The Power of a Good Mentor

August 5, 2019

The non-profit professionals in the Catalyst Kitchens network act as superheroes at their organizations. They are kept busy juggling grant writing and life skills classes while making sure the catering orders get out the door on time, most wearing six or seven different “hats” to get everything done. It seems all that’s missing is the cape. Often feeling overwhelmed and pulled in a million different directions, we decided to build a mentorship program to support our members’ professional development.

What Does It Mean to Build Capacity?

The National Association of Nonprofits defines capacity building as “whatever is needed to bring a nonprofit to the next level of operational, programmatic, financial, or organizational maturity, so it may more effectively and efficiently advance its mission into the future.”

At Catalyst Kitchens, we focus on building the capacity of non-profit foodservice job training programs through our membership network and consulting services. We recognize that key to this task is building the capacity of those working at these non-profit organizations.

Earlier this year we decided to pilot our first official mentorship program and matched twelve emerging leaders in the Catalyst Kitchens network with a mentor at a different member organization. Our goal is to create connections that foster professional growth and reflection.


The “Mentor-Coaching” Model

We have enlisted the support of Lisa Ann Edwards, a leading expert in the field of professional coaching, to help us design the mentorship program. “All of my life I’ve been driven to intimately understand behavior, change, and the drivers behind successes,” she explains. While it’s easy to simplify the role of a mentor as a giver of advice, Lisa’s “mentor-coaching” framework is rooted in active listening and asking open-ended questions rather than simply giving direction. Within this approach, protégés often come to their own solutions over the course of a conversation with their mentor-coach.

Connecting with my mentor has created a ripple effect out to the work we do here every day”, said Natalie Hopner from Catalyst Kitchens member Episcopal Community Services San Francisco.

Our Approach

Twelve mentor & protégé pairs connected on monthly check-in calls from January to June and participated in regular “mentorship cafes” with our team to receive tools designed to help them gain maximize value from the program.

We also heard from mentors that the experience helped them to create space for reflection. “This was a powerful experience for me” said Paul Fordham of Homeward Bound of Marin. “I got a lot out of being a mentor. It has emphasized the importance of taking time for reflection and provides a powerful tool to see how things change over time as circumstances progress. I enjoyed the experience of asking questions and listening instead of simply giving advice or direction.”



Committing to Mentorship

Perhaps above all, we found that mentorship helps emphasize the human element behind non-profit work. It encourages individuals to sit down and spend time considering their personal “why”. When the fast-paced life of a superhero leaves very little time for real reflection, Catalyst Kitchens is dedicated to helping support non-profit staff on their professional development journey.

We’ll be launching another mentorship program in 2020 for non-profit professionals in our membership network and look forward to continuing to grow and learn together.


Interesting in learning more about mentorship?

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Member Stories

Emily Olsen-Harbich

Emily is interested in challenging traditional community development norms to solve complex social issues at scale. She's worked at the grassroots level as a community extension agent in Peace Corps Cameroon and managed cross-sector initiatives while working in management consulting for a Washington, DC based firm. Emily's experience creating compelling communications tools, including an award winning documentary film, help her to support and enhance the inspiring work of Catalyst Kitchens More