Mentorships in nonprofits

What does it mean to be a mentor and why are they important in the nonprofit world?

Prepared by deborah abrahams

Mentorship programmes have been an essential part of many non-profit organisations (NPOs) to reach out and connect with the community. This article will discuss what mentorship programmes are, their benefits, and the roles mentors and mentees play in the programmes. It will also discuss some good practices to follow when developing mentorship programmes and examples of activities to implement in mentorship sessions. 
Table of Contents

Mentorship programmes involve mentors, usually consisting of experts or volunteers, who are trained in designated fields to bond with and guide individuals to grow personally and professionally. Individuals who seek guidance will be matched with mentors who suit their development needs. These programmes allow individuals to develop their communication skills as it relies heavily on interactions between the mentor and mentee.  

Roles in mentorships


1. Advisor: A mentor’s main role is to advise their mentees on areas such as education and career choices. Mentors may also provide feedback on their mentees’ ideas and work outcomes since they are generally more experienced in their fields. 

2. Supporter: Mentors also act as a support system for their mentees, providing insights on opportunities their mentees may take in their schools and careers. When appropriate, mentors can also offer support for their mentees with personal or family issues.

3. Information source: Mentors may have inside knowledge and resources that can help their mentees develop personally and professionally. Their resources can also help expand their mentees’ school and work connections.


1. Relationship driver:  Individuals seeking guidance in a mentorship programme have to identify and understand the areas in which development is needed and communicate this to their assigned mentors. They also can drive further communication by providing feedback to their mentors on any topic.

2. Learner: Mentees should take full advantage of the mentorship programme by learning as much as possible from their mentors. One way to ensure the learning experience benefits mentees is by working together with their mentors to set goals and time frames to track their development progress.

Benefits of Mentorship Programmes

Contrary to what many assume, mentorships don’t only benefit the individuals that are receiving guidance. It can also benefit the people who are guiding these individuals. Listed below are some benefits of mentorship programmes for both mentors and mentees. 

Benefits of being a mentor

1. Develop leadership skills: Mentoring can help individuals build their leadership skills and ingrain a sense of confidence in them. Having the responsibility of guiding someone’s development or career path and introducing them to new ideas requires the ability to inspire, provide feedback and support them, which is why this skill should be prioritised by potential mentors and organisations who are looking for mentors.  

2. Enhance open communications skills: One of the main aspects of a mentorship session is when mentors explain an idea or career choice to their mentees. Mentors will learn how to explain a concept better and become effective communicators as they get used to mentoring.

3. Gain new perspectives: The relationship between a mentor and mentee is unique because it involves not only does it involve mentors sharing insights with their mentees, it also helps mentors learn new knowledge from their mentees such as digital skills. This is when the roles are reversed, and it is the mentee’s turn to guide their mentor to learn a new skill or information.

Benefits of being a mentee

1. Develop new skills: With the help of their mentors, individuals can learn new skills that can help them reach their development or career goals.

2. Expand network: Network expansion through mentorships benefits working adults and college students especially since mentees can gain access to crucial career contacts sooner, especially during this period in which remote working is prevalent.

3. Self-motivation: One of the roles that mentors play is to act as a support system for their mentees. They do this by actively listening to their goals and ideas while giving feedback throughout the process. Through this process, mentees become more motivated to set and achieve goals, whether they are developmental or career-based.

4. Improves self-confidence: Mentorships help individuals to learn new things on their own and maximise their potential. Mentors encourage their mentees to reach that potential, boosting their confidence as the programmes progresses.

Best Practices Mentorship Programmes

Before implementing a mentorship programme, NPOs need to take a few crucial steps for the programme to be successful. Here are a few good practices to follow when creating a mentorship programme 

Identify a Suitable Mentorship Type

There are three main types of mentorship programmes that cater to various environments and needs. These types include:

  • Traditional One-on-one Mentoring
    • One-on-one mentorships start when a mentor is matched to their mentee. This process is usually done through a mentorship programme or on their own. The mentors then work with their mentees to develop formal and structured relationships.
  • Virtual Mentoring
    • Virtual mentoring, also known as distance mentoring, is where the mentor and mentee are in two separate locations hence, they conduct their sessions virtually.
  • Group Mentoring
    • In group mentorships, one mentor is matched to a group of mentees. This type of mentoring differs from the previous two in that a programme structure is set before sessions begin, allowing the mentor to have a structured process.


Assist Mentors to find the Right Match

For a mentoring relationship to be successful, the right mentors must be matched with individuals. Understanding each mentee’s needs and personality is important in deciding which mentor will be suitable for them. Organisations should also think about which employee or volunteer shows good leadership skills and personality traits to make a good mentor. This can be done by conducting interviews to understand the mentor or mentee’s personality and needs better.


