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Association Management

Building Mentorship Programs: Tips for Professional and Trade Associations

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks March 16, 2023
Table of Contents
11 min read

Think about the best mentor you’ve ever had.  

Got them in your head? Okay, now think about all the ways they contributed to your success. Did they give you advice on how to build your career? Make key introductions? Open doors?  

When you’re starting out in a profession – or trying to jump to the next rung on the career ladder – mentors are invaluable. You know that yourself.  

Now, you want to provide that same gift of mentorship to new members of your professional or trade association. Great! We’ll walk you through how to create a phenomenal mentorship program that will help your members supercharge their careers – and will make your association a ‘must-join.’  

We’re coving a LOT here. Feel free to jump to:

What exactly is mentorship? 

Mentorship can be a formal or informal relationship between a mentor who has the benefits and wisdom of experienced and a mentee who is looking to learn or grow with the support of the mentor.  

Contrary to popular belief, the mentorship relationship is not unidirectional. Often mentors benefit a great deal from working with mentees – everything from a new younger friend to support figuring out new or emerging aspects of a profession. Like how to promote themselves or their company on TikTok.  

Examples of what mentorship can look like: 

  • Professional mentorship: These can be formal or informal and focused on helping the mentee learn the profession or level up their skills.  
  • Personal mentorship: These are more likely to be informal and could be a friend who gives you support with something you’re struggling with or an older friend who serves as a sounding board for major career and life decisions.  
  • For different challenges at different times in your career and education: Some schools and employers offer mentorship programs aimed to help students or employees tackle certain specific challenges. Think getting through your first year of college or moving into a leadership position at a company.  
  • Supporting marginalized professionals: Some mentorship programs are aimed at supporting mentees who come from an underrepresented group. For example, mentorships that support women, people of color, immigrants or LGBTQIA+ people.  

Mentorship for professional VS trade associations 

Do mentorship programs vary between professional and trade associations? Sometimes! Here’s how they can differ: 

Professional association mentorship  

Professional association mentorships tend to be focused on helping mentees understand the ins and outs of the profession, learn soft skills, tackle things not taught in school (ex. how to network or market yourself), learn how to play office politics or navigate how to get ahead.  

They tend to be focused on career development – whether that’s tackling an individual challenge for the first time or seeking out growth opportunities like taking on big projects or asking for a promotion.  

Trade association mentorship  

What’s different about a trade association mentorship program? They can sometimes be pretty similar. But a mentorship relationship might also include topics like how to grow your business, how to continue learning and developing different industry specific skill sets or even help developing those skills or attending trainings.  

Ultimately, it depends on your trade. For example, a mentorship program for a trade association for mechanics might be focused on helping early career mechanics create a business plan to eventually open their own shop.  

The differences between these two types of mentorship programs don’t matter too much when you’re running a program. You’ll still have to do all the same tasks as you would no matter the focus of the program. But you’ll want to make sure that you’re serving the needs of your trade or professional association best by ensuring that the mentorship program is designed to help members gain the skills they need to succeed.  

How mentorship benefits you as an association 

So, why should an association create a mentorship program? That’s an easy question! Here are a few of the best answers.  

  • Appeal to new members:  One big appeal for many new members to join an association is the ability to be matched with a mentor. One on one mentorship relationships can be hard to find – but everyone can use a bit of help starting out.  
  • Provides a leadership opportunity: Depending on how your mentorship program is set up, being a mentor could be attractive to mentors as well. For example, some mid-career professionals might want to add career guidance and mentorship to their resume before they apply for a promotion or a new position where they’ll be managing people.  
  • Boosts your reputation: Having a mentorship program promotes that you have knowledgeable members. That’s attractive to new members for networking even if they don’t currently need a mentor! 
  • Invest in member success: A mentorship program is a clear example that your organization invests in the success of your members. When members consider why they pay dues every year, knowing that they’re supporting new professionals might make them feel good about paying for another year of membership.  
  • Improve member retention rate: Mentorship programs allows members to get to know each other more intimately. By helping your members build deeper relationships with other members, they’ll be more likely to stick around.  
  • Increase membership in underrepresented groups: You could use your membership program to appeal to younger members. Or you could create a mentorship program focused on supporting another group that is underrepresented in your profession or your membership. Diversifying your membership helps build a stronger association.  

How mentorship benefits your members 

You remember how your mentor benefited you? Here’s how mentors are likely to benefit your members:  

  • Helps them grow personally and professionally 
  • A great way to network and build connections 
  • A skill development opportunity for mentors 
  • Increases confidence both in personal and professional life 
  • Promotes greater awareness of different methods of work 
  • Makes people happier in their jobs 
  • Can improve job performance and increase chance of promotion 

What makes a good mentor? 

How do you make sure you have the right people mentoring new members? Make sure that you’re clear about what contributes to a great mentorship relationship. Here are some skills and qualities that help: 

  • Active listener: A mentor needs to be focused on listening rather than talking. While many people like sharing their wisdom, if they can’t listen long enough to understand what their mentee needs, they won’t be helping them as much as they could.  
  • Relevant experience to bring to the relationship: A good match is key when it comes to a great mentorship! You want to make sure that the skills of the mentor are relevant enough to the mentee that they’ll get value from the relationship.  
  • Focused on the experience of the mentee: You want someone who wants to be a mentor and is committed to making it an amazing experience for the mentee. If someone is too busy to provide the mentee with enough attention, it might be a bad match.  
  • Eagerness to see others succeed: Great mentors are generous of spirit! They get joy from seeing others do well.  
  • Able to take initiative and lead mentee: Another key quality is the ability to manage the mentee/mentor relationship well. That means being the one to initiative meetings or conversations and actively check in with the mentee to see how they’re doing.  

