Creating an Effective and Sustainable Mentoring Program
- Emma Dawson, Civic Champs
- Sontee Dean, Youth Mentoring Collaborative
Whether you’re starting a brand-new mentoring program or revitalizing an existing one, maximizing the benefits of the program to the mentors and mentees is a critical component to creating pathways to effectiveness and sustainability.
No matter what type of mentoring program you’re exploring, there are steps you can take to help it thrive—below are a few of the key highlights.
The benefits of high-quality mentoring are numerous, but how do you implement programs in meaningful ways that unlock these benefits?
Define Your Mentoring Program Goals
Mentoring programs have a better chance of getting off to a strong start when their goals are well-defined. With that in mind, it is important for you to identify the specific objectives of your program.
Is it to support career exploration for underrepresented youth in STEM-related fields? Are you looking to support boys who are disproportionately impacted by disciplinary actions in school? To explore answers to these questions like these, you must have a strong understanding of the population you seek to serve and how that work aligns with your program’s mission.
Start by thinking about how mentoring goals will align with your organization’s mission. For example, if your organization seeks to liberate and empower young women of color through mentoring, then you can leverage program activities to demonstrate what that looks like in action and why that message matters. Think of ways the mentoring program can not only unlock the potential of all mentors and mentees involved but also how that relates to impacting the broader society in a positive way.
Finally, consider the social position of the mentor. If the mentor has yet to examine their own personal biases and histories, what can the organization do to ensure they can be effective and do no harm to their mentee? How can mentors practice cultural humility while supporting their mentees in being the architects of their life journey? Starting your mentoring program with these considerations in mind will lay the foundations of a program built on communication, trust, and mutual respect, which is integral to building a program culture that centers on healthy relationships.
Design the Program Structure
Once you’ve determined your goals and you’ve considered the population being served, the next step is to design the program structure. Below are different models to consider that each have their own benefits, such as:
- One-to-one mentoring is the most common type of mentoring relationship where a mentor-mentee pair form a close, individualized relationship and learn from each other directly.
- Group Mentoring, where one mentor or a small number of mentors works with a set group of mentees. This model is helpful when looking to reach large volumes of youth at scale.
- Peer Mentoring, where the mentor and mentee are closer in age. This can work very well with college access programs.
- E-mentoring, where mentor-mentee interactions primarily (or exclusively) take place using technology. It has the benefit of flexibility and expanded outreach, making mentoring more accessible across geographic differences.
There are other options, but these are the most common models. Research the pros and cons of each and choose a model that best fits the preferences of your participants, the objectives for the program, and your organization’s current capacity.
Once you have a model identified, you’ll need to determine the duration and intensity of the program. Will your program operate on the calendar year, school year, or another schedule? What is the time commitment weekly or monthly for mentors and mentees to spend time together? What sort of orientation or training will be required to get mentors and mentees prepared for the relationship and program activities? While each has its various considerations, it is important to be clear upfront to ensure that participants know what to expect and can make the time commitment. While you can set a general length and level of involvement, be ready to work with mentors and mentees when things don’t work out perfectly. Facilitating discussions to work through any challenges that may arise is an important step to maintaining the integrity of the program model, providing appropriate flexibility for participants, and course correcting where needed to provide the best experience possible.
Finally, establish metrics by which you can determine the program’s success, then develop a plan to gather feedback from all members of the program: mentors, mentees, program staff, and other key stakeholders. Those who have engaged with the program in various capacities often know best what has been successful and how to improve the program. Your organization will benefit from establishing program evaluation protocols, as it will go a long way in developing a continuous improvement strategy toward the creation of a sustainable and effective program.
Recruiting Mentors and Mentees
Once you have established your framework, identifying and recruiting prospective participants is the next task. Developing recruitment materials that attract mentors and mentees that best match the goals and objectives of the program and disseminating those materials through various channels can help generate interest. Identifying recruitment goals and building in enough time to execute multiple recruitment methods will go a long way in attracting your ideal target audience. If you already have an established mentoring program, you have the benefit of participants who can support your recruitment efforts by sharing their experiences with others—current mentors and mentees can be your biggest champions. If you are starting from scratch, researching the recruitment methods of similar programs can provide examples of how you could approach your recruitment activities.
