Your How-to Guide to Start a Mentoring Program

Posted by jmeyer on December 8, 2022

Thinking about starting a mentoring program? Use this helpful guide to find out how to get started.

Decades of research have documented that youth and adolescents who have a mentor are less likely to skip school, more likely to hold leadership positions, and are more likely to volunteer. The impact mentoring has on children can positively affect them for the rest of their lives, but there is a gap. Millions of youth across America would benefit from a relationship with a mentor or trusted non-parental adult but don’t have access to this type of person in their lives. More mentoring programs are needed to empower youth and positively impact the community.

Recommendations for starting and structuring a mentoring program

When you have determined that your community needs a mentoring program, there are many decisions to make. One of the first decisions is choosing a style of mentoring for your program. There are three common forms of mentoring for youth: one-on-one mentoring, peer mentoring (where adolescents or young adults mentor someone close to them in age), and group mentoring. Each form of mentoring offers benefits to the mentee and the mentor. One-on-one is perhaps the most popular type of mentoring offered to children and adolescents, and it is the model commonly associated with local mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. One-on-one mentoring allows for the development of a close relationship between mentor and mentee.

Group mentoring provides mentees with at least one mentor, and sometimes more than one mentor, as well as a group of their peers. This group meets at designated times to participate in conversations and activities together. It is recommended that group mentoring involve one mentor matched with no more than four mentees.

Peer mentoring typically involves a mentor who is close in age to the mentee, but who is at least two to three years older than him or her, being matched with a younger peer to do structured activities together. Think about the population of youth you want to serve and which style of mentoring would benefit them the most.

In addition to these commonly used types of mentoring, there are also a few others, including fully virtual or e-mentoring, team mentoring, and more recently, hybrid mentoring that combines using both in-person and virtual meetings.

Regardless of the style you choose for your program, if the mentoring relationship is the primary mechanism of influence on the mentee, then there are mentoring best practice standards and guidelines you should follow. One of the most useful resources for mentoring practices and standards is MENTOR’s Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring, 4th Edition, (EEPM). Using the practices highlighted in the EEPM is associated with longer mentoring relationships. The EEPM consists of these six core standards for mentoring relationships.

  1. Recruitment
  2. Screening
  3. Training
  4. Matching
  5. Monitoring and support
  6. Closure

Following the EEPM can guide your mentoring program in creating research — and practitioner-informed practices that support the beginning of mentoring relationships, sustain the (hopefully) long middle, and promote coming to a healthy end to the relationship when the time comes. Researchers at Mentoring Central have been studying the standards outlined in the EEPM, documenting their value and utility in promoting high-quality and long-lasting mentoring relationships.

Training and support for staff and volunteers

Finding dedicated and passionate volunteer mentors can be a challenge, but starting with small, realistic goals can help your new mentoring program thrive. Reach out to your personal network of friends, family, coworkers, and other social circles, such as your place of worship or neighborhood, to see if they would be willing to mentor. The population and demographic you intend to serve can help influence who and where you look for mentors. Social ads, television ads, and word-of-mouth can all help people get in the door.

No child is the same, and neither are mentors. Having a variety of mentors from different backgrounds, religions, races, genders, and hobbies will help your program find the right fit for the needs and goals of the mentees you serve. Many mentoring programs require background checks of their mentors to ensure mentees are safe and in good hands. Once you have your mentors, they’ll need to understand what your mentoring style should look like.

Training on the fundamentals of mentoring is crucial for starting a mentoring program for youth. Mentoring Central created the first and only evidence-based mentor training program. Aligned with the Training Benchmarks of the EEPM, Mentoring Central’s foundational training courses guide mentors, mentees, staff, and parents or guardians through the essential topics they need to know before and after they begin their participation in the mentoring relationship. There are both online and in-person options for training, allowing mentors and programs to determine what style works best for the program.

Some mentoring programs have reported the ease of online training for mentors is best—allowing mentors to receive training from wherever they are. In the pandemic and post-pandemic world, this model of online training has risen in popularity, along with virtual mentoring. In a research study evaluating the effectiveness of the Preparing for Mentoring online mentor training, 93% of mentors reported they would recommend it to others, and 98% reported being excited to start mentoring after the online courses. Online training followed by in-person training is ideal, and helps your program meet the two-hour, in-person training minimum recommended in the Training Standard of the EEPM. By completing the online training first, mentors are more likely to come to the in-person training with accurate expectations and knowledge so they can deepen their knowledge and skills through in-person discussions and activities. Mentoring Central’s Building Your Mentoring Skills in-person training course provides about two hours of in-person training to help mentors complete their preparation, so they can begin to effectively interact with and support their mentees.

Preparation With Mentoring Central is Key

Ensuring volunteers have the right guidance when it comes to mentoring can set up matches for success from the start. By investing in training for volunteers, the community you serve directly benefits. You cannot build a national mentoring program quickly. It takes time and dedication. Start small and create a high-quality program that fits the needs of your community. When starting a mentoring program becomes overwhelming, Mentoring Central can provide technical assistance from the very beginning. We offer assistance in developing programs and program goals and are one of the best resources for mentoring programs. When it is time to train mentors, mentees, staff, and parents, we offer a variety of online, asynchronous training options.

Contact Mentoring Central for more information on how to start a mentoring program.