Higher Logic Blog

How to Create a Great Mentoring Program in Your Online Community

Written by Julie Dietz | July 18, 2017 at 12:30 PM

Mentors are a vital part of any industry. Through mentoring, employees get the chance to learn vital skills and increase competency in ways that boost morale and job satisfaction – something that’s improving with technology.

Online mentoring programs have taken the traditional brick-and-mortal experience to a new level, providing anytime, anywhere access to expertise, insights, and perspective that enhance job performance and outcomes. Associations, which are widely-recognized experts in their industries, are stepping up to offer such programs. Many times, mentoring programs even evolve into a key member benefit for professional associations.

Benefits of Starting a Mentoring Program

Since associations have access to accomplished industry professionals from many different companies, they are uniquely positioned to provide mentoring opportunities. They bring their diverse array of professionals together, giving them a chance to pass on their expertise by helping less experienced members learn essential skills.

In addition to providing members with the chance to learn from industry experts, an online mentoring program can also build a network of young professionals, including millennials, who are searching for jobs. In a recent study by Abila, millennials listed job opportunities as their top member benefit. Because online communities draw in association members from around the country or even the world, mentoring and job board features enhance the ability to recruit younger members to your industry.

How to Create a Great Mentoring Program

The best association mentoring programs have three core characteristics:

  • They foster professional connections.
  • They make interactions between mentors and mentees easy and convenient.
  • They have structure, but can also be flexible.

In our digital world, organization have switched from live and phone-based mentoring programs to giving participants a place to gather online, such as your online community. Since anyone can access your online community from anywhere, mentors and mentees can connect regardless of location and schedule.

Unlike public social networks, your private member community also provides an extra layer of security so mentoring program participants are assured that their discussions are not publicly available.

Here are five tips for building a successful mentorship program in your online community.

1. Be Flexible

In the past, organized mentorship programs began with an administrator who matched mentors and mentees based on applications and expertise. There was often a list of skills the relationship needed to focus on and a set time to master them.

Such a checklist-style experience is not only time and labor intensive for your staff, it no longer meets members’ needs. Instead, build a stable of online advisors that mentees can rotate through, giving them the flexibility to review a mentor’s skills – and vice versa – and pursue connections that meet their needs. When one relationship ends or a new skill is desired, they can move forward with another connection that teaches them something new.

2. Think Non-Traditional Routes of Information Exchange

Online mentorship programs can expand how members communicate. Email is still a great way to share information, but with the tools in your online community software, mentors and mentees can exchange documents, collaborate on ideas, and experiment with different types of content.

Your online community can even help mentors and mentees widen their audience. Discussion forums, video posts, and blogs can all help mentors share information to a wide range of professionals while also giving mentees access to more industry experts when they have questions.

Expert Tip: If your association wants to build an open mentorship program that doesn’t always match participants on a one-on-one basis, you could launch a TED Talks-esque mentor program. In each video, veterans of the industry would share their insights and mentees would post their thoughts via recorded video. This can open up a lively exchange between both new and experienced thought leaders.

3. Get Top Leaders Involved

If you want your mentoring program to grow, recruit your association’s leaders and board members to participate. Many of these people have decades of experience in the industry and bring expert knowledge to the table. Their involvement may even encourage other executive members to get involved, providing participants with a larger pool of relationships to choose from.

The presence of top association and company leaders is often particularly attractive for your millennial members. Younger generations grew up in team-oriented environments, so they appreciate access to top executives and being informed about why decisions and industry procedures are the way they are. If your mentoring program gives them access to that type of open, collaborative environment, they’ll be more likely to see it as a valuable membership benefit.

4. Ditch the Top Down Idea

Just because experienced leaders and industry experts have a lot to teach doesn’t mean that your mentees have nothing to give in return. For example, younger mentees or those who are just joining your industry often bring fresh perspective to the table. They may approach common problems in new ways, helping veteran professionals be more efficient.

An association mentor program should have opportunities for mentoring from both sides of the aisle – the seasoned and the new to the industry. Create a solid foundation of knowledge exchange and respect in your mentoring program so that every participant has the opportunity to learn and teach.

5. Empower Participants

The best online community software includes mentoring tools that put the power in your members’ hands. With these tools, mentors and mentees request connections with one another based on their skills and what they want to learn. You can even use gamification to add “mentor” and “mentee” badges to member profiles to make it easy for members to identify potential relationships at a glance.

Participants also have the flexibility to choose how long their relationships last. Initial time frames are typically set when the relationship is confirmed, but mentors and mentees can also request extensions or terminate a relationship early. This gives participants more control over the learning process. Mentors can ensure the program fits their schedule and mentees can adjust relationships to fit their learning style.

By putting the power to create connections in your members’ hands, you also cut down on your staff’s workload. Employees no longer need to read applications and match mentors and mentees based on skills or availability. Mentoring program participants work out the details for themselves.

Build Your Mentoring Program for Your Members

When creating your online mentoring program, listen to what your members want. Use online community data to find your members’ priorities and concerns, then create mentoring opportunities that meet their expectations.

Encourage participants to create profiles of their skills, interests, and even demographic information to help them find the best relationships. Follow up and consistently collect feedback from participants so you can revise and improve your program over time. If you keep opportunities active, ensuring that they fit the needs of your members, your online community mentoring program could evolve into one of your association’s top benefits.