profession, and it’s certainly good for you. “AFP Mentor” is a good thing to have on your résumé!

Heather Klein Olson: Partnering with the
Right Mentor Yields a Lifetime of Reward

In 2003, shiny new arts management degree in hand, I landed a dream job as Executive Assistant to the Artistic and Executive Directors at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

When the company promoted me to Donor Relations Coordinator after only two years, the transition was smooth. I knew the players, the company, and its donor community. The encouragement, support, and guidance I received from everyone there contributed to my success.

But in 2006, when Lookingglass Theater Company offered me a more senior position as Manager of its Annual Fund, I knew I needed help to navigate my first big career transition. After all, there would be new people, a new donor community, and much more responsibility.

I needed a sounding board. I needed answers and guidance from experts familiar with the challenges I would face in my new position. I needed to get up to speed quickly. A fundraising consultant friend directed me toward AFP and its free peer mentoring program.

Beth Truett, now President and CEO of Oral Health America, agreed to serve as my mentor. Partnering with her immeasurably enriched my professional life.

I caught up with Beth recently, and asked her to share some insights about her experience as an AFP mentor.

Beth joined AFP when she changed careers, moving from the private to the non-profit sector. Exploring ways to participate in the organization, she applied to become a mentor, choosing to continue pursuing her lifelong dedication to mentoring young women.

“I felt that there were really no mentors around for me when I was coming up, so I set that as a philanthropic goal,” she explained.

During our mentoring partnership, Beth was the sounding board I needed, providing the wisdom, the listening, and the incisive questioning that helped me to stretch, grow, and discover my own answers, both as a professional and as a human being.

When you’re a mentor, you need to be careful not to give too much advice, but to try to understand what the mentee’s goals are.

Beth shared that one of her biggest challenges in mentoring young women was to develop detachment – the ability to step back and steer the conversation toward the mentee’s own goals, hopes, and ambitions.

“As a leader, as a CEO, and even as a mother,” she shared, “I could tend to say, well, ‘I think you should do this,’ or ‘I think you could do that,’ rather than asking questions like, ‘What would be your objectives?’ or ‘What would make you happy?’

Beth credits her ability to step back and allow the mentee to discover their own breakthroughs and gain wisdom from their own failures as key to fulfilling her role of service as a mentor.

She added that another challenge in developing a mentor partnership is that it can be difficult to find the right personality “fit” between mentor and mentee. Mentoring relationships usually tend to develop naturally over time. “You can’t just walk up to someone and ask, ‘Will you mentor me?’” She adds, “One of the things I appreciate about the AFP program is that I think they really look at the mentor and the mentee and try to figure out whether they are creating a ‘fit.’”

When I asked her whether she would recommend the AFP mentorship program to others, Beth responded with an enthusiastic “Yes, I think it’s great! I’m ready to do it again!”

You get out of the mentoring relationship what you’re willing to put into it.

In a coaching relationship, the coach has a defined role: to help the client achieve short-term performance goals and improve specific job skills. The coach sets the goals and drives the agenda, and the relationship is directive, usually ending when the performance goals are met.

A mentoring relationship is more like a dance. The mentee steps forward, bringing goals, ambitions, and challenges to explore. The mentor acts as a mirror, stepping back to reflect the mentee’s goals, ambitions, setbacks, and breakthroughs, guiding the mentee to reach his or her own conclusions. The dance is as successful as the partners are willing to fulfill their roles, and the relationship can last a lifetime.

In my own experience as Beth’s protégé over ten years ago, I knew it was my responsibility to reach out when I needed support – not Beth’s to check up on me or manage me or hold me accountable for my results. I believe that my success with Beth was driven by my acceptance that I would only get out of our relationship what I brought into it.

Whenever I called or contacted Beth, I came prepared with a list of questions and an agenda for the conversation, out of respect for her time and responsibilities. She rewarded me by being there whenever I reached out.

