My first boss and mentor in college coaching, Matt Cushing, always told me that it was his role as our head coach was to help me (his assistant) become a head coach someday.
I have never forgotten that mantra, and I have brought that same philosophy to every team that I have ever led, from college coaching to fundraising and everything in-between. Our teams have always intentionally encouraged personal growth and development for each member our our team, and that commitment has resulted in personal, professional and organizational success as a result.
What follows below is our blueprint and strategy for what we felt was a successful and fulfilling internship experience for all parties:
Surround Yourself with GREAT People:
I was a decent soccer coach, but I was a very good recruiter...and not just a recruiter of talented soccer players. I have always had a knack for surrounding myself with outstanding people who make whatever team I'm a part of better, and who make me better as a leader.
This ‘knack’ certainly carried over to this summer, where I was fortunate to have two outstanding interns join our team at Fundraise4U.net from the College of the Holy Cross: rising seniors Christina Darko (marketing) and Grace Peluso (videography). Our applicant pool was a highly competitive one, but Grace and Christina demonstrated in their interviews that they would be a solid fit for our team, our culture and our needs as a growing company.
I am immensely grateful that Holy Cross (thanks to generous donor support) has a fund that enables Holy Cross students to participate in (and be compensated for) internships that would otherwise have been unpaid. Having served as Head Men’s Soccer Coach at Holy Cross for three years, I know from first-hand experience just how bright, talented and committed to being Men and Women for Others Holy Cross students are, so I was thrilled to add these two remarkable young women to our team for the summer.
Knowing that Holy Cross believed in me (and in our company) enough to invest in these internships, I felt that I owed it to the College to deliver the best experience possible for these two rising professionals. From the very beginning, Grace and Christina were given real work that would challenge them intellectually and creatively with real work experience, while thus enabling me to focus on business development and customer fulfillment.
Christina and Grace were hired to create and deliver professional-level work in a timely, useful and purposeful manner, and they did all of that and more, which resulted in a positive period of positive growth for our company.
Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age: Make Your Partner Look Good
Every project had its own starting point, and our creative process was collaborative, intentional and productive. Nothing was completed in a single iteration or without discussion (by design), and that was part of what helped make their work so successful: clarity, diligence, constructive feedback and true collaboration...and when they presented the finished article, our team cheered for each other’s success in a meaningful way.
We began each day with a brief morning Zoom meeting, and followed with a brief afternoon 1-on-1 Zoom check-in to assess the progress of each project, make clarifications and/or adjustments if and as needed, and in general, just see how they were doing. It’s a pandemic, after all, and this summer wasn’t easy for anyone.
Reducing the Fear of Failure:
Life for high-achieving college students can often seem like a Pass/Fail scenario that often stifles creativity, so I wanted to avoid a 'results-only' focus throughout this internship. I especially enjoyed encouraging both Christina and Grace to step outside the box, take risks and not be afraid to fail, and as a result, their work was creative, innovative, fun and successful. If we ever created something that we did not use, we still viewed that experience as an opportunity to discover what we did and did not want, which is important to understand...so whatever the case, every step of each project was always a valuable experience and a step forward.
In addition, from the beginning of our time together, I asked Christina and Grace to avoid categorically agreeing with me because of my position or status. Collective IQ is something that we sincerely believe in , and their opinions truly mattered to our team, and we often took one of their opinions over mine simply because they had a better idea. I hope that this validation resulted in a sense of empowerment, self-belief and confidence that they can draw on as they continue on their respective personal and professional journeys.
Fundraise4U Mentoring Series
I have always enjoyed creating participating in and creating mentoring opportunities (see our Alumni Mentoring Nights solution at Fundraise4U.net), and one of our favorite parts of the summer has been the opportunity to have a series of one-hour Zoom mentoring sessions with top professionals (and friends) from a wide variety of industries, including (in order of appearance):
Amy Nauss: Group Creative Director at Fidelity Communications + Advertising
Randy Nelson: Director of Apple University (Retired)
Kevin Davis: Operating Partner at SPUR Acquisitions
Donna Latsen Gittens: Founder and CEO of More Advertising
Jerry Dickinson ‘09: Law Professor at University of Pittsburgh, former Candidate for Congress
Emily Dickinson ‘11: Teacher, Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf
Chester Elton: Bestselling Author, Leadership & Culture Expert and Keynote Speaker
Each of our mentors was specifically selected to address the career interests of our interns, and they delivered incredibly well (as I knew they would). This was an opportunity for me to give back to our interns in a meaningful and intentional way, and a way for us to add depth and breadth to their internship experience.
In addition, each of these top professionals offered to stay in touch with Christina and Grace, which will provide them with an opportunity to stay connected and reach out for future advice and perspective, while adding to their growing professional network.
Now that our ten weeks together is coming to an end, my sincere hope is that Grace and Christina have both learned, grown and achieved more than they had expected that they would throughout this experience, and I hope that they have enjoyed this time together as much as I have.
I hope that when (not if) they become leaders someday (because they absolutely will), they are lucky enough to have interns that are as engaged, committed and productive for them as they have been for me.
Last, but certainly not least, I hope that I they will take some of this internship experience and replicate it for future generations of their own interns...and I hope that you might as well.
If you have a minute, please take a look at this brief video that Grace and Christina created to thank Holy Cross and our seven amazing mentors for such a fantastic experience.
Thank you, Christina and Grace for an outstanding summer with Fundraise4U.net - and special thanks to Holy Cross for introducing us to these two exceptional women.
Be well, and stay safe...