Provide Training for Mentors

Before matching a mentor to a mentee, organisations should ensure that their mentors are well-equipped to guide individuals in their development. To train their mentors, many organisations acquire online mentorship platforms such as Nonprofit Learning Lab that helps nonprofit employees build connections with experts from similar organisations who are knowledgeable on mentorship strategies and solutions.

examples of mentoring activities

1. Goal-planning session: Every successful mentor-mentee relationship starts by setting goals to work towards throughout the programme. These goals should be measurable and fit the development needs of the mentee. Mentors should work with their mentees to set these goals within a timeframe to ensure that progress can be tracked. A great goal-setting method is the REAL model that sets goals as:

  • Relevant
  • Experimental
  • Aspirational
  • Learning-based

2. Discuss goal-related topics: Once the goals are set, mentors can discuss news articles, reports and studies that are related to their mentees’ goals. This is to help mentees understand how to reach their goals and what they can do to achieve them. This activity can also be applied to younger individuals, by researching simple stories or articles that suit their needs and goals.   

3. Book review: A similar activity to the previous idea, book reviews not only help mentors guide mentees to achieve their goals but also increases the bond between mentors and mentees. When choosing a book to review, mentors should choose books that fit their mentees’ development goals while ensuring that it is interesting to read. This is especially important when doing book reviews with younger individuals. Mentors can also prepare questions regarding the book for their mentees, to ensure that they understand what the book is about, or, depending on whether the mentor is much further in the book, can suggest chapters or portions of the book that their mentee may find relevant.

4. Mood boards: This activity is particularly suitable for virtual mentoring sessions to increase engagement between mentors and mentees. Ask mentees to visualise their goals into a mood board, inserting images, colours, and quotes they feel relate to their development goals. This activity is particularly suitable for virtual mentoring sessions to increase interactivity during sessions.

5. Career path mapping: Career mapping is especially useful for younger mentees, to ensure that they know how to get from where they are to their dream job positions. The mentor’s role is to help mentees map out their career path, and which opportunities to take to achieve their career goals.  

Case studies

Food Forward’s Road to Success Through Mentorships 

When Rick Nahmias, founded Food Forward to feed the disadvantaged communities around him, which caught the eye of The Durfee Foundation which provided him with a $70,000 grant and 50 hours a year of mentoring. Nahmias chose Steve LePore, an experienced non-profit founder. LePore mentored him on everything it takes to run a non-profit organisation, from office spaces to budgeting and management tips. As a result, Food forward grew so big that a new place had to be secured to store food, storing about 40 million pounds of produce every year.  


Raymond’s Development Journey with Life Community Services Society 

11-year-old Raymond came from a broken home, living with his unemployed mother and younger sister in a one-bedroom flat. His reliance on his mother’s personal hotspot for Internet limited him in joining online classes during the COVID-19 lockdown. However, he always had a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn new things. When he joined the Friends of Children and Youth (FOCY) programme at the Life Community Services Society (LCSS), he was matched with his caseworker who conducted a psycho-educational test on him and found out that he has low literacy skills. His caseworker enrolled him in LCSS’s tuition programme and ensured he got stable Internet data to attend his online classes. FOCY also offered monthly food rations for his family to sustain them. As his mentorship progressed, Raymond developed his literacy skills, improving in school and building good foundational knowledge. 


Nate’s Path from Mentee to Assistant Director of Programs with Bench Mark Program.  

As a young boy, Nate participated in a lifestyle filled with crime. After getting shot in the stomach, he decided to turn his life around by reaching out to Bench Mark Program for help. Through their mentorship programme, Nate was able to grow and develop new skills, eventually becoming the Assistant Director of Program at the NPO.  


  • Mentorship programmes usually involve a trained individual or an expert in a specific field guiding an individual to grow personally and professionally.
  • The benefits of being a mentor include developing leadership skills, enhancing open communication skills, and helping them gain new perspectives.
  • The benefits of being a mentee include expanding their network, motivating them, and enhancing their self-confidence.
  • Mentors play the roles of advisors, supporters, and information sources.
  • The roles of mentees include relationship drivers and learners.
  • Some good practices in mentorship programmes include identifying a suitable mentorship model, assisting mentors to find the right mentee, training mentors as well as monitoring the mentorship programmes and evaluating results.
  • Examples of mentoring activities include goal-planning sessions, discussing goal-related topics, book reviews, creating mood boards, and career path mapping.
  • Case studies from Food Forward, Life Community Services Society and Bench Mark Program show that mentorships can lead to developmental growth.

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