A CEO's Guide to Nonprofit Career Satisfaction & Finding a Mentor

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Imari Paris Jeffries has had a prolific career - and he's just getting started. He began his nonprofit career after developing a life-long value of service while serving in the military, which he joined as a homeless high school graduate. He almost left the sector for good when he didn't have $100 in his bank account to put his parents up in a hotel after their house burned down. Though Imari stayed in the sector, reaching executive-level leadership before he turned 30, lack of fair compensation is one of the fatal flaws he sees in the nonprofit industry.

By: Alyson Weiss, Career Moves' Young Professional Outreach Coordinator & Social Media Specialist // YNPN Boston Ambassador

Imari Paris Jeffries has had a prolific career - and he's just getting started. He began his nonprofit career after developing a life-long value of service while serving in the military, which he joined as a homeless high school graduate. He almost left the sector for good when he didn't have $100 in his bank account to put his parents up in a hotel after their house burned down. Though Imari stayed in the sector, reaching executive-level leadership before he turned 30, lack of fair compensation is one of the fatal flaws he sees in the nonprofit industry.

Imari, who is currently CEO at The Italian Home, spoke at Career Moves - a division of JVS's Lunch & Learn series on August 19 about leadership, knowing when to accept or leave a job, and finding a mentor. Here's what we learned:

Imari’s Four Pillars for Career Satisfaction

 

Imari has a list of four considerations he uses to decide whether to take a new job and when to leave a current job. Think of these pillars as forming the base of a house. If one pillar is missing, the house will still stand as long as there is no major weather event. But if two or more pillars are missing, the house will collapse:

  1. You have to like the people. You spend too much time at work to dislike or not respect the people you work with. You do not necessarily have to spend a ton of time hanging out with them outside of work, but they should be the people whose farewell luncheon you would attend.
  2. Your job should compensate your fairly. Compensation is one of many ways that a company or organization places value on its employees. If you are not being compensated fairly (and your definition of “fair” may change based on industry, age of organization, size of organization, etc), then it’s time to get out. As Imari said, “We cannot model prosperity for our clients if we aren’t living it.”
  3. You should have autonomy. This does not mean that your supervisor is uninvolved. Instead, your supervisor should be like a coach – present but empowering, bringing out the best in each of their players. Your supervisor should create a learning culture but not micromanage and thus allow you to build skills and experiences.
  4. You have to do meaningful work you believe in. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.

Imari says that you should use these four pillars to evaluate whether to take a job upon offer and during regular self-check ins to see whether you should stay at your current position or leave.

How to Find a Mentor

Imari credits much of his success to the leadership and wisdom of his mentors. He has a team of five mentors. Imari treats his meetings with his mentors like a 3rd Master's degree - he is learning and growing as a leader for the low tuition price of breakfast, coffee, or dinner!

Here is Imari's advice for finding a mentor and nurturing the relationship:
  • Choose a mentor whose career you admire. Your career path will change, so don't worry too much about choosing a mentor whose current job is the one your aspire to. Instead, choose someone whose values align with your own and who won't be afraid to lead you down a different path than they took.
  • Seek out diverse mentors. If you and/or your organization value diversity, live out that value through who you ask to mentor you. This will expand your worldview and make you a more well-rounded, effective leader. Imari has sought out women and older leaders to be his mentors.
  • Have more than one mentor. Related to the previous point, your knowledge and perspective will increase if you have more than one person to turn to for advice.
  • It is the mentee's job to do the legwork. If you are seeking mentorship, be prepared to be the person who asks for and maintains the relationships. You may want to use Root Cause's Liz Leberman's long-term relationship management chart to keep track of your mentors:
 
 

Image Credits:
Telescope designed by Julian Kerr from the Noun Project


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