Screening Mentors and Mentees
Once you have a pool of mentors and mentees, screening them against your established selection criteria will help determine whether they are a good match for your program and whether they can commit to building an effective mentoring relationship. When selecting mentors, assessing safety and suitability through an application, a comprehensive background check and an interview provides program staff with a wealth of information to make an informed decision about the mentor’s participation in the program. For mentee selection, are you looking to reach a specific audience? Consider the mentoring and program activities you are looking to provide; what demographics will benefit from your program the most? This should align closely with your application process for who you select to participate in your program, and caretakers along with mentees will need to consent to meeting the participation requirements.
Train and Prepare Mentors and Mentees
It is a best practice that both mentors and mentees receive training. Providing members of the program with the appropriate mentoring training and resources will ensure that individuals in the program are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed in a mentoring space.
Orient all program participants to the program’s guidelines and expectations. This could include goals and expectations for the mentoring relationship, relationship development, ethics and safety, potential challenges and conflicts, and other key topics. If you address common topics upfront, mentors and mentees will be more prepared when they encounter various situations, and if difficulties arise, they may feel much more manageable, especially if a safe space has been developed and clear communication protocols are established for when support is needed.
Matching Mentors and Mentees
Once you have selected your program participants and oriented them to the guidelines and expectations, matching mentors and mentees and initiating the relationship is the next step. Compatibility with program goals and objectives, interests, and other factors should be considered when making the matches. Hosting a preliminary event where mentors and mentees can interact and have input on the relationship matches is a promising practice and can lead to greater engagement in the program. Depending on your program model, the matching process will look different and can entail other steps; a primary consideration is identifying matches that are most compatible while optimizing mutual benefits.
Monitoring and Supporting the Relationships
When your program has officially started and mentors and mentees have been matched, providing ongoing monitoring and support of the relationships is critical to the long-term success of the relationships. To this end, it is important to maintain open, consistent, and effective communication between mentors and mentees. Establish a regular check-in protocol that provides space for feedback about the successes and challenges of the relationship and any tailored support that might be needed, especially in the early phases of the relationship. By offering ongoing guidance and resources to both mentors and mentees, you create the opportunity for collaborative discussions about the relationship, increasing the chances for more satisfaction in the program experience for all parties involved.
Mentoring relationships come to a close for various reasons; the time period for the program may have ended, or perhaps an unanticipated issue emerges that prompts a premature transition. Regardless of the reason, having procedures in place to close mentoring relationships provides an opportunity to celebrate successes and challenges as well as gather important feedback about the quality of the mentoring experience. Identify key areas of importance to document regarding the closure and provide appropriate next steps for the parties involved as it relates to their connection with the program moving forward.
Building an effective and sustainable mentoring program is an attainable goal; cultivating an environment that fosters growth, communication, and trust is a strong foundation. Design the program with specific goals in mind in collaboration with participants, ensure participants are in alignment with the goals and expectations, and adjust the program in response to feedback as you go along.
The benefits of high-quality mentoring are numerous. If you want to empower your mentoring team for success through the delivery of a robust program, request a demo to see how Mentoring Works can help you succeed.
For more information on how to develop a high-quality mentoring program through Youth Mentoring Collaborative’s capacity-building services, click here to learn more or contact Sontee Dean at email@example.com
Emma Dawson is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships at Civic Champs. She is a 2022 Venture for America Fellow and a graduate of The University of Tulsa, where she studied Music Education and Entrepreneurship.
Sontee Dean is the Manager of Youth Advocacy and Community Engagement at Youth Mentoring Collaborative. Aiming to support and empower youth, Sontee is passionate about uplifting and empowering historically underserved youth. She has previously volunteered at the Compass Center as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and advocated for social injustices against Black and Brown students at UNC-Chapel Hill. She holds a B.A.Ed in Human Development and Family Science and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.