Her partnership helped me gain confidence in my own capability, align my vision of service, and pursue a career that enables me to truly make a difference in the lives of so many. Not only that, my experience with Beth shaped my own ability as a coach, friend, and informal mentor.

The mentoring experience helped me become a better friend, manager, and coach.

While I’ve never served formally as a mentor, throughout my career colleagues, acquaintances, and friends have approached me for personal and career advice. Many of those acquaintances and colleagues have become lifelong friends.

Those rewarding experiences, as well as the work I did with Beth early in my career, led me to serve as a professional and personal development coach. I take on occasional paying clients when my schedule permits.

I work with them to achieve specific personal and career goals, helping them to develop skills in strategy, time management, and relationship-building so they can move more effectively and advance more quickly along their career paths than they might on their own. I also offer guidance, feedback, and honest critique in specifics areas of business, including marketing and strategic planning.

As a coach, I know there are times to be directive and tell my clients specifically what to do within a specific deadline, and times to be reflective – to take a step back and ask probing, incisive questions to help them discover their own answers in their own time. Working with Beth taught me that distinction. Knowing when to step in and when to step back has been a key factor in my own growth not only as a coach, but also as a manager, a parent, and a friend.

The mentoring relationship with Beth rewarded me by awakening my own indwelling insight, patience, and, I hope, wisdom. These gifts enhance my personal and professional life every single day.

But perhaps the greatest reward mentoring has given me is a lasting relationship with an extraordinary, service-oriented kindred spirit like Beth.


Getting to Know Melanie Dykstra
Sr. Major Gifts Officer, Director Scholarship Campaign,
Dominican University

I have been involved with AFP-Chicago’s Peer Mentoring Program for a long time – first as a  member of the Peer Mentoring Committee, then serving as a Mentor multiple times, and for the last few years, as Vice Chair, serving with Sherre Jennings Cullen.  It has been one of the most gratifying professional volunteer experiences of my career.

Why? Well first, I suppose, it’s because of all the wonderful people I’ve met.  One whom I remember with great fondness is Karen Sims who recruited me to the committee and led it with passion and distinction. It’s the numerous young professionals I’ve had the opportunity to mentor – several of whom remain dear friends.  In fact, I just had breakfast with Laura Curley who herself has become a Mentor and a member of the Peer/Mentoring Committee.  (I am nothing if not strategic!)

It’s the reciprocal nature of the process.  I spoke recently with Sarah Sullivan who mentored one of our chapter’s shining stars, Channing Lenert.  She said, “I hope Channing learned something from me.  I know I learned a great deal from him.”  And maybe that’s the thing: it’s a two-way learning process, one of growth and support and collaboration. 

I’ve always been grateful that my career has been one of service, and the work of the Peer/Mentoring Committee is, at its root, about serving: serving the profession and serving the good people who choose this career path. 

And now, the pitch:  Won’t you consider serving as a Mentor or participating as a Protégé? I promise you won’t regret it.  It is truly a rewarding experience.

The Role of the Mentor and Why We Need Them

In Homer’s “Oddyssey”, the character Mentor serves as the trusted older advisor to Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. Since then, the word has come to mean someone who gives guidance, shares knowledge, and imparts wisdom.

In the article Becoming A Great Mentor in the January 2019 edition of Monitor On Psychology, the authors Dr. Jan Estrallado and Dr. Nadine Nakamura offer 11 steps to helping proteges succeed.

  • Be clear about the relationship (Set goals, roles and responsibilities.)
  • Take the time (Make the time to signal the relationship is valued.)
  • Champion their dreams (Tailor mentoring to the protégés’ goals.)
  • Learn to listen (Ask questions to help guide protégés to self-sufficiency.)
  • Model key behaviors (Show protégés what it takes to be successful.)
  • Offer support (Provide encouragement and recognize protégés’ accomplishments.)
  • Challenge your protégé (Encourage protégés to figure what they need to know.)
  • Give public praise (Champion protégés and introduce them to your network.)
  • Stay humble (Share your own failures.)
  • Let the relationship grow (Treat protégés as colleagues to provide validation.)
  • Enjoy the benefits (Take pride in protégés’ success and let them help broaden your network.)

