FIA mentor and mentee talk up their experiences

Last year, FIA revamped its national mentoring program for members. We recently interviewed mentor Paul Evans, World Vision Australia’s gifts in Wills manager and his mentee, Aylin Salt, planned giving manager at Australia for UNHCR. We wanted to know about the benefits of mentoring and what they got out of their experience.

The mentor

Better call Paul: FIA mentor Paul Evans, pictured with his daughter Stella. For Paul, mentoring can be akin to parenting, not so much telling how but empowering fundraisers to be the best they can be.

Paul, you generously serve as a mentor in the FIA National Mentoring Program. Why did you want to be a mentor?

It’s in my persona to share. I like to support people and pass on the wisdom that makes other fundraisers’ jobs easier. I think mentoring is fantastic for people who might be thrust into positions where they aren’t always sure about some of fundraising’s complexities or finer points. Mentees need to have a sounding board in someone who’s gone before them. It’s good to be able to recommend readings and tools and to prompt if something is missing in their fundraising plans.

I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring five people over the last few years through the FIA program. Last year, I was already mentoring someone else on more general aspects of fundraising when FIA asked if I would also consider mentoring Aylin because she needed specific support around Australia for UNHCR’s gifts in Wills program. I’ve been working in the not-for-profit sector for nearly 20 years and in gifts in Wills specifically for the past five years, so was glad to help. 

One thing that concerns me today is the lack of understanding and knowledge of the nuances between channels and availability of tools for young fundraisers to perform to the best of their ability. Sometimes there’s a lack of training, and they’re just expected to get on with it. Mentoring can be an invaluable help in providing specific guidance and support.

But with Aylin, it was different?

In Aylin’s case, it was different because she was already extremely competent and had an excellent skillset from previous roles in fundraising recruitment. She did her own research and used me mostly as a sounding board on ideas to help her grow the existing gifts in Wills program at Australia for UNHCR. In essence, we were able to share knowledge and bounce ideas off each other.

Did you have mentoring yourself? 

Not formal mentoring, although Xponential’s Roewen Wishart was someone I turned to for advice when we were both working together at Bush Heritage, and I learned a lot from him.

On the whole, I wish I had been in a mentoring program as it would have made things easier. I would have liked guidance and a fuller understanding of how to navigate what can be a confusing internal or cultural organisational landscape. At least I had a big network and was able to have helpful conversations with senior fundraisers along the way.

Why do you think mentoring is vital in fundraising?

It’s important to give back to the sector and fantastic to act as a guide to someone coming into, or progressing through, the fundraising community. It’s also essential to help mentees understand that there are good training courses available through FIA, a plethora of research papers out there, and to highlight some of the pitfalls to avoid.

One of the things I’ve noticed across mentees is the need to understand the decision-making process in their managers or executives. While they know fundraising nuts and bolts so to speak, the decisions to do or not do something by people above them seems to cause confusion, which over time, can lead to frustration.

As a sector, we know that in many cases, this is a significant cause of churn. A good example is the slowness/reluctance of organisations to invest in bequests and, despite knowing the importance of CEO/board involvement in major gifts and campaigns, organisations embark on these activities without that support being fully in place.

How did you organise meetings with Aylin?

We would chat on the phone about once a fortnight and also exchange emails. Because we’re working in different cities, we’ve only been able to have one face-to-face catch up when I came up to Sydney for meetings with World Vision supporters.

How have you been able to help her in the gifts in Wills realm?

Aylin had a good understanding already, so it was great to see her target the specific areas where she either wanted validation or guidance. Specifically, she asked where she should start with their gifts in Wills program. I suggested using the organisation’s data to identify leads, do reconfirmations and re-establish the baseline, so she would get an accurate picture of where the program was at.

Aylin also has an extensive portfolio of middle donors, and she observed that some of these supporters had also left a gift in their Will to Australia for UNHCR, and she wanted advice on how you have separate conversations about these two different kinds of giving. She was also a bit nervous about asking people for testimonials, so I encouraged her to think of it as a way people can contribute something meaningful to the organisation in a non-financial way.

