Peer Mentoring Spotlight

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

Don’t Delete that Mentoring Email!

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


A Very Special Thanks to our Peer Mentoring Sponsors!

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