A Culture of Mentorship

Photo by Flickr user JonathanCohen.

Back in May, I wrote about the tech startup incubator program that Trey and I were participating in. The program (Founder Institute) was extremely intensive, really challenging, and very worthwhile, and we are now close to launching our first real mobile app.

One key element of the incubator program, and a pervasive part of the tech startup culture, is the idea of mentorship.

You’ll sometimes find mentorship in the nonprofit world, but it’s not pervasive and even when you find it the notion is typically much less rigorous and structured than we are finding in the tech startup world. Most of the serial entrepreneurs we’ve worked with have had mentors, most proudly talk about them and their ongoing relationships, and those relationships are often structured and even formalized through written agreements.

While I’m sure there are plenty of internet technology entrepreneurs that don’t have mentors, it’s a deep-seated part of the culture that, in my experience, exemplifies a strong ethic across the community of the experienced folks supporting the newer ones. The mentors themselves learn through the teaching, the new folks are more likely to succeed, and the entire community of entrepreneurs is strengthened.

The nonprofit community is dense with the entire spectrum of experience, from total newbies to grizzled veterans. Finding ways to strengthen the notion of mentorship as part of the nonprofit culture seems like a high-return opportunity.

A useful links:

3 thoughts on “A Culture of Mentorship

  1. Couldn’t agree more… this is an obvious blind spot in the nonprofit sector. I don’t really understand why, since collaboration and relationships are pretty strong values in most areas of nonprofit sector culture.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jon. It’s not clear to me, either. One common explanation I’ve heard is about how overwhelmed most non-profit folks are, but given how hard most tech startup people I know work this doesn’t sound right. Nor is the remedy all that clear, although if I had to guess I’d suggest a combination of nudging by funders (e.g., what if funders included as a requirement on every grant proposal that the ED identify at least one formal mentor?) and modeling (those funders and nonprofits that do incorporate structured mentoring talking more about it).

  3. For me, part of the deal is that few orgs view working at nonprofits as a career choice of the employee. It is a job they could get and since pay is low/hours long people come and go (particularly younger staff who may most benefit from mentoring) so not a priority to invest in this way.

    Anyone seen a concise, clear report looking at a few examples of mentor programs in orgs? Need to be able to make a show of value to the right ppl in group. I suspect most will say that they have done something like this or are working on it but reality seems different. The “our people work hard/don’t have time” bit gets used for everything. It’s all about priorities and boundaries.

Leave a Reply