Mentorship can be a key component in fostering diverse associations and leaders. As seasoned aid administrators look down their bench, many recognize that the future of the profession requires them to be involved in mentoring less experienced professionals.
There are two basic types of mentors – those found through formal programs, and those formed via organic relationships. In either configuration, association leaders cite among the biggest challenges: a.) encouraging time-strapped professionals to make room in their busy schedules for regular meetings with a mentee, and b.) maintaining the mentor/mentee relationship into the future, as participation tends to drop off over time.
Formalized Mentoring Programs
Mentorship software provider Chronus offers best practice tips for designing a successful mentorship program, paraphrased here:
1. Design the Mentoring Program
Determine the goals for your program, and understand how they impact the mentor-mentee relationship. Goals could be to a.) facilitate a conversation to increase awareness about diversity and inclusion issues and b.) get a diverse group of individuals involved in their state/regional associations – and to encourage and support these individuals as they move up to leadership roles.
Establish a committee to determine the goals of the program, create the publicity initiatives for the program, set up initial contacts, etc.
2. Attract Participants for the Mentoring Program
For the program to be successful, you have to sell the benefits of the program to both prospective mentors and prospective mentees.
Mentors may be driven by their desire to bring along others who may be future leaders of the profession. For their part, mentees must see how the mentoring relationship will benefit them. So the recruitment tools must clearly stipulate what each type of participant can potentially gain from the program.
3. Connect Mentors and Mentees
Many times you will not know the applicants to your program, so you will have to rely on an application process that allows you to gather information about the individuals, and what they expect to gain from participation in the program. If their goals are different than the program intent, they will not be satisfied with the experience, and could undermine the goals of the program.
- Mentors should be invested in the program. It will take time and planning to foster an effective relationship. They should know the expectations of their participation in the program, and the commitment it will require.
- Mentees should also be invested in the program. They will have to be committed to listening and learning. They will need to know what they expect from the program, and how to ensure that they are getting what they need from the mentor/mentee relationship.
4. Guide Mentoring Relationships
Mentors and mentees will need guidance as they begin their relationships. Establish clear rules for participants. Guidelines might specify:
- How often do interactions occur, and how (in-person, phone, video-conference)?
- Are there specific instances when interactions must occur? Conferences and other events where both mentors and mentees may be in attendance offer an opportunity for face to face interaction.
- What happens during those interactions? Program developers could offer conversational topics, icebreakers, or activities to help encourage communication.
- Require periodic feedback to the mentoring committee as that will help ensure that interactions are taking place.
5. Measure Your Mentoring Program
Participant feedback – whether qualitative/anecdotal or via a more quantitative survey – can be a good indicator of program success. Once you’ve received the results of your program assessment, you then need to act on these results. Your mentoring committee then needs to propose updates and changes to the association who then decides whether to move forward with the enhancements to the program.
Outside of formal programs, informal mentorship can play an important role in building a diverse volunteer and leadership pipeline in your association. It can be daunting to reach out to someone you don’t know well and ask that person to be your mentor. Lisa Quast, a writer for Forbes.com, offers tips for approaching an informal mentor, which are paraphrased here:
- Clarify what you want. Before seeking out mentors, write down your specific expectations and the role you want mentors to play in your career. This can ensure that you find the right mentors and that the relationships benefit your professional goals.
- Think outside your cubicle and don’t restrict yourself. Great mentors can be found in a variety of places, so try looking outside your current workplace. Seek out mentors at business and women’s associations in your area, non-profit organizations, your college or university, within your family, church groups, even community groups such as business chambers of commerce.
- Set up a meeting. Once you’ve identified a potential mentor, ask to meet and discuss a possible mentoring relationship.
- Be clear with your mentor. Once you’ve found someone who agrees to be your mentor, make sure you share the same commitment to your expectations. Be clear on the time required and the availability of your mentor, and establish a regular meeting schedule with topics you’d like to discuss.