This is an interview with Nicole Gulotta, a member of the steering committee of EPIP-LA. In this interview, she shares how the LA chapter developed a mentorship program for their members and the process they developed to select both mentees and mentors. The EPIP-LA chapter steering committee developed a mentorship program for their members. What motivated the group to put together a mentorship program? As the EPIP-LA chapter continued to grow, members of the steering committee noticed a gap between where members were and where they wanted to go. A strong mentorship program that valued both peer relationships and the one-on-one guidance from seasoned professionals seemed like a wonderful addition to the philanthropy landscape in Los Angeles, and would help EPIP-LA members navigate their careers with confidence. With the second cohort recently put together, can you tell me more about how you selected mentors and mentees for this round of the mentoring program? Mentees are selected from a strong pool of eager applicants. Although the steering committee plays a role, one of the hallmarks of the program is its flexibility for the mentees themselves, so we look for self-starters, enthusiasm, and strategic thinking. Because the program is still relatively new, we’re always looking for ways to improve our process and offerings, and look to each cohort to help refine it for future participants. It’s a very hands-on program, and the cohorts have a chance to help shape it. How will the impact of this experience be measured for those attending the sessions? As the cohort meets throughout the year, they evaluate the experience as they go along through discussions among themselves and with the steering committee, so its impact is ongoing. However, some of the program benefits can only be measured after the program ends, once relationships have evolved, career choices have been made, and the mentee can then look back and reflect on how the program encouraged his or her career over the long-term. What unique challenges or opportunities did you experience in bringing mentees and their mentors together? Because the program was new, we had to get in front of potential mentors who didn’t know about EPIP. It required some cold calling and networking at the beginning. We also realized that the cohort and their mentors could both benefit from loose guidelines about the program’s value, suggested talking points, and how to get the most out of the experience, so we began developing these tools as we discovered a need for them. Overall, we’ve tried to remain agile and open in order to create a strong foundation for future cohorts. What recommendations would you have for other EPIP chapter leaders who are interested in developing similar programs to improve the availability of learning experiences for their members? Be in it for the long haul. Getting a program off the ground might take a year or more. It will go most smoothly when the steering committee has done a lot of research ahead of time, reached out to potential mentors, and set the plans in motion. Based on our experience, being flexible is really important, too. Listening to the cohort is important in terms of getting direct feedback that can enhance the program, and to glean lessons learned. In closing, what has been learned from the experience so far and what are your hopes for the program going forward? We’ve learned it takes a village of committed volunteers to really make this program work. Everyone from the steering committee, cohort members, and mentees all volunteer their time in order to participate, and we’ve seen the rewards when mentors and mentees really hit off, when the cohort takes steps to dive into topics of interest to them, and even when situations are less than ideal, because it’s an area for improvement.
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