Strategies for Starting a New Mentoring Program

Miller-mentoring June 14, 2022 By: Sara Miller, CAE

Mentoring is a great way to boost value and advance member professional development. Here is a step-by-step guide to customize any size mentoring program and achieve the best results.

For most associations, the question isn’t if members would find value in a mentoring program, but how to create a mentoring program that is valuable to members without overcommitting internal resources.

Many of us have benefited from serving on one or both sides of a mentoring relationship. And just as there is an association for everything, mentoring programs are not one size fits all.  They can be a small, one-time event or a large year-round initiative. Here are five key areas to help you understand where mentoring efforts can fit into your association’s playbook.

Find Your Purpose

Think of these questions as a starting point to help you transition from countless ideas to a solid plan. As you work through the other areas, you’ll finetune your responses and translate the information into a clear purpose and (eventually) goals.

  • What problem are you trying to solve? (i.e., why are you considering a mentoring program?)
  • Is this a nice-to-have or a promised strategic initiative?
  • What does success look like?
  • What is your desired program scale? Is it for your entire membership or a subset?

Who’s Your Audience?

It’s important to keep your eye on the end user or customer. If you haven’t already asked your members about their mentoring needs and interests, start collecting data to enhance the program and refine your offering. Additionally, if your chapters or other components offer mentoring programs, connect with those leaders to understand how these initiatives can work together.

  • Who are your mentors and mentees?
  • What are their expectations? Do mentees want a one-to-one experience or group mentoring?
  • Will this be their only mentoring relationship or is the association complementing existing employer/chapter activities?

Staff Time

As with any new project, staffing is key. You need to understand how much staff time will be devoted to this new initiative.

  • Is there a staff member dedicated to managing the mentoring program? Or is this added to the workload of existing staff?
  • How will other departments (e.g., IT) contribute to the program’s success? If you wear multiple hats, consider how your time will be allocated across these areas for overall program support.

And just as there is an association for everything, mentoring programs are not one size fits all.

Costs Involved

In addition to staffing, mentoring programs include a variety of fixed and variable expenses. While you may not know the specifics in your early planning stages, it’s helpful to understand internal financial support.

Fixed items are part of every mentoring program. You cannot launch a successful program without resources in these areas, although the amounts vary considerably depending on program type:

  • Technology (programming and integration)
  • Marketing (signage, print materials, digital advertising)

Additionally, there are variable expenses that depend on your program structure.

  • In-person events (food and beverage, audio/video)
  • Speaker fees (travel expenses, honorariums)
  • Matching software (Chronus, Higher Logic Mentor Match, Qooper)
  • Participant recognition (certificates, branded giveaways)

Time Management

Figuring out a deadline is always a challenge. If the mentoring program is a strategic initiative, it’s likely time-bound with a specific launch date. If the mentoring program is something you’re thinking about—but haven’t promised anyone—you have more flexibility. 

  • When is the program expected to launch? Are there milestones in the association’s calendar (e.g., annual conference) that you’d like to target?
  • Are there options for a phased rollout?
  • What are the dependencies, if any, between the mentoring program and other association program initiatives (e.g., launch of a new member type for early career professionals)?

Next Steps

These questions are not intended to produce a definitive decision. Given the variety of mentoring programs, you can always find or create a framework that will work within your organization’s constraints. For example:

  • Small budget, short timeline, low staff support. Consider a one-time virtual group mentoring event with a respected member leader addressing a key audience like early career professionals, new leaders, or graduate students.
  • Medium budget, short timeline, low staff support. Transition the virtual event to an in-person meeting at your annual conference. Budget for food and beverage, book giveaways, door prizes, and so forth.
  • Medium budget, medium timeline, medium staff support. Combine the above ideas into a series culminating at your annual conference. Consider adding one-to-one speed-mentoring sessions at your annual conference.
  • Large budget, long timeline, high staff support. Create a cohort of mentors and mentees who work together for nine months, both virtually and in person.

Use the five key areas and other unique factors to determine the mentoring structure that will work best at your organization today. Once you have an initial framework, solicit feedback from staff and members. It may be valuable to present Phase 1 (fastest to market with limited resources) along with potential enhancements contingent on program usage, additional resources, etc.

Mentoring programs are an exciting opportunity to strengthen your association’s value while supporting your member’s professional development. Proper planning and stakeholder involvement will help make sure the program succeeds.

This is the first in a three-article series on mentoring. Subsequent articles will address types of mentoring programs and how to support the program post-launch.

Sara Miller, CAE

Sara Miller, PMP, CAE, is senior director of membership at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology in Arlington, Virginia, and a member of ASAE’s Membership Professionals Advisory Council.