Associations should be the standard-bearers of best practice when it comes to mentoring programs. With a willing community of like-minded professionals eager for business development and personal success, the value of mentoring programs is very clear.
In fact, research conducted by mentoring program specialists Art of Mentoring in 2016 found that two thirds of associations do offer some form of mentoring to their members, and two thirds of the remainder had it on their ‘to do list’.
The will is there. Yet many associations still struggle to start and manage mentoring programs effectively, and many have their commitment tested by a range of stumbling blocks along the way, from uncertainty over the willingness of mentors, to funding a sustainable mentoring program.
So how can associations ensure they achieve long-term success with their program?
Associations with successful mentoring programs agree clarity of purpose is essential to making it work sustainably over the long-term. In fact, the International Standards for Mentoring Programs in Employment names this as its first core standard of a good mentoring program.
So what’s a typical association ‘why’?
Melissa Richardson, Founder of Art of Mentoring, suggests member retention and attraction should be a primary goal of a mentoring program.
“By enhancing a sense of belonging within the membership community, ties and connections are deepened, and mentees are not only likely to stay on as members longer, but attract new members by talking with their wider networks,” Melissa says.
“Mentoring also develops industry and association leadership capacity, by building the skills and expertise of a brand new generation of talent. This can include both future leaders within the association itself – strengthening its future prospects – but also the industry as a whole.”
Interestingly, Art of Mentoring research shows that mentors benefit as much as mentees in this regard, with researchers believing that participation helps develop are actually helping mentors’ transformational leadership capacities – and better with young professionals in their own businesses.
Industry-specific objectives can also be met through mentoring. For example, graduate mentoring programs, such as those run by the Australian Veterinary Association and NSW Law Society, aim to bridge the gap between study and work, acknowledging that often the first year of work in a high-stress professions, can be very challenging.
There are a range of mistakes made by associations when implementing mentoring programs that can impact the outcomes of mentees and mentor participants, as well as an association’s brand.
Art of Mentoring names poor planning and preparation as a typical mistake. Often, associations also fail to build solid foundations by not offering training to participants.
“Rather than falling for the common misconception that managers should know how to be mentors and that recipients of mentoring require no training, effective programs ensure expectations are aligned through training, and skill-up participants to get the most from the relationship,” explains Melissa Richardson.
This viewpoint is endorsed by Caroline Campbell, who oversees the successful National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) mentoring program.
“We ask our experienced mentors to run a session with new mentors in order to ensure they’re prepared and can benefit from the insight of those who have made a strong contribution to the program over many years,” she says.
“Mentors often have as much to benefit from these programs as the mentees, plus it also gives them an opportunity to ‘give back’ to their professions in a meaningful way.”
Caroline says that a well-structured program is critical to success. The 12-week NIBA program features opening and mid-way group sessions ahead of a final mentee presentation. Pairings are carefully matched, and the onus is on the pairings to meet or speak each week to stay on top of mentee goals.
And goal-setting for the association itself is also a necessity to measure the success of a program, says Melissa. “Being clear about the purpose and desired outcomes and measuring progress throughout can ensure that associations don’t find out by chance the program they thought was tracking well is actually off the rails.”
Associations can and do implement excellent mentoring programs without a significant impact on their bottom line, but it may require a shift in thinking about how to obtain funding.
One method used successfully is charging a fee. Art of Mentoring research shows that by charging mentees a small fee – usually somewhere between $100 and $300 – associations not only put programs on a sustainable footing, but mentees also see more value in the programs as a result.
Another avenue is sponsorship. Though common objections to this include conflict of interest, those associations that do seek to explore sponsorships often find their sponsor is in it for the right reasons, and it can turn the program into a robust, well-supported, industry focused opportunity.
NIBA’s program, for example, benefits from the support of a range of sponsors, enabling it to be offered free to participants. Since launching in 2009, the program has gone on to enrich hundreds of careers and has gained the respect of the whole insurance industry.
However, associations using fees or sponsorship to fund programs are still in the minority. Only 20% of associations charge mentees, and less than 30% seek sponsorship support. This represents an opportunity for associations to source larger amounts of funding in future to drive better programs that benefit more members.
And that has to be the hoped-for outcome because, ultimately, a poorly-resourced program may be worse than not having one at all. A poorly funded and poorly run program can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration for the organisers, and be brand-damaging to the association.
Art of Mentoring partners with Access1st to offer our member associations a free consultation, as well as discounted rates on setting up a mentoring program. Full details can be found behind the 'Association Professionals' log-in.