by Alivia Acosta, ATC Volunteer Development Coordinator

Mentoring for Volunteer Retention

Mentoring, centered on a reciprocal relationship, offers benefit to the mentor as well as the mentee. A mentee typically has less experience than the mentor and is therefore the person who is receiving the mentorship/training.

The mentee gains experience, training, and often a personal connection to their mentor, thereby deepening their relationship not just to the individual, but the organization that connects them. The mentor gains the ability to share experience, offer support, and to serve as a connector for introductions to new people and opportunities.

Tidewater A.T. Club has board members with the specific duty of mentoring new people and helping to deepen their involvement.

Mentoring can be formally established in an organization or informal. In either case, the organization has a culture where individuals can ask for and receive support from others. Structures for mentorships vary. It may be that a mentee has more than one mentor, or that mentees can pick a mentor with whom they resonate.

Success of any mentorship relies on the collaboration of both parties. From the outset, volunteer mentorship should offer ways to have fun, swap stories, share perspectives, and keeping each other informed of successes and challenges along the way.

Volunteer Pro offers some tips for facilitating successful mentorships, and this article from offers ideas on training mentors to be successful.  

Tips for facilitating a successful mentorship program: 

  • Culture of Support – Mentorships flourish best within a culture of community support. Individuals entering an organization should be welcomed by a cohort of individuals who are tasked with aiding new folk. Demonstrating a culture of care and allowing individuals to ask for support from those they choose to receive support from is vital. 
  • Clarify Expectations – Even informal mentor/mentee relationships benefit from clear expectations. How often they plan to meet and what each see as milestones for the mentee’s interest or desired experience are just a few ways to clarify what is most meaningful to each person. Setting aspirations together allows the opportunity to celebrate accomplishments and ensure adequate support from the mentor along the way.  
  • Ask Questions, then Dig Deeper – Both the mentor and the mentee should have questions prepared prior to each meeting and throughout the mentorship. Sometimes one question is not enough, digging deeper allows for more clarity and understanding between the mentor and mentee. 
  • Share Ideas – Be willing to share more than the knowledge, skills and expertise that each person holds, swap ideas that broaden each other’s understanding. A mentor might offer more “why” on the technique behind trail maintenance, and a mentee might offer insights on how, exactly, social media algorithms make a difference in what people see in those platforms. Ideas can be based on professional background, personal experience, and unique perspectives. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that learning isn’t always at its best during a lecture, so offer the exchange of ideas and information experientially for the best impact.
  • Tell Stories – Stories, however, are powerful tools that have been helping connect people since time immemorial. By sharing stories, mentors and mentees can learn more about each other, build trust, and foster understanding.  
  • Offer Encouragement/Appreciation– Learning a new skill can often be overwhelming. The mentor should be diligent in offering helpful encouragement and appreciation to the mentee. The mentee could also do the same. 
  • Make Introductions – Expanding each other’s networks and partnerships should also be an added benefit of mentorship.
  • Evaluate – Schedule time every so often to share feedback with one another on what is going well and what could be improved.