Your association may be missing out on a powerful tool: mentorships. Associations are meant to unite members through a common goal or interest. A mentorship program is merely the next step.
Why do I need a mentorship program?
Creating a mentorship program provides tangible support of membership benefits.
Members join associations, in part, for networking opportunities. A mentorship program provides ample opportunities. Not only could a member potentially be connected with a mentor they might not have otherwise met, that member can in turn connect them with people across the industry.
Fulfilling this goal leads to greater satisfaction, which means higher retention rates for your association.
Who can benefit?
New members. Having a mentor allows inexperienced members to have a “go-to” person for advice and expertise.
Despite the best efforts from your association, sometimes tiny details of membership fall through the cracks. A mentorship program can help fill those in.
New members may not realize all the benefits of membership, but a mentor who’s been involved for a long time may point them discover those benefits. Even if the benefits are clearly explained on your website or publication, a new member may not realize they qualify or be unsure how to arrange it. A mentor can answer questions they may not have thought to ask.
Long-time members. The old and well-known saying holds true for mentorships, “the best way to learn is to teach.” Long-time association members who serve as a mentor can expect to gain some benefit from the program.
Fast Company describes the motivational benefit, explaining that taking on this role allows mentors to see their career through fresh eyes. This can help renew their energy and enthusiasm.
Your association. You may not see direct benefits. The mentorship program may cost your associations money to run, but the indirect benefits can be enormous. The Illinois Park and Recreation Association described how their membership association has been beneficial. Although it loses money directly, Associations Now wrote that “it has brought in revenue indirectly, as the association currently has its highest number of members, satisfaction rate, and amount of money in the bank following the program’s first two years.”
How do I start?
In order to get your mentorship program off the ground, people need to know it exists.
If you have any meetings or conferences, Multiview suggests setting up a booth. You should also include information about the program in your next several emails or newsletters. People can’t sign up if they don’t know about it. Send out a dedicated email announcing the mentorship program. Mention the program in your member recruitment materials.
How do I recruit mentors?
Finding mentors shouldn’t be difficult. The Internet Marketing Association’s IMA Research Lab looked at the impact of mentors. Of their respondents, 94 percent said they go out of their way to mentor others.
You’ll want mentors with expertise in the area, but Mitchell Feldman, a professor at the University of California San Francisco said they need to be ready to meet their mentee’s needs.
“One natural and understandable mistake that some mentors make is seeing their primary role as giving advice and guidance – and so they advise too much and listen too little,” he noted. “Listening is not an easy skill; it takes training and practice.”
Feldman was senior author of a study on the qualities of a good mentorship program. The study also found that successful mentors are willing to advocate for their mentees. That can mean helping with networking or submitting their mentee’s name for recognition.
Your association may want to create guidelines for those taking part in the mentorship program. Even if a mentor operates independently, their behavior reflects on your association.
Remember, it’s okay to turn away mentors or tell them, “Not right now.” Use your best judgement.
That study by UCSF found five important characteristics of mentorship programs: reciprocity, mutual respect, personal connections, shared values and clear expectations.
Pair mentors and mentees who stand a good chance of fulfilling those five characteristics for each other.
Geography. Depending on your association, members may be spread far and wide across the country – or even the globe! If this is the case, it’s fortunate we live in a time of wide-spread accessible technology. If a potential mentor or mentee are geographically close to any other members, don’t hesitate to set them up over the phone, email or video messaging service.
Administration costs. This program will probably cost your association some money. They price depends on the structuring. If this has your higher-ups balking at the idea, consider getting creative with funding. You could consider charging mentees a small fee to take part. You could also create tiered levels of membership, and include mentorship in an upper level.
However, as a member from the Illinois Parks and Recreation noted, it’s likely your association will find indirect benefits that can lead to increased membership.