Have you ever wished you had a mentor? Someone you could turn to for advice?
I recently met Jeff Fonda of Athari Group and our conversation inspired the following piece.
Athari Group is an accelerator for idea-stage nonprofits. The program is free, and participants have the opportunity to gain up to $5,000 in seed funding. People may have great ideas. But they often lack the requisite knowledge, fundraising capacity, support, and network to start a successful organization. We want to bridge that gap. We want to support those interested in being in service to a cause greater than themselves. Participants will receive mentorship. But also a curriculum of workshops created by world-class nonprofit leaders.
The marketplace of ideas has a support gap. A great business or social enterprise can get funded at the idea stage. But nonprofits are typically not funded before they get off the ground.~Jeff Fonda
I spoke with Jeff and with his colleague, Celeste Drubner, about the power of mentorship.
What was the most important thing you learned about starting a nonprofit?
There’s such a steep learning curve to embrace with every new venture, especially in the nonprofit space. One of the most important things I learned when starting The Literate Earth Project was the value of mentorship. Our operations and approach there have changed dramatically since we began. It’s good to have a strong sense of the impact you want to have. But it’s priceless to know that you don’t actually know how to achieve it until you’ve tried countless times.
What’s the value of a mentor in the process?
A mentor serves as a sounding board. Someone you can bounce ideas off and air whatever doubts or frustrations you may have. The value of experience is second to none. With a mentor, you can turn to someone who has already done what you’d like to do. And then learn from him or her about the pitfalls that are only obvious in hindsight. It’s an incredible gift.
Mentorship is a lost art. Not everyone has a professional mentor, but everyone should.
People are naturally inclined to help others. So sometimes it’s as simple as asking someone qualified who you look up to, “will you mentor me?” A mentor is someone you trust. Someone who wants to spare you the trials he or she encountered. It’s a great way to stave off self-doubt.
Mentorship is also a two-way street – the mentor should learn, too.
Too many nonprofits are started each year in the US. Is that your goal?
There’s a lot of redundancy, waste, and even unintentional harm in the nonprofit space. And there’s little to suggest that social enterprises or even for-profits can’t have as great an impact as their nonprofit counterparts.
We want everyone to graduate from our program understanding how best to make an impact in the area they care about. Maybe their time would be better spent volunteering. Or maybe working with an established nonprofit or starting a social enterprise. Whatever the case, the program will ask them to consider all avenues for creating impact.
What are the skills new nonprofit leadership needs to learn the most?
Root cause analysis is one of the first things a potential nonprofit founder needs to understand and put in place. That’s why it’s the first workshop in our program.
What’s your goal, short-term and longer-term?
Our primary goal is to help participants realize the best way to effect the change they want to see. We want to be sure they have the tools to start an organization that is honest, efficient, and effective.
For the short term, we want to find 12 leaders with 12 great ideas to address problems. They don’t always go hand-in-hand. You might have a great idea… but if you can’t convince people to follow your vision, you won’t solve the problem.
Long-term, success will depend on whether the organizations’ participants create have the impact they set out to have. The success of our graduates is what will allow us to grow and find a larger pool of idea-stage nonprofits.
If you’d like to learn more or apply, you can contact Jeff here.