March 25th, 2010
Mentoring is a highly effective one-to-one support system that can be valuable for volunteers and staff alike. It involves a senior, more experienced partner accepting responsibility for supervising the progress of a more junior one. Primary roles of a mentor are:
- Setting development goals and monitoring progress towards them;
- Listening to problems and concerns about radio work or other life issues;
- Offering advice and ideas for change;
- Assisting with skill development (coaching, tutoring etc.);
- Acting as a role model and inspiration.
A good mentor will need:
- Good listening skills;
- Reliability, dependability and trustworthiness;
- A friendly attitude;
- Neutrality (i.e. have no personal vested interest in the progress of the partner);
- The ability to step back when necessary;
- A sense of humour.
A good mentee (no really, that’s what they’re called) will need:
- Commitment to progress;
- Clear sense of direction and personal goals;
- Trust in the mentor;
- Openness and honesty.
- Establishing a mentoring system
The most effective and enthusiastic mentors are usually those who have been/are being mentored themselves. If you can establish a system at the earliest possible opportunity, then it will quickly become self-sustaining. In practice, the early days of community radio stations tend to be highly chaotic and finding mentors when all the volunteers may be new and nervous won’t be easy.
Nevertheless the sooner you can start the better. Becoming a mentor is not an insignificant commitment. You can’t order anyone to do it or insist upon it – the relationship is highly unlikely to be effective if you do. So all you can do is encourage (or plead with) your more experienced volunteers to consider it. Stress that the mentor also has much to gain from the relationship; it can be a highly educational, rewarding and inspirational role to take. More cynically, it looks great on their CV – but this probably shouldn’t be their primary motivation. The key to successful mentoring is partnering the right people together. The chemistry of a great partnership is impossible to quantify or predict, but some factors to be considered are:
- Experience in relevant role (i.e. broadcasters should normally be mentored by broadcasters, managers by managers etc.);
- Gender, age, race, religion etc. – obviously these may not be relevant in many cases, but beware of culture clashes or sensitivities over lifestyle;
- First impressions. Before formalising a mentoring relationship, send the potential mentor and mentee off for a cup of tea and a chat somewhere. They will soon tell you if there’s a personality clash.
What does mentoring involve?
The two partners should work out between themselves the best way to make the relationship work, but typical practice would be:
- Regular meetings (maybe monthly or thereabouts), usually somewhere away from the radio station but ideally not at either partner’s own home either;
- Occasional phone calls, e-mails etc.;
- Emergency support when a crisis develops – the mentor should be easily obtainable but the criteria for what constitutes an emergency should be clear.
The last function in particular can be fraught with danger. If the mentee begins to make excessive demands on the time or emotional strength of the mentor, the relationship can quickly become unhealthy. The formal mentoring agreement (see below) sets out procedures as to what should happen if the mentor feels unable to offer the amount of support needed.
The mentoring agreement
Although the practice of mentoring should be informal and flexible, the relationship should be underpinned by a formal agreement negotiated between the mentor and the mentee, usually under the guidance of the station management. This will set out:
- How much commitment will be required from each partner;
- What expectations each should have of the other;
- What rights and responsibilities each has towards the other;
- What happens if either partner fails to keep their side of the deal;
- What happens if either partner feels the relationship is becoming unhelpful;
- How and when the mentoring period will end. It’s not good to let mentoring relationships fizzle out, so set a date (maybe 12 months ahead) when both partners can review their progress and, if they wish, make a renewed agreement.
With volunteer mentoring agreements, it would be normal for both partners to be volunteers at the same station. With staff, that can be very difficult, the staff team would usually be too small for any kind of mentoring to be practical. Finding an appropriate mentor for senior management in particular is especially difficult, as there are unlikely to be many experienced community radio managers in the area willing to take on the role. There are however, many people with vast experience in either community or radio, if not both. The mentor for a community radio station manager may not know much about broadcasting or Ofcom licences, but have extensive experience of volunteer management, fund-raising, finance, training etc.
Alternatively she may not know the community sector but may have extensive experience in radio production and media management. This is where your relationships with other stations become most valuable. At present we are hoping to involve BBC managers as mentors for our own senior staff. As the community radio sector grows, we hope it will become commonplace for experienced station staff and even volunteers to offer mentoring to other community radio projects in their area.
Further reading and links
Volunteer management guides
- Essential Volunteer Management (2nd edition).
- Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch (Directory of Social Change, 1998)
- Recruiting Volunteers (2nd edition). Fraser Dyer and Ursula Jost (Directory of Social Change, 2002)
- Volunteers and the Law. Mark Restall (Volunteering England, 2005)
- The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating effective learning relationships. Lois J Zachary and Laurent A Daloz (Jossey Bass Wiley, 2000)
- Implementing Mentoring Schemes. Nadine Klasen and David Clutterbuck (Butterworth, 2001)