September 10, 2014
EXPERT ADVICE: Volunteers
Tips for Transforming Volunteers into High-Value Mentors
By Deborah Re
Nonprofit leaders can recruit volunteers to serve as mentors to support and guide our youth, but transforming motivated volunteers into effective mentors takes careful guidance – and support.
Mentors are the compassionate adults who carry out the important—and valuable—hands-on work that nurtures young people to become caring, responsible members of their community. But for some volunteers, taking on the responsibility of a mentor can be a big role to fill.
Volunteers who think about becoming a mentor frequently ask themselves:
Am I qualified? Do I have the skills to become a mentor?
What’s the time commitment?
What happens if my mentee asks a question I can’t answer?
Addressing the issues that keep potential mentors from volunteering is important if nonprofit leaders are to successfully recruit, motivate, and retain long-term, valuable volunteers who feel empowered in their role as mentors.
Here are three tips that tap into the key motivations of volunteers, and help them build a high-value, long-term mentor role:
1) Encourage volunteers to ‘Be Yourself’ – tap into your own skills and personality.
At Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, we hear time and again from prospective volunteers that they do not feel qualified to become a mentor. While this concern is natural, it could not be farther from the truth.
Mentors have the unique opportunity to stand out from teachers, tutors, parents and guardians by serving as an adult friend for their mentees. Yet, similar to the other roles, they are at the forefront of so many valuable teachable moments within the relationship. From the smallest interactions to valuable life lessons, mentees are learning from their mentors.
Mentors do not need special skills or talents; they just need to be willing to listen, guide and offer encouragement.
As nonprofit organizations, we must alleviate this “qualification” concern by encouraging prospective volunteers to tap into their own skillsets and personalities to get the most out of their relationship with their mentees.
2) Remind them that it’s ‘give and get’ – mentors are going to offer up a significant portion of their time, but not without reward.
Another significant fear for volunteers is the time commitment it takes to become a mentor. Frank and open conversations surrounding the required time commitment for a mentorship program is crucial before a volunteer starts.
While the time commitment might sound daunting to some volunteers, they should be reminded that mentorship relationships are extremely rewarding as well.
When approaching the conversations surrounding time commitments, do not forget to drive home the value-add for prospective volunteers: what do volunteers stand to gain from joining your program? The women who volunteer for Big Sister often report that the program has helped them become their “best self,” and that the positive energy gained from their mentorship relationship has influenced how they interact with peers, in the workplace and at home. They enjoy the networking benefits of being a Big Sister, the many events and conference they attend as well as the training and support they receive.
Each nonprofit mentoring organization has a specific value add that should be clearly communicated to prospective employees upon interest.
3) Remind volunteers that they are not alone. Make sure they understand the resources available to them if challenges arise.
Before a volunteer gets started, mentoring organizations must ensure that volunteers understand the resources available to them if challenges arise in their relationship with their mentee.
Mapping out the resources available to prospective volunteers and addressing boundaries help avoid larger issues from the outset.
Organizations should provide training materials and resources, and provide a clear protocol should volunteers need guidance and advice. Volunteers should also know their boundaries – what issues should they tackle and which they should be sharing with support staff.