With 26 years’ experience in the sector and having been mentored by Tony in the early stages of her career, asking Lisa Russel to be a Tony Elischer Foundation mentor was a no-brainer. We spoke to her about what it was like being mentored by Tony and how the experience informs the way she now mentors for the Foundation.
When were you mentored by Tony? How did it come about?
I met Tony four years into my fundraising career. Quite coincidentally, we travelled on the same commuter train into London. I saw a picture of him in my professional fundraising magazine so the next time I was on the platform I sidled over to him and introduced myself. From that point on, every day for half our train journey, I got a bit of free consultancy from Tony. And after that, there wasn’t ever a point in my career that I made a big decision without asking him first.
How did the mentoring process with Tony work?
Our mentoring relationship was organic and it was reflective of the way Tony worked. He would invite me for a catch up or if there was something specific I needed support with I always felt I could call on him. Whenever I moved into a new area of fundraising, Tony would suggest I got in touch with one of his contacts. For example, when I moved into legacy fundraising, Tony introduced me to Richard Radcliffe – a real legacy fundraising guru.
What were the main takeaways from your mentoring sessions with Tony and how have they impacted your career in the long run?
Tony’s approach to fundraising was very much about turning things on its head and not conforming to norms which encouraged me to think more laterally.
On the flip side, Tony was also big on understanding the theory of fundraising, doing your homework and analysing everything. He always had a pile of books on his to-read list; he had a hunger to learn and he inspired me to do the same. For example, I have just started reading a book about donut economics. I’m not an economics person at all but Tony inspired me to find out what else is going on in the world – stuff which may not be directly linked to fundraising but which might offer a new perspective.
Another thing I really admired about Tony and something I want to pass on is his ethical integrity. Even as a consultant he would say, “we’re not trying to make clients dependent on us, we’re trying to upskill them, we’re trying to give them the skills to get on and do it themselves.”
Why did you want to become a mentor for TEF?
I feel incredibly lucky to have known Tony, a person who had such an impact on my career so when the founders of TEF started to talk about the foundation it was an easy decision for me to say yes. Tony had such an energy and passion for what we do and I realise now that a lot of people will have never met Tony or have seen him speak. If I can pass on even a little bit of the energy and motivation that he inspired in me, I’ll be happy.
What differences have you seen in your mentee over the course of your mentoring sessions?
I’ve definitely seen my mentee Andy grow in confidence. He’s quite a confident chap anyway but I think he has more confidence in terms of asking questions. When you work in a small organisation like he does, you often feel like you need to have all the answers because there isn’t always someone higher up to ask. Our partnership has hopefully given him that opportunity to ask the questions he needs answering.
I’ve also noticed his planning and his ability to communicate his thinking is much clearer now. It’s about that thing Tony taught me – understand the theory, read as much as you can, do all your homework and have some structure. Once you have that, you can turn it on its head.
What do you get from mentoring?
Mentoring for TEF has been so rewarding. It’s been a dream working with Andy. He’s hungry to learn and has just won the best newcomer in fundraising at the IOS Awards. He has been very gracious in thanking me for it and I would agree the foundation helped him get there but I would say he was always going to achieve that. After receiving the award, he sent me a card thanking me for my support and he wrote this lovely thing about how Tony would be proud of me for continuing to spread his wisdom and passion in the sector. He never met Tony so it feels very special that the foundation is enabling this full circle effect whereby Tony’s support of me is now supporting newcomers to the sector like Andy.
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