Establishing the Relationship
In almost any industry, learning how to navigate your career path can be a challenge, especially if you’re embarking on a new journey and aren’t sure exactly where the road will lead. Finding a mentor to help guide you along the way can be key to your success! But how can you ensure you’re in a healthy and beneficial mentoring relationship? Ryan Lucas and Jodi Samuels will lay out some tips and strategies in this three-part series, beginning with Part I: Establishing the Relationship.
Picture a maze-like hedge during a blizzard at night. Snow everywhere, up to your knees, nipping at your face. Roaring wind, and somewhere close behind you, a madman with a hatchet tracks your footprints, sensing your fear. You are exposed and vulnerable and must act now to decide your fate!
For some grant professionals, this terrifying situation can be akin to their first days as a full-time grant writer. Ryan Lucas was hired to begin this new career in March 2017, armed with strong and creative writing skills and an interest in supporting the mission of a regional hospital system. However, he entered this labyrinth of grant writing with some trepidation and anxiety, being new to the field, unsure of where to find allies in the organization, and concerned about the duration of his tenure if he didn’t succeed.
So why would a just-hired professional fear for his employment life?
- Ryan was a grant writing neophyte who had only submitted a few unsuccessful proposals for his dad’s nonprofit organization, including one federal application, while he was in graduate school.
- The organization was ill-prepared for his position. Although the leadership team knew it had the capacity to receive awards available to healthcare entities, there were many common misperceptions about grants for services and community projects, and no one was eager to do the requisite work to secure and implement grants.
- Ryan had minimal guidance in the beginning. Unsure where to place this new position in an existing structure of more than 300 staff, the executive leaders put Ryan in human resources, where the director lacked capacity help him develop and grow this role within the organization. Ryan was also presented with an unrealistic list of 11 goals, including to pay for the equivalent of his salary in awards during the first year.
Where would he turn? How could he orient himself and navigate through the organizational maze as well as the labyrinthine field of healthcare grants?
The solution materialized online, through membership in the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) Mentor Match Program. As a seasoned grant professional in the healthcare sector, Jodi Samuels was a member of the Mentor Match community and available to mentor Ryan to help guide him through the confusing and challenging world of grants.
The first step in the process was to establish a mutually beneficial relationship by ensuring that Ryan and Jodi were an appropriate match. A videoconference call was hosted by Jodi for an initial meet and greet, where we learned more about each other’s backgrounds, experience, and education. Having that face-to-face contact was critical to creating a strong bond, especially since Ryan is in northwest Colorado and Jodi is in northern California, and the more personal contact of a video set up this long-distance relationship for success.
The next step was to agree upon a regular schedule of check-in calls and identify several goals for the mentoring relationship. Ryan needed guidance and resources to navigate the internal dynamics of his organization in order to carve out a place for his position. He also needed to determine how to build relationships not only with his leadership but also with program staff whose projects could be funded through his grant-seeking efforts. Jodi was able to provide Ryan with concrete suggestions about how to outreach to other departments, actively network with staff at all levels, implement a system of regular communication and feedback, and focus on showing how his efforts could help them to be successful.
A final and ongoing step in creating a strong mentoring relationship was thoughtful preparation from both the mentee and mentor in between check-in calls. Ryan often reached out to Jodi via email with a question or suggestion for a discussion item for the next call. Jodi took copious notes during each check-in to ensure that she’d be aware of Ryan’s projects and concerns in order to recommend helpful resources or strategies. We also shared some of our personal lives with each other to further strengthen the bond, learning more about families, travel, favorite activities, and other aspects of life outside of work.
These steps of establishing a mentoring relationship – finding an appropriate match, identifying goals, setting a regular schedule, careful preparation, and connecting on a personal level – can work for any grant professional. However, as with any relationship, a mentor match needs to be actively nourished in order to grow and flourish, so the Part 2 of this series will focus on tips and strategies for strengthening the relationship.