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Mentoring Local Organizations - Here’s How!

Jennifer Lentfer's picture

Mentoring has become a very important means for social entrepreneurs to gain skills from an experienced entrepreneur. It has become one of the most effective ways to build an organization's capacity. Mentor's can give advice, encouragement and leverage their contacts to help an organization grow. Jennifer Lentfer offers some practical guidelines for developing an effective mentor relationship.


Stronger, more sustainable community-based organizations can contribute to a more effective and participatory civil society response to the needs of vulnerable people in the developing world.

Donors can support organizations even at the beginning stages of organizational development with an intent to leave groups stronger than when they first entered into partnership. Different types of capacity building activities such as mentoring relationships and exchange visits between organizations can offer the most relevant and supportive technical assistance through sharing on-the-ground experience among organizations at all levels of organizational development.

The following guidelines offer some sound practices as a starting point from which mentoring relationships can provide effective and meaningful technical assistance among local organizations. (Please note this article is not describing any specific program. Rather these general guidelines are being shared so that they can be distributed, used, and adapted widely by donors and local organizations as a sound capacity building practice.)

POTENTIAL AREAS FOR SUPPORT OR SHARING AMONG LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

-Leadership/management

-Strategic planning

-Governance/working with boards

-Decision-making/communication

-Budgeting & financial management

-Administrative systems such as human resources, recordkeeping/information management, etc.

-Issues around program quality or improved services for children and families

-Monitoring and evaluation/organizational learning (planning, data collection, analysis, documentation, etc.)

-Basic skills building for staff or volunteers – such as writing, computer, etc.

-Fundraising and resource mobilization

-Networking and advocacy

-…and many others!

WHAT IS A MENTORING RELATIONSHIP?

Mentoring is a term generally used to describe a face-to-face, long-term relationship between a less experienced individual and a more experienced individual known as a mentor. It is often helpful to think of a mentor as a leader who facilitates a learning process, rather than as an expert who passes down "the word" to a favored person.

Recently, mentoring has become a useful concept to describe a process where one organization serves in a role of a teacher and guide to another organization within a relationship that could be described as empowering, based on mutual trust, support, and skills and knowledge transfer that is reciprocal. (That is, it goes both ways.) Mentoring is a tool that organizations can use to nurture and grow their programs, systems and people. An informal practice or a formal program, mentoring often includes activities between more established, larger organizations and emerging organizations so that they can learn from each other as they progress in their organizational development. However, mentoring can also occur between peer organizations.

WHY ARE MENTORING RELATIONSHIPS IMPORTANT?

In the developing world, there are thousands if not millions of local organizations that are helping vulnerable families and communities. An important way to strengthen organizations is to help them learn from each other, and peer-to-peer learning is considered to be an effective capacity building strategy. More established organizations have much to share in terms of their experience in implementing programs and fostering social change.

Benefits for Emerging Organizations

-Provides a non-threatening learning opportunity
-Improved self-confidence and pride
-Develops key stills and technical knowledge
-Explores news ideas and approaches
-Provides support and reassurance
-Offers networking/partnership opportunities

Benefits for More Established Organizations

-Increases motivation and confidence
-Offers an opportunity to positively influence an emerging organization
-Offers new insights and perspectives
-Offers a self-development opportunity for staff
-Increases peer recognition
-Offers opportunity to improve learning, documentation and communication.

WHAT MAKES A MENTORING RELATIONSHIP SUCCESSFUL?

-Ongoing, open communication, feedback and dialogue
-Attention/commitment to developing the relationship over time
-Shared responsibility for learning between organizations
-Realistic, shared expectations - setting a “contract” for learning, written or otherwise
-Making an appropriate “match” between organizations
-Good rapport and high level of trust and respect 
-A sense of independence and autonomy for each organization is maintained.
-Well-formulated action plans – a means to provide guidance on key skills to be shared, issues to be covered, timing/regularity of activities, responsibilities and next steps for each organization throughout the process
-Focus on capacity building through methods such as instructing, “coaching,” offering and sharing experiences, modeling and advising.
-Motivated people in both organizations
-Effective board, stakeholder and community leader support
-Sharing stories of both "how to do it so it comes out right" and "mistakes from which we have learned." Successes and failures offer powerful lessons that provide valuable opportunities for analyzing individual and organizational realities.
-Recognition that continuous learning that is not an event, or even a series of events. Rather, it is ongoing experiences, observations, studies, and thoughtful analyses.

Characteristics of a Good Mentor

-A DESIRE TO HELP - Organizations who are interested in and willing to help others.
-GOOD REPUTATION FOR DEVELOPING OTHERS - Experienced people who have a good reputation for helping others develop their skills. 
TIME AND ENERGY - Mentors must have and commit this to the mentoring relationship. They must be available.
-UP-TO-DATE KNOWLEDGE - Organizations who have maintained current, up-to-date knowledge and/or skills about OVC care.
-LEARNING ATTITUDE - Organizations who are still willing and able to learn and who see the potential benefits of a mentoring relationship for themselves. Characteristics of an Organization That Will Benefit from a Mentor
-Committed to expanding their capabilities
-Actively communicates what the organization needs or wants to learn
-A level of organizational development that includes regular planning and learning processes 
-Open, receptive, and willing to try new ways and ideas
-Knows when to ask for help
-Able to accept feedback and act upon it

This article was based on previous series by the author on her blog, how-matters.org. She can be reached at email.howmatters@gmail.com. For more details go here.

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
I have read and heard a lot about mentoring at the Bank. I was even involved in the creation of a mentoring program, but I cannot help but wonder if "mentoring" is in fact happening in this organisation. The mentality of an international organisation is so distorted by competition between individuals that to be genuine mentoring can only be provided by outsiders. The best to all....

Spot on article. I would add that people helping people and communities in difficult conditions and settings need to be conscious of the stress and challenges, both professional and personal, they are facing and be open to asking for support, either through a mentoring or a coaching structure. You are not alone out there and you are not the only one with tough issues to manage! Question to follow up is what works better: informal or formal mentoring structures (particularly in extreme situations when time is counted)?

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