When your members say the word “mentor,” what do they mean? I worked for an association while a mentor program was established, so I thought I knew what the word mentor meant. To participate in our mentor program mentees signed up to be paired with more experienced volunteer mentors. Armed with guidelines, rules, and expectations provided by the association, mentors, and mentees went off to give and get guidance. Some mentors and mentees went on to have productive relationships long past that season of the mentor program. Watching the development of this program, I assumed that association mentor programs were one on one relationships designed to coach the mentee through the twists and turns of their early career. When you hear “mentor program” is this your understanding of mentoring too? Whether formal or informal, some of our members understand mentor to be one on one relationships in which the mentee gets mentored by a mentor. But, I have learned from members that my understanding of mentoring is not universal. “Mentor” has several different meanings.
Members have explained to me that “mentor” can mean to teach in the sense that more experienced practitioners are handing down their knowledge to new practitioners. When members use the term mentor in this sense, they are not necessarily talking about one on one relationships, so the formats for mentoring are nearly limitless. Long-time members can mentor from the stage, in panels, on the online community, in articles they write, on webinars, and during roundtables.
Some members are not looking to be taught; they are looking for sponsorship. They would like to raise their visibility in the profession, field, or industry. They are hoping for critical introductions. Their work is exceptional, but they need to gain more awareness. When members are looking for this type of benefit, again, many formats could be employed. Podcasts, videos, and e-newsletter articles can shine a light on members. Staff can introduce members to each other. Member author book lists, blog lists, and link lists to member-written white papers and resources can all help members get the awareness they need.
Many members are looking for a traditional mentoring program. They want a coach to help them with their unique problems. They want to have substantive discussions and come up with customized solutions. They want to gain step by step, how-to answers for their complex challenges. They want to talk about people problems, career goals and get tips about what to avoid and what to do. They need a mentor who will coach them through these issues.
When members say “mentor,” perhaps they need a mentor, or maybe they need a sponsor or teacher. Learn which of the three definitions your members are using before launching your program.