More recently she reached out to discuss organising a direct response TV ad for lead generation for gifts in Wills, which I think is a brilliant idea. DRTV ads for bequests are not being done a lot in Australia, so it’s hot stuff, and I told her they could probably get some traction there. She also wondered about a pack to go with the call for action, which I said made perfect sense.

Have you seen any benefits in your mentoring of Aylin? 

It’s been great to see Aylin grow in confidence in her role at Australia for UNHCR and to feel that I’ve contributed in some way. The satisfying element for me personally has been the development in our conversations to the point where, as mentioned, we’re now bouncing ideas off each other.

Do you have any advice for new people to the sector? 

They definitely should take part in a mentoring program.Indeed, when I was new to the not-for-profit sector, I would have benefited from a mentor who could have helped me grasp the nuances of the broader picture – and that’s despite, or perhaps because of, the extensive business/sales experience I already had. That’s not always the case for a person new or reasonably new to the sector. 

The mentee

Mentoring makes a difference: Aylin Salt was grateful for the advice Paul gave her to help grow the Australia for UNHCR gifts in Wills program.

Aylin, why did you join the FIA mentoring program?  

My background previously was in HR and recruitment in the private sector and also charities. I started my role as the planned giving manager at Australia for UNHCR in July 2019. I had worked there previously in a face-to-face fundraising recruiter role, so I was familiar with the organisation. Since I had a Master’s in International Relations and my passion was human rights, the job was perfect, combining my transferrable skills in account management and relationship building and my qualifications.

When the planned giving manager role came up at Australia for UNHCR, I applied and was delighted to get it. For me, the mentor program was not about learning the job. I already had the skillset around stewardship and taking donors on a journey. It was about doing the role better.

Australia for UNHCR already had a gifts in Wills program, so I wasn’t starting from scratch, but I wasn’t sure if I had the right ideas about how to grow it and move it to the next level. So, when I heard about the FIA National Mentoring Program, I decided to apply and request an experienced gifts in Wills mentor with whom I could exchange ideas and experiences.

What did you hope to gain from the mentoring program?

It was to check in with someone more experienced and see if I was on the right track with my ideas to take the gifts in Wills program to the next level. I was delighted to be matched with Paul, who is well-regarded in the sector, has a wealth of experience in gifts in Wills and is extraordinarily generous with his time and sharing of knowledge. 

What have been the benefits?

I feel that Paul has helped me to grow more confident in the planned giving manager role. It was also useful to have someone outside the organisation validate my ideas and tell me honestly if they would or wouldn’t work. 

Coming from a recruitment background rather than fundraising, it was all about making sure I was on track. For example, I wasn’t sure if acquisition was a useful tool for gifts in Wills. I was able to discuss this with Paul, and he convinced me I had a great idea with the TV ad. The greatest thing I get from Paul is reassurance that I’m going in the right direction.

How have you worked around COVID-19?

Well, working in different cities, we didn’t have that problem around meetups. Fortunately, we could use the phone and email to keep in touch. 

What sort of meetings have you had? 

I live in Sydney and Paul is in Melbourne so we would have informal catch-ups on the phone. I think we have had four or five catch-ups and plenty of emails. But when Paul had meetings in Sydney one week a few months before the pandemic, we met in person for a coffee, and it was great to have that in-person time.

One thing about Paul is he is very generous with his time, and he has always made himself available to me on the phone or via email, which is admirable because he’s so busy with his own work and family!

Do you think others should seek out a mentor?

Yes. In my case, I love forever learning, and this is one way for me to glean new knowledge to help me progress. I think having a mentor is a must for career progression.

Would you like to be a mentor yourself? 

 When I’m ready, I would definitely like to be a mentor in the future.  

Want more information on the FIA National Mentoring Program? Visit