The Benefits of Association Mentoring Programs
Most organisations innately understand that a structured mentoring program is a good idea. But some find it difficult to turn that intuition into an economically convincing business case.
This article puts a finger on exactly why a structured mentoring program makes real business sense for associations.
But first, what do we mean when we talk about a “structured mentoring program”? This is how a typical 12-month program could be structured. It has a beginning, middle and end, and involves participants in group meetings over and above meetings between mentor pairs. Meetings can be face-to-face or virtual.
Now, to the business case for going to all this trouble.
Attract and retain association members
The lifeblood of any association is the membership. Therefore the primary economic imperative for any association is to attract and retain members.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that association members who participate in a mentoring program, whether as mentor or mentee, are more likely to retain their membership. When you think about it, this is not surprising. A well-run mentoring program engages members with the association. By providing value to participants, mentoring provides a reason for membership.
Remember too, that people join an association to become part of their professional community. They are seeking a sense of belonging. Not only does a mentoring program enable members to mix with peers for a common purpose, it also allows younger members, with the help of their mentor, to network within the association more easily. The ties developed through the program enhance all participants’ sense of belonging.
A well-run mentoring program will also help to attract new members. Word of mouth is a powerful tool within any industry. Mentoring program participants will have wide individual networks with whom they discuss their experience. So long as the mentoring program is well structured, it will put an association “on the grapevine” in a very positive way.
A mentoring program can also be used in more purposeful ways to attract new members. Many of our clients have offered mentoring to members and non-members, with members being offered a discounted price. Invariably this leads to a number of people joining the association to take advantage of member pricing.
Develop Industry & Association Leadership Capacity
There is ample evidence that a well-run mentoring program helps to prepare another generation of leaders. Interestingly, there is growing consensus that mentors benefit as much as mentees in this regard. Researchers believe that by teaching people high quality mentoring skills, we are helping to develop their transformational leadership capacities.1
A number of organizations are actually embedding mentoring into broader leadership development programs. Standards Australia’s Young Leaders Program, for example, combines a year-long series of leadership and skills training, with ongoing mentor support to entrench classroom learning and build future leaders who can participate in technical committees. Women in Business and Finance combines leadership education with mentoring, to support the development of a more gender balanced leadership in the Banking and Finance Industry.
The value to associations in developing the leadership capacity of its members is twofold. Most obviously it expands the talent pool available to take on leadership roles within the association, from special interest groups right through to the board.
It also strengthens the industry or profession as a whole, by building leadership capabilities that profit the sector’s businesses, educational and government bodies. This cements the association’s standing within the industry, both at an individual and organisational level.
Achieve Industry Specific Objectives
As well as mentoring’s broad, cross-industry returns, a well-developed mentoring program can, and should, address industry specific issues and objectives.
For example, it is known within the veterinary industry that stress levels and suicide rates are unacceptably high amongst recent graduates. The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) identified that young vets were having a hard time transitioning from their career dreams to veterinary reality. A mentoring program was established to enable experienced vets to help young graduates to manage their expectations and find career satisfaction. Results from pilot programs suggest that mentoring can help reduce the isolation that is known contribute to poor mental health, as well as equip mentees with better coping skills to deal with stressors.
Realise a Financial Profit
There are plenty of developmental and reputational rewards to be gained with a well-run mentoring program. These rewards are well worth the investment of time and money. But before you stress about the costs, be aware that it is possible for an association to run a mentoring program at break even, or even to return a profit.
Consider charging mentees a participation fee. Not only will this help to offset costs, it boosts mentee commitment. We recommend at least a token contribution, but have seen mentee fees as high as $3000.
Where you can demonstrate that the association program has a genuine industry benefit, consider seeking business or government sponsorship. The AVA program described above was funded by three businesses related to or reliant on veterinarians.
A well-structured and managed mentoring program is far more than a “feel good” initiative. It offers significant returns to any association interested in engaging their member base and genuinely advancing the profession or industry they represent.
Are you ready to start a mentoring program in your association? Try this Mentoring Readiness Self-Assessment. For more information about mentoring or mentoring programs, go to the Art of Mentoring website.
- Kram, K. and Ragins, B.R. (2007) The Landscape of Mentoring in the 21st Century. In K. Kram & B.R. Ragins (Eds.) The Handbook of Mentoring at Work (pp. 659-692), CA: Sage.