What is the value proposition for funders, in granting nonprofits a mentor?


When I was Executive Director for a Boston nonprofit, we were the fortunate recipients of a grant that gave us a dynamo in the realm of major giving.  I wondered at the time, why more foundations and corporate donors don’t specify the need for such a mentor?  Many conduct site visits, to interview the team, and get a feel for whether the board and executive team function effectively.  But if the funder spots a gap in experience, his/her only choice is a leap of faith, or a denial of funding.  On the other hand, if a funder can place its own, seasoned executive, with related expertise, in the midst of that learning curve, how much more likely that there will be a win-win for both funder and nonprofit recipient.

At the Boston nonprofit, we had previously focused heavily on foundations, and had yet to build a network of major giving.  We learned so much during the half year that our consultant was working with us.  She met weekly with the team, helped us to hone our messaging and our mission statement, guided us toward events where we could begin courting and cultivating a network of donors who supported similar organizations.  During that period, I was able to bring in two major family donors, one for $50,000, the other for $10,000, with the promise of further funding once outcomes were achieved.  These relationships take time to cultivate and nurture: sometimes a new contact is ready to jump in, sometimes long-term engagement must be courted over time.

Our consultant’s energy and perspective, humor and warmth helped our team coalesce and align, and we welcomed each weekly brainstorming session eagerly.  We were invariably energized and educated with each meeting and phone call.  She was a transfusion of new blood to a team that already worked well together.  Her joy and excitement just increased our own level of passionate commitment to each other and to the mission.

Often a foundation or donor asks for a year-end report, to measure whether the nonprofit being funded has met goals that were set in the original proposal.  But during the course of applying those funds, so many events and decisions can alter the course toward the ultimate outcomes.  A seasoned interim executive, as part of the team on a part-time basis, can provide counsel, can spot potential mis-steps, or exciting opportunities that are out-of-the-box.  The executive team has the advantage of the expert’s perspective and objectivity, and because the mentor is temporary and part-time, there is no perceived threat, nor political jockeying.

Each time I launched a new business, in my long and checkered history, I thought about how some day I would love to be there for other entrepreneurs, other new Executive Directors and Development Directors, to help them avoid the pitfalls, to help them seize the opportunities.  I truly love working with an executive team and board, and effective communications is a passion.  I can bridge between the team and the board to make sure both are clear on how board members want to become engaged.  I can help both align on achievable expectations.  This will be an enormously exciting and rewarding role.  I look forward to sharing what I am learning, as we move along on this new adventure.

Randy Houk 1 11 2017

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