Mentoring: The best holiday gift of all

Here’s a one-of-a-kind gift that you can share, and the results bring happiness and fulfillment to both donor and recipient. Be a mentor to an up-and-coming entrepreneur or professional.

A mentor, through a formal or informal program, provides advice, encouragement, expertise, and a sounding board to someone less experienced. It’s sharing the “been there, done that” experiences that help someone learn and grown. Some people mentor by providing coaching to high school or college students through internships or programs like Junior Achievement or to adults and non-profits via SCORE

I would not be at this point of my career without three people who mentored me. The first, John B. Hightower, was a fundraiser and arts administrator who taught one of my classes at Yale School of Drama. John’s resume included positions at the Museum of Modern Art, South Street Seaport Museum, The Mariner’s Museum, and the New York State Council on the Arts, where his boss was Kitty Carlisle Hart.

I think John “adopted” me because we’d both been graduates of Northfield Mount Hermon School. In my first professional job, at the age of 23, John became my go-to guy on how to deal with diplomats, how to write grants, and how to make proposals. He refined my public relations abilities and my charm quotient. I remained in touch with him until he died last year. Sometimes, when faced with a challenge, I still hear his calm, reassuring and refined southern voice giving me a thumbs-up.

Another mentor, the arts administrator Christopher Hunt, known for his work at Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, and other world-class theatres, taught me the art of elegance and finesse…the importance of hand-writing a thank-you note, how to compose a media pitch, and more. The third, the talk radio guru Michael Harrison, helped me find my radio voice–my on-air timbre, style, and elocution.

Thom Fox, the entrepreneur, philanthropist, and radio host, is someone who has been both a mentee and a mentor. “Much of my early career was plagued by insecurities. It wasn’t until people in the community helped me realize I had something to contribute that I was able to get a handle on my life, both personally and professionally. If it wasn’t for those individuals, I don’t know where I’d be. Mentoring for me is an honor. If I can help people avoid some of the challenges I’ve encountered, it makes going through them that much more worthwhile.”

Fox recalls his mentee experience. “Jacques DeVillier, former president of Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts was a mentor. Jacques and I had great conversations about financial literacy, economic empowerment, and life. When he learned I was a high school dropout, he mounted a campaign for me to earn my GED and continue to college. I fought him on the idea, mostly because people in my professional life discouraged me from earning my degree.  He was tenacious; I eventually relented.”

“To be a good mentor,” Fox adds, “you need to able to make a time commitment and be available to the person you mentor on terms you both agree to. You have to be a good listener. You have to be able to offer advice with clarity. You have to be honest about your failures.”

I have had the chance to mentor on many occasions. When I worked for the Springfield Symphony in MA, I took interns from Westfield State University. I coached them in writing and public relations. One became a successful copywriter with a national radio station group. The second became a reporter with a major daily newspaper. Later, when I was affiliated with New England Public Radio, I mentored my underwritng staff. One, in particular, was interested in special events, and I put him to work managing some of my client events. He moved on to New York City, where he has built an interesting career in marketing combined with being an emcee for an international company that produces eating contests.

I’m currently mentoring John Arvanitis, a recent graduate of Western New England University who has an interest in film and is adept at social media. He was interning with a friend of mine, and he approached me on several occasions with questions. When he found out that Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative was a client, he wanted to get involved.

Arvanitis said, “I looked for someone who I can relate to personally and professionally. For me, a mentorship goes beyond a friendly or chummy relationship between two colleagues. The mentors I seek out have achieved much of what I’d like to achieve professionally, while still sharing my personal values and interests. I also seek out mentors who will value my input, and treat me with respect. Establishing a mentorship with someone who’s learned and accomplished in a specific field is great, but the real satisfying interactions happen when the mentorship feels mutually beneficial”

Arvanitis believes that the person being mentored has responsibilities and obligations to the mentor. ”I’d recommend that the mentor seeker always behave professionally and respectfully when interacting with their mentor. Often times, your mentor is very busy, so don’t waste their time. Always show up early or on time, be prepared at meetings, listen closely to the suggestions your mentor makes, and be sure to follow through on commitments involving your mentor.”

Arvanitis adds: “Make sure you understand personal and professional boundaries. If it seems like your mentor doesn’t want to divulge information about a client or a personal situation, don’t ask. Think about whether your comments, friendly jokes or casual observations could be perceived as offensive or vulgar. It’s important to understand what your relationship should look like. You want your relationship with your mentor to feel comfortable and professional, so always be respectful but don’t be afraid to have fun!”

Arvanitis was one of the lucky ones. Being mentored led him to a paid position with the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative’s Western Massachusetts Film Exchange. He got to manage the social media for the conference, a job that led him to other marketing agency contacts who will hire him for other projects. And, he got to meet filmmakers, so he can advance his film career.

The Benefits of Mentoring

1. You’re doing someone a lot of good, and that person, in turn, will pay it forward.

2. Mentoring causes you to clarify your best practices, your successes, and your failures. A clearer vision of yourself fortifies your ability to better present yourself to others.

3. Mentoring is good for you and your business. It displays a concern for community and the greater good.

Ready to Start?

If you’re looking for a mentor, Thom Fox advises: “I’m a big fan of Google. If you’re looking for a startup mentor, search ‘startup mentors your city’. If you’re looking for a personal mentor, start with the people you know. Who do you respect? Take them out for a cup of coffee and explain you’re looking for a mentor. See what they say. If they can do it, great. If not, ask if they would recommend anyone.”

If you’re looking to mentor, offer your expertise to a local college or university that has a program in the field that you’re in. Many cities have young professional social networks as well.

SCORE will connect executives and experts with small businesses and non-profits.

Junior Achievement connects business people with kids interested in business.

Some Resources

A Mount Holyoke alum speaks out about mentoring.

To learn more about Thom Fox.

Season’s Greetings !


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.


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