3 Simple Questions Associations Should Ask Before Setting Up a Mentoring Program

By • July 7, 2017


Melissa Richardson, Art of Mentoring
Melissa Richardson, Art of Mentoring

Mentoring is the new black.  Even reality TV has jumped on board, with programs like “The Voice” and “The X Factor” moving mentoring from a good idea to downright trendy.

Mentoring may be “in”, but is it right for your association? An effective program will require a considerable investment of time and energy. Here are 3 simple questions to ask yourself before you get too entangled.

These may look like no-brainer questions, but you’d be surprised how many enterprises start down the mentoring path without first thinking through these simple, but critical, issues.

Why are we doing this?

If mentoring won’t help you to achieve a strategic objective then don’t start. Enterprises that take on a mentoring program because it’s vogue or “nice to have” will never be able to justify the cost in man-hours or consulting time and their programs are destined to die ignominiously.

How to Design a Successful Mentoring Program

Here are three examples of organizations that were clear about their objective:

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) identified that young vets can find it hard to make the transition into the profession and reach their full potential. The profession has a high suicide rate and stress levels in recent graduates are high. The program is one component to help address these issues. Mentors in the program help graduate vets develop and sustain a satisfying career and be happy in their jobs.

The Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA) is an initiative by the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) that aims to increase the representation of women at all levels in the mining industry. They set up a mentoring program to offer guidance and support for women to make it easier and more comfortable for them to stay in this male-dominated industry.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program operates across the world, connecting young people with positive adult role models and thereby breaking the cycle of disadvantage. This leads to long-term community benefits and transformational change like a reduction in crime and youth unemployment.

In all three cases, a clear understanding of the “reason why” helped these organizations to gain stakeholder support and to structure programs to deliver the desired outcomes. Of course, there may be internal objectives like “member retention,” but linking mentoring program outcomes to a strategic goal that is important to your constituents, makes your mentoring efforts much more meaningful to stakeholders and therefore sustainable for you.

Do we have the support we need?

A mentoring program will never go far without the support of all key stakeholders.   It’s worth ensuring you have this support before you get enmeshed in program development.

The stakeholders will vary from association to association. Obviously you will need the support of the board, or whoever is signing off on the expenditure. You will also want the backing of association management, as well as those people likely to act as mentors and mentees. If you are unsure about the level of support at the grassroots level consider running a focus group or a survey to solicit the views of potential participants.

Think about the nature of your membership. Many associations have a corporate membership base. So even though a mentoring program is for individuals, it may be critical to have corporate members and other key stakeholders on side before proceeding.

How are we going to resource and pay for this?

Whether you rely on internal or external resources to set up and run a mentoring program, it doesn’t come for free.

If you intend to manage the program internally you will need to identify staff with the required time and expertise to research, structure and manage a mentoring program. If you look to an outside consultant you will need to find the funds to cover their fees.

But don’t be too quick to decide that you can’t afford mentoring. Instead, think creatively about sources of funds.

If your program has a strategic objective that is shared across the industry then consider seeking sponsors. The AVA’s objective of keeping vets in the profession was shared by the entire industry. They were able to fund their mentoring program through the support of five companies for whom vets are important as customers for their products or services.

Consider too the potential for charging mentees a participation fee. In our experience this not only helps to fund the program, but bolsters program success by ensuring a more committed cadre of mentees. We’ve seen mentee fees ranging from a token amount to over $3,000, depending on program inclusions.

Think you’re ready to start developing a mentoring program? If you’ve answered these questions then you’ve made a great start. Now check out our Mentoring Program Readiness Self-Assessment tool to make sure you’re genuinely prepared.

About The Author

Melissa Richardson is a director for Art of Mentoring, a division of Horizons Unlimited. Email her at [email protected].