 According to the article, research shows that well-mentored people are more likely than those without good mentorship to:

  • Be confident and confident.
  • Perform at a higher level.
  • Receive better evaluations and promotions.
  • Make more money.
  • Contribute more to their field on a variety of measures.
  • Be loyal to their institutions, which translates into increased retention and lowered attrition.
  • Mentor other themselves.

Clearly, both the protégé and the mentor reap benefits from the experience. Please consider becoming a protégé or a mentor by filling out the application at on the website by the deadline of Friday, February 22nd. Or if you are interested in joining the Peer Mentoring Committee, please call Sherre Jennings Cullen, CFRE at 847-757-3702 or Melanie Dystra at 708-524-6291.

Peer Mentoring Q&A


For this month’s feature on Peer Mentoring, we paired a current protégé with a former protégé to explore the benefits of the program and seek advice for a development professional just entering the mentoring experience.

Our current protégé is Keelie Johnson, Individual Giving & Special Events Manager at Casa Central. She spoke with Hailee Moore, Development Associate at Urban Gateways. Hailee concluded her protégé year in October 2018.

Keelie Johnson : How long were you an AFP member before starting the program?

Hailee Moore: I joined AFP and immediately sent in my application for the Peer Mentoring Program. I have been in the nonprofit sector for four years but had not previously been a member. Once I started at Urban Gateways, I was encouraged to join both AFP and the mentorship program.

KJ: When thinking about what you wanted to get out of this program, how did you go about determining your goals for your mentorship?

HM: I have held similar roles in development for some time. I wanted to take steps to advance my career, but needed assistance from my Mentor in determining what that looked like. My Mentor helped me in realizing that I have an interest in the annual fund and individual giving, and together we mapped out a plan to succeed.

KJ: Can you tell me about your Mentor and how you identified the skills needed to help advance your career?

HM: My Mentor works with a larger team. As someone who has always worked for a small shop, it was beneficial to gain perspective from someone who works with a large department. She shared some ideas, pointers, and best practices that were new to me.

I write a lot of acknowledgement letters and appeals, so she was a big help in navigating writing roadblocks. Additionally, she encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone in trying new techniques when it comes to writing appeals and donor engagement.

KJ: Overall, what do you think has been the greatest success from participating in Peer Mentoring?

HM: My mentor has helped me gain confidence in proposing new ideas and suggestions on how to improve my organization’s individual giving program. I believe that by implementing these new ideas and strategies, I am better positioned to get to the next level in my career, specifically in the area of Individual Giving. Without my Mentor, I do not believe I would have the confidence to do this. 

KJ: Do you keep in touch with to your mentor?

HM: Yes, I just saw her at the Annual Meeting in December. We still stay in touch via email.

KJ: How has being a Protégée enhanced your overall AFP membership experience?

HM: Before joining, I had no knowledge of AFP and had never attended any of their events. Now, I have attended the Annual Meeting, the Awards Luncheon, and many of the workshops. Being a Protégée has improved my networking skills, and with that, I have made some great connections!

KJ: Do you have any final comments you would like to give to those considering applying for the Peer Mentorship Program with AFP?

HM: If you are on the fence, go for it! What do you have to lose? Joining this program will help you get out of your comfort zone and advance your skills and career. The benefits of joining far outweigh any fear that you may have at the beginning. The Mentors are open-minded, welcoming, collaborative, and uplifting.

Interested in partnering with a mentor or protégé? AFP Chicago’s Peer Mentoring program pairs seasoned fundraisers with protégés (fundraising professionals with less than 5 years of experience) for a year-long mentorship. The application deadline for the Spring 2019 Class is February 22. To learn more about the benefits of the Peer Mentoring Program or to complete an application, please visit


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