posted January 19, 2016

Mentoring - Why It's Important for Your Non-Profit     

by Melanie Askew, CPA, Senior Associate  

Before discussing in depth the application of mentor relationships at your organization, let’s look at the definition of a mentor. defines a mentor as 1) a wise and trusted counselor or teacher, and 2) an influential senior sponsor or supporter. Essentially a mentor is someone we look to for guidance. Many of us would associate mentorships with formalized programs in the business world or within the boundaries of a professional setting. However these relationships can take many different forms and one individual might have several different mentors at any point. We will focus here on the idea that a mentor is anyone who can help someone else develop their professional or personal skills.

Why are mentors important to a non-profit? Let’s look at a few hard facts. Non-profit leadership tends to exclude the younger generation. According to the 2014 BoardSource Governance Index, 91% of board chairs in reporting organizations were over 40 and 94% of executive directors were over 40. In addition only 16% of board members were younger than 40. In addition, only 34% of boards reported having executive succession plans in place. Although this report was from a relatively small sample size, it provides a good indication of the need to be developing tomorrow’s non-profit leaders. Mentoring can be an excellent way to help achieve this goal.

If you are considering developing a mentorship program, there are some important ideas to look at first.

1. Evaluate the reasons for the program.

  • What would it do to help your organization?
  • Are you large enough to implement a formal program?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Does it need to be formal?

2. Be aware of the importance of strong leadership.

  • Locate the leaders in your organization.
  • Get them on board and passionate about sharing those leadership skills.

3. Set up a plan.

  • There should be some guidance for both the mentor and mentee.
  • Specify what you expect from each party.

4. Consider timing.

  • When will it be best to implement this?
  • Plan for at least 6 months or more before it can be fully implemented.
  • Plan for at least 12 months before you can evaluate its success.
  • Don’t forget to re-evaluate and revise the program as needed.
    • Evaluate the direct results based on mentor and mentee satisfaction.
    • Evaluate the indirect results based on employee retention, employee morale and any other benefits you may have defined.

Of course, a formal organization-wide program may not the best option for all environments. For many smaller non-profits, it may be better to develop personal mentorships on an informal basis. If you are a board chair or executive director, look for someone to mentor. Make an effort to increase the inclusiveness in your board and try to find someone different from you. It could be someone much younger, someone from a different background, or someone who represents a different perspective. This will increase the opportunities for you to learn from your mentee while you provide guidance in developing leadership skills. It will also assist with your organization’s executive diversity, thereby developing a stronger organization over time. Remember that mentoring doesn’t need to involve formal meetings and lectures. Develop opportunities for open conversation, by inviting some of the younger or mid-level leaders to lunch or stopping by for coffee breaks or personal visits periodically.

If you are not already in a senior leadership position, seek out a mentor or several mentors. Ask someone if they could help you develop. Let them know why you see them as a wise counselor and they will likely be thrilled to help you out. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out someone who is different from you. Broaden your search to other non-profits or other people that you think will have something to share. Remember this can be as formal or informal as the two of you want. Offer to take a potential mentor out to lunch or a coffee break periodically. Thank your mentors for their time and knowledge.

Whether you develop a plan either formally or informally, the act of mentoring will not only help individual growth and development, but also can strengthen your organization’s succession plan and future success.

The content of these pages is for general information purposes only and does not constitute advice. Heinfeld, Meech & Co., P.C. tries to provide content that is true and accurate as of the date of writing; however, we give no assurance or warranty regarding the accuracy, timeliness, or applicability of any of the contents.