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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Mentoring Staff New to Nonprofit Work

Have you ever been asked what you do for a living and when you responded, the person reacted as though you were Mother Teresa?

Some believe that nonprofit work is more of a calling than a career, but when one considers that this ‘calling’ is responsible for literally billions of dollars changing hands each year in our own country alone, it’s a calling of high importance. Not to mention one in which the skills set must be honed and finely tuned.

It’s rare to learn of someone who entered a nonprofit career having always known that this is what they were born to do. But, when considering helping young graduates transition to a career in nonprofit or even helping a mid-career professional make the leap from a for-profit vocation to one in the nonprofit sector, there are a few basics to keep in mind when mentoring a new nonprofit worker.

Encourage the employee to spend a few days doing information "downloads" from fellow staff members or if it’s a smaller nonprofit, from key volunteer leadership. Meeting with the people who have been active in the areas in which the worker will be assigned is invaluable. Urge them to become a listener and learner at first, rather than a talker. Have them prepare a list of contacts throughout these discussions that they should spend time reaching out to via telephone or, at times, in person, to acquaint themselves with these key people.

Work with the new employee to help him/her learn the basic business practices important to the business of working to raise money within a nonprofit infrastructure. Just as enthusiastic volunteers often need a primer on best practices in soliciting for in-kind items, preparing event experiences, limitations of the tax laws, and rules around tax exempt status and politics, preparing your new staff with an arsenal of tools to use to check on these delicate subjects is important. It only takes an oversight or a small error to blow up into a problem that could have been avoided with some basic facts. Be sure to provide parameters for staff who are young and hungry as well as seasoned employees who are new to the nonprofit sector. Not everything translates from for-profit to nonprofit.

Teach or model a succinct delivery of the cause’s elevator speech. Whether the staff is asked on a plane, in an elevator or on a panel, he or she should be able to articulate in 30 to 60 seconds what their charity does. It’s a great opportunity to engage a new ‘outsider’ that could lead to countless relationships. It should be short, sincere and moving—and it should come straight from the heart. A few additional elements to include: keep it simple with basic facts but don’t overwhelm with too many figures or science-speak; make it about people because we have all met people who have battled the challenges sought to be solved by your mission; explain the urgency of the need NOW.

Invite the new nonprofit staff to attend networking events or meetings with you to learn how to ‘work a room’. It’s important to make good use of the networking opportunities one attends, but sitting with your coworkers or volunteers won’t bring any new relationships. Demonstrate how to approach a group of three by smiling and commenting on the situation in common; Practice repeating names to remember; Be energetic and an interested listener; Tell good, true stories about your cause; Get in and out of conversations gracefully in order to get around to the most people; Don’t propose on the first date, instead get a second date.


A resident of Gilbert, Sheryl is an avid cyclist having founded the women's cycling community organization Girls Gone Riding. Sheryl is a native of Pittsburgh arriving in Phoenix 12 years ago to work with the Relay For Life event in the then Desert Southwest Division of the American Cancer Society. Today, she is proud to lead the Arizona Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, an organization new to Annual Funds.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog