Can you say you look forward to work as much as you look forward to coming home?
Alison Martin-Books and I chatted recently where she shared how she gives generously and creatively, and finds the joy in giving back. I hope her story inspires you to find ways to connect with local or global charities, and build relationships in new ways. This is the second part of our conversation.
About Alison: She has an impressive background with roughly 17 years of nonprofit work. Alison has a passion for doing work that makes a difference in the lives of others. She’s served as executive director to multiple national non-profit organizations. Her commitment to developing female talent led her to launch Mentoring Women’s Network and the Mentoring Women’s Network Foundation. She’s also the author of the book, “Landing On My Feet: Learning to Lead Through Mentoring,” and speaks regularly on behalf of the organization.
Stefanie: You’re this non profit leader; you’re the founder of an organization and this network of businesses that accompany it. What have you had to let go of in order to fully embrace your own mission and everything you’re invested in now?
Alison: What have I had to let go? [With what] we kind of referenced it earlier. How being able to have trust that things will happen the way that they’re supposed to. And so, I think letting go of expectations of exactly how things would unfold and exactly at what intervals. You go out to the universe with a program that you think is going to be well received and you get the instant feedback that something needs to be tweaked, or the delivery method needs to change.
And so I think, mainly, letting go of those expectations and being really open to feedback has been really critical for us. Because we started in 2011. So we’re still very much in a bit of a startup mode. I think it’s been more of the, “You sort of have an idea of how things are gonna work and then quickly have to pivot.” I think that’s been really critical for our success as well.
Stefanie: What inspires you to keep doing this work?
Alison: Well it’s funny because we have a campaign where we ask everybody that very same thing. So we ask, “Why do you want to pass the torch for women? Why do you support the advancement of women?”
So for me that translates to: “Why is the work that I do really critically important?” I have a 13-year-old daughter, and as I reflect on my own career path, and the experiences of those who are members of our organization that have shared, there’s just so much opportunity. And there’s so much work to be done. And so as I look at my daughter, who’s 13, and just in that really interesting stage of her life that she’s emerging through adolescence.
I want her to have every opportunity available to her. And, I think as a whole, sometimes we become complacent because women, as you know, they have a seat at the table in many organizations. And they can wear pants and they can drive and they can vote. But that does not translate to equality. There’s just still a tremendous amount of work to be done, and my passion really stems from my daughter, in particular, wanting her to have opportunities available to her.
Stefanie: What are some of the other ways that you see colleagues, volunteers, mentors, and mentees working mentoring into their daily lives? What are some of the stories you’ve witnessed?
Alison: I just hear consistently how much the mentors have benefited, how good they feel about doing that and how even the campaign around “Pass the Torch for Women” causes people to pause and think about, “How am I showing up for other women? Am I being catty right now in my reaction to her?” And it’s not okay. Fundamentally at our core I think what we’re creating is a culture of women who are supporting women. Women supporting women is the rule rather than the exception. That’s what I’m really hearing consistent anecdotal stories around.
Stefanie: How have you changed personally because you have committed to this organization, to mentoring, to our country in many ways as you expand your business?
Alison: How have I changed? Gosh. It’s not an easy thing to answer, I think the main thing is [that] we’ve had to learn so much so fast. Personally it’s been a series of continually trying to be better, trying to engage people, problem solving, modifying software, that sort of thing. There’s just so many things all at once and so I think for me it’s really sharpened my leadership skills in ways I didn’t anticipate.
I was used to working in organizations that had been around for 115 years. So doing everything now from developing those process and hiring key staff to making sure everything is going well and being responsible for technology as well as sales. It’s been just sort of a whirlwind. It’s really kind of required me to get better about delegation as well as identifying really key talents in other people.
And then the organization has grown so quickly. And I attribute that to a lot of passion around the work that we’re doing. We have so many incredible women in particular, but women and men who want to come out and support the organization. Because of that we attracted a lot of talent and it’s grown quickly. It’s amazing.
Stefanie: As you think about your life up to this point what are some of the key decisions that you’ve made that have gotten you here?
Alison: I’m going back to the spiritual a little bit. But I think that if you’re paying attention in life, life tells you what you’re supposed to do next.
And so, I think learning to trust your instincts, and knowing when a personal or professional situation doesn’t measure up. This has led me on a journey that’s enabled me to come to the place where I am. Somebody told me this several years ago, and it has always resonated with me. They said, “You’re a success in life when you look forward to going to work in the morning as much as you look forward to going home in the evening. And if either of those two scenarios don’t apply, you should do something about it.”
It’s a lot easier said than done. But I think key decisions in my life have been related to being able to let go of situations, both personally and professionally, that weren’t serving me, or enabling me to show up and be my best every day. That’s taken a lot of courage, and it’s developed a lot of character. So there’s been beautiful things that resulted. But it’s not always been easy for sure.
I did an interview not too long ago. I can’t remember what the question was but it hit me: Hey, I’m just as excited to go to work in the morning as I am to go home in the evening! And that didn’t always apply. It was one or the other in a lot of cases. To me, I have pure joy in my life. I get to do what I do best every day, and I have an amazing husband and family that really is supportive. And it’s taken a while to get here.
If nothing else I want the whole world to get to a place where they build the same day-to-day joy and feeling like their entire world really supports those values. And knowing what those values are.
Stefanie: Absolutely, that’s the first step: knowing what those values are because without that you can feel lost every day. You have to know what you’re working towards to have true clarity. What would be your top three tips for someone looking to find a meaningful project that gives them joy, that they look forward to going into? Where would you say, “This is where you start?”
Alison: That’s a great question. So first of all, come in thinking about what you’re passionate: what are those passions? What are those causes that really resonate with you based on the journey that you’ve had? Make a list of whether it’s a population you want to impact, or some sort of volunteer cause that might resonate with you. Do an evaluation of where those passions are.
The second tip is: really think about what you enjoy most doing. Whether it’s hobbies or a skill set, if you could lock yourself away in an office and close the door and work for hours, and not even realize how much time has passed what are you exactly doing?
Engage with people and connect with those who are doing what you want to do. And identify what you’re trying to grow in. Are you looking at some projects to get involved in understanding what the end result is? Are you trying to create more revenue for yourself and you could potentially see it as a career? Understand what those could be and then talk to people about it.
Ask questions around these topics:
- Have you done something similar?
- What are the types of activities that you’re thinking about doing and have a conversation with those who have been able to do it successfully.
- Allow them to give their perspective. From the outside looking in, it looks like it’s gonna be fun or it looks like it’s gonna be exciting but really get the scoop on it.
- What’s the culture like for that organization?
- What can you expect if you were to go down this path?
Stefanie: The steps you’ve articulated really remind me of some of my own journey, because I came from an environment where I had parents with a a G.E.D. and one with a high school diploma. But once I entered college I had very few role models around. I was asking questions like, “What do I do in college? How do I get As? How do I succeed?” I think that’s been part of my success, just reaching out to people.
It really is just this very natural connection that people love to help you with. As the mentee you realize that the other person is doing something around what I want to do. Tell me what that really looks like. How do you do it? How did you get to this point? Because it makes it more real, and it’s not like this scary black box that you’re just staring into the future.
Alison: And people are so willing to help; they really are. So here you are, you’re doing all the right things: you’re articulating exactly how that person could potentially help, what it is that you’d like to talk to them about. When you show up that way, people love to help, because you already did the homework. You know exactly how that person can potentially help you, or maybe you just wanna get to know them. And so I think that’s the critical piece of how to go about cultivating those types of relationships.
Stefanie: What are the steps that you’d suggest for others who either want to be a mentor or receive mentoring?
Alison: In the first step let’s take the mentor piece. Let’s just say I want to mentor; I want to get involved somehow. Think about who the population is that I want to serve and start with, “What am I great at? What should I be mentoring about?” I’ve worked in nonprofits now for 17 years in various executive roles and lots of fundraising experience. I love being able to sit down and talk and share my perspective with eager, early, fundraising nonprofit executives.
Then it’s a matter of where do I find these people and how do I go about reaching out, just even grab coffee? And think about how meaningful that is if you’re actually intentional about reaching out to potential mentees!
What often is the case is being on the other side of that. You’re thinking, “Okay I would really love to get a mentor.” That usually comes at a time where you’re doing something that you’ve never done before. If you’re in a position that you’ve been in for 17 years and you want to just continue there, there’s not necessarily a need for getting a mentor because you know what you’re doing.
It’s when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and venturing to do something that you haven’t done. You know that finding a mentor or coach is really critical. That’s where the work really begins and that’s what I talk about in my book.
There are eight mentoring lessons there. People can go through to really kind of, reflect on: What’s my journey been thus far? What do I really want out of life, personally and professionally? And given that, who are the types of people who I should be cultivating a relationship with?
And once you get really clear on that, begin reaching out. Just say, “I’d love to grab coffee with you. I’d love for you to be my mentor.” Or saying, “Hey, I would just love to grab coffee with you and pick your brain what you’re working on.” More often than not people will absolutely respond. And the more clear that you can get on, “Here’s how I think you can help me,” the easier it is to for that person to be able to help you in the manner that you’ve articulated. I think a lot of times that’s sort of what is missing is that if you don’t go through those steps and you’re just arbitrarily reaching out to people, it’s hard to gauge how effective that is. But if you really do some work to understand where you’re at and where you’re going, you can be prepared to enter a mentoring relationship, whether you’re serving as a mentor or mentee.
Stefanie: Well as we close up here is there anything else you’d like to share about your journey or inspiration for other’s journey?
Alison: No, it’s been incredible. Definitely I’m so appreciative of the opportunity and for you thinking of me to share my perspective today. There are so many really great resources out there, particularly for women who are looking to connect and expand their network.
Mentoring Women’s Network is one of those resources. If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 of our conversation where Alison and I discuss what mentoring is and how it benefits both the one being mentored and the one doing the mentoring.
Learn more about Alison and purchase her book at mentoringwomensnetwork.com.
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