What makes a good mentee? 

Is there such a thing as a bad mentee? Probably not! But there are some that need a bit more support. Here are some things to tell your mentees to do to get the most out of their mentorship relationship.  

  • Willing to ask questions: Asking questions can be scary. Some mentees are timid. But being able to ask questions is key. If your mentees feel uncomfortable, supply them with a list of questions to choose from or organize some ice breakers.  
  • Open minded to what they don’t know: Did we say there was no such thing as a bad mentee? We were wrong! A mentee who thinks they already know the answers to everything is likely not going to be a successful mentee. Mentees who are open to learning get more out of a mentorship program. 
  • Honest about how they want to grow: It can be hard to talk about areas where you have to grow or to share your big ambitious career dreams. Doing both with their mentors openly will help mentees get the kind of advice that will truly be invaluable.  
  • Eager to learn: Who doesn’t love to learn? Apparently, some mentees. You want mentees who are excited to learn more about their profession. If they’re not, they might not be right for your program just yet.  
7 steps to building an association mentorship program

How to create a mentorship program for associations 

Ready to get started? We’ll walk you through how to create an amazing mentorship program for your association!  

Know your goals 

Before you get started, you want to know precisely what you want to achieve. Are you looking to increase your member retention or your member participation? Or maybe you’re trying to recruit younger members?  

Whatever your goals, think about how to best strategically achieve them through the design and marketing of your program. Then, keep track of who engages, run quarterly metrics on members engagement with the program and track if participants in the program renew their membership the following year.  

Just don’t pair every member (or new member) with a mentor. These approaches to mentorship tend to be unsustainable. If you want every new member to have the option of a mentor, you can run the intake for your mentorship program a few times a year or you can have a forum in your online community where mentors and mentees can pair themselves informally into mentorship relationships.  

Do you want a full mentorship program or a micro mentoring program?  

What if you don’t think your association needs a six month or year long mentorship program but you still want to do something? Or what if your association doesn’t have enough capacity to set up a full mentorship program? Or you don’t have enough mentors who can commit to a mentorship relationship. 

Welcome to the world of micro mentorship, mentorship relationships that require little commitment on either side – but can lead to great results for your mentors and your association. You could pair members interested in mentorship for one event only or for a multi-day event like your annual conference.  

Make sure you have the tools to make it happen 

Now that you know how you want to design your mentorship program, it’s time to figure out how you’ll facilitate it. While you’ll likely want to have things like an in-person mentorship launch, you’ll want to provide a platform or online community portal for mentors and mentees to use in between meetups.  

If the space allows for private messaging, even better.  

Gather your mentors and mentees 

The next thing you need to do is the fun part! You need to promote your mentorship program and start accepting applications for it. Your application for the mentorship program can be pretty simple. All you want to know is a bit of information about the mentees’ background and career goals. You’ll also need to know a bit about the mentors’ backgrounds too so you can make a good match.  

Here are some good questions to ask: 

  • What is your background?  
  • What is your current job?  
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  
  • What do you want to get out of the mentorship program?  
  • What are your top skills?  
  • What do you want to learn more about?  
  • What is your availability to meet with a mentor/mentee?  

Promote your program in a newsletter, eblast, on your community platform or in your members-only space. You can also seed the mentorship program with mentors from your board or by personally asking some of your most active and engaged members. Getting members to help lead the program can help since they can ask their others members to be a mentor as well.  

Just be careful who you choose to create the mentorship program. Not everyone has time or is well-suited to be a mentor. A failed mentorship relationship isn’t a good experience for anyone.  

BONUS: have some of your staff ready to step up to the plate to fill in any mentor spots until you get mentors 

Be clear on expectations 

While some mentors and mentees may choose to meet more regularly, set a base line in place for your expectations of participants like how often they meet and how long the mentorship lasts.  

For example, you might suggest that it lasts for six months and that mentors connect one to two times a month with their mentees. Or you could decide that it runs for a full year with a meeting every two months. Whatever works best for your association.  

Of course, they could be mentors/mentees forever but that may not always be the case. 

Launch the program and follow up with participants throughout the program 

While you don’t have to have an in-person mentorship launch, it can help smooth the process and give mentors and mentees a chance to network with others in the program. If you don’t want to organize a new event around it, you could launch the program at an existing event by having people in the program come early for a wine and cheese networking event.  

Once the program has launched, it’s important to keep evaluating its success. You can have another event with activities for the mentor matches or you can just send an email to the participants checking in to see how things are going every month or so. Some mentors or mentees might become too busy and you might be able to reassign the mentor or mentee so they still have a great experience in the program.  

It’s also important that you get feedback after the program is done. Send out a survey and use the replies to help you organize next year’s program. That will ensure that each year the program gets better and provides more value to your membership. 

Mentorship programs: Start building yours today!

Mentorship programs are a great way for your association to offer an invaluable service to your members while attracting more members or encouraging existing members to be more engaged. If you help your young members launch their careers, they’re more likely to be loyal to your association for many years to come – and they might even volunteer to be mentors themselves someday.  

Mentorship is best when it’s passed on. Good luck launching your membership program! We hope it becomes a cornerstone of your association’s success. 

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