Using mentoring to support a career shift
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
We often think of mentoring as something for younger people. But this is just a stereotype – the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Mentoring is actually a lot bigger than a younger person learning from a more experienced person. Rather, it’s about anyone, of any experience level, building their skills by working with and learning from someone else.
Tracey Christian and Callum Williamson are a great example of this. Tracey works as the operations manager for a not-for-profit called Youth Encounter, while Callum is the Community Partnerships Lead ad New Plymouth District Council.
When Tracey reached out to The Mentoring Foundation, she was hardly inexperienced – she’d been working in the private sector, running a successful marketing agency, for years. But her marketing and business activity in the private sector always had something that Youth Encounter didn’t have: a budget! So she was at a bit of a loss as to how to generate revenue and make Youth Encounter more financially stable without a budget to make it happen.
So The Mentoring Foundation put her in touch with Callum.
On the face of it, this looks like a bit of an odd combination. Tracey’s a marketing person, and Callum’s working in local government. But in fact, he was the perfect mentor for Tracey because he had been on the other side of the desk receiving funding applications. And while the original purpose was to help Tracey build some NFP marketing skills, it evolved into a relationship that helped her learn how to put together successful applications to get much-needed funding into the organisation.
So here’s how it worked. For six months, Tracey and Callum met once a month. Tracey reckons the time limitation was actually one of the more valuable aspects of the mentorship. “It made us commit early on about our expectations, and it added urgency to what we were doing.” They had to get value out of their relationship quickly, which made their conversations more focussed and valuable.
Their conversations were based mostly around Callum asking probing questions that got Tracey thinking in different directions than she otherwise would have. This was something Tracey really appreciated – “He never lectured, or told me what to do, because he knew he didn’t know the details of my organisation.”
And in doing that, he helped impart his own knowledge as Tracey needed, because asking the right kinds of questions gets people thinking down paths that they otherwise wouldn’t have followed. This helps mentees build their own knowledge and confidence.
Of course, on top of this, Callum had a rich selection of contacts and experience to draw from – so he could suggest that Tracey get in touch with particular people, or be aware of particular processes and procedures. This was invaluable as Tracey made her own way in the NFP space.
Tracey used the skills she built through the mentoring program to start applying for government grants. As anyone who’s applied for government funding knows, these processes are full of little details and requirements that are a bit of an ordeal to navigate on your own without any experience. So Callum made himself available throughout the grant application processes, continuing to ask questions and help to get the applications in solid shape.
Callum was impressed with how quickly Tracey picked up on what she needed to do, and, more importantly, went out and did it! “I’d suggest things, and next time we spoke, she’d show me what she’d done – and she had pretty much always nailed it.” This made the mentoring productive and rewarding for both Tracey and Callum.
What happens now?
The six-month mentoring is over now, but Tracey and Callum still keep in touch. It’s useful for both of them to have a sounding board to talk through ideas and seek advice. Tracey’s now well on her way to getting the funding her organisation needs, and she’s also helped to expand Youth Encounter into a profit-generating social enterprise, in order to have multiple revenue streams. Mentoring has been an invaluable tool to jump-start Tracey’s move to the NFP sector.