Young CEO Dave Neff Discusses ‘Secret Sauce’ of Mentoring

Dave Neff knows the power of personal connections. The 31-year-old president and CEO of Indianapolis-based Edge Mentoring tapped into that power as a sports administration major, ’07, at Ball State University and in a career that landed him with Pacers Sports & Entertainment and ExactTarget.

Dave Neff stands next to a poster of Indianapolis Business Journal's Forty Under 40

Dave Neff sees mentoring as a lifelong relationship that can be transformative. He made Indianapolis Business Journal’s 2016 Forty Under 40 list of up-and-coming professionals. (Photo courtesy of Dave Neff)

Since Neff became Edge’s first employee in February 2014, the group has grown to include 400 people in 30 states who mentor or receive mentoring. The faith-based nonprofit brings young professionals and experienced leaders together to explore questions of career, relationships and purpose.

Neff’s leadership there landed him on Indianapolis Business Journal’s 2016 Forty Under 40 list of up-and-coming professionals. He spoke with Ball State Magazine about his career, views on mentoring and how his time at the university helped shape both.

How do you define “mentoring”?

At the end of the day, I think mentoring is basically a relationship. I don’t think mentors just show up and dump all of their wisdom, answers, advice on the person being mentored. It’s an exchange of information. But there is a little bit of a secret sauce to it. You want them to have a dynamic, not just a cold, transactional exchange. This becomes a transformational relationship that — whether it’s formal or informal — it’s a relationship I’m going to take with me the rest of my life.

Why, particularly in a world with LinkedIn and other social media, is there a need for a more structured approach to mentoring?

Just because you’re connected to somebody on LinkedIn, you follow somebody on Twitter, it doesn’t mean there’s much of a personal relationship there. Mentoring can have a profound impact on an individual’s life, but it’s not really going to have that impact unless there’s some intentionality.

Can you paint a picture of what an Edge mentoring experience looks like?

We ask for a two-year commitment, just because it’s volunteer on both sides — mentors, mentees. It’s a volunteer organization. We’ll fund it through some events, corporate sponsors and some donors’ or boards’ giving. But once you’re in Edge, the experience is really twice a month you’re going to have an hourlong call with your group. Then, there are all the organic relationships that start to develop, the coffees, the text messages, the type of groups that go out on service projects together. For instance, we took three Edge groups to Haiti a couple of years ago.

What experiences at Ball State pointed you toward a path of starting a professional mentoring service?

One would be Gina Pauline (former director of sports administration). When I was at Ball State, my junior and senior years, I was president of our Sports Administration Club, and I interfaced a lot with her, not only as my professor but also as a counselor when it came to looking for internships and running the club. I felt like she was really vested in the welfare of not only me but really all the sports administration students. She treated me as a peer in some sense, although I looked up to her, and I think I got a lot of my passion and energy and excitement for pursuing a career in sports from her.

The other one is Chris Taylor (director of digital sports production and lecturer in telecommunications). I was a student assistant, so I worked in the athletics department my junior and senior years. I felt like Chris (then director of athletics communications and marketing) just gave me some phenomenal experiences. I remember he took me on a couple of basketball road trips. I got to see what it was like to work full time in an athletics department. He would advocate for me when I was applying for internships and eventually my first job, with the Pacers.

From looking at Edge’s website, it’s clear that faith — specifically, Christianity — plays a key role in the mentoring process. Can you talk about how that influences the selection of mentors and mentees and how it informs their relationships?

Our mentors bring a variety of backgrounds rich in diversity as they seek to tackle life’s most important issues with their mentees. Edge’s focus is on the mentees. We have found that many millennials are spiritually curious and open to dialogue about the role faith plays in our lives. We foster intergenerational relationships to encourage personal and professional transformation and growth in the context of faith.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience at Ball State?

I really enjoyed my four years at Ball State. It’s really about being engaged. Do something to get engaged as an undergrad. I played club soccer my first two years, then I worked in the athletics department, was president of the Sports Administration Club, was involved with campus ministry. I did a lot of different things. I had different clusters of friends and groups. I think so many people shortchange their college experience by not getting engaged.

 

Edge Mentoring — a faith-based organization that brings young professionals and experienced leaders together to explore questions of career, relationships and purpose — counts 400 people who mentor or are mentored in 30 states.