Creating Mentorship Programs to Drive Engagement

At an #ASAE16 session, the executive director of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association discussed its mentoring program and how other associations can build their own successful, sustainable  programs to serve members.

If members request a new product or service, associations are usually quick to consider it. And it shouldn’t be any different when it comes to mentoring programs, Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) Executive Director Debbie Trueblood, CAE, told ASAE Annual Meeting attendees last week.

“If the members ask this of me, if the board asks this of me, if the members want this, then I have to treat it like it has value,” she said during the “Mentoring for Engagement at All Levels” session. “I have to allocate sufficient staff time and resources. I have to have a structure in place that gives it sustainability and quality so that the members receive from it what they’re hoping to gain.”

Trueblood pulled from her experience running IPRA’s mentorship program, ProConnect. She said that associations need to build sustainability measures into mentoring programs like hers to ensure they last, namely by creating a strong ratio of mentors to mentees, allocating enough resources, and making sure the mentorship groups meet consistently.

“Decide it has value and support it,” she said. “Decide it has value and do it big and make it important, make it quality, make it last so that the members receive the real benefit of mentoring.”

IPRA keeps ProConnect sustainable through its relationship structure, program events, and application process.

Mentor groups consist of three professionals: one from the early career, mid career, and advanced career or retirement stage—who does not need to be an executive director. During the application process, people may be placed as either a mentor or mentee depending on where they best fit and will be turned away if they cannot attend all five in-person program events. This structure lets mentors participate more than once, guarantees there aren’t more mentees than mentors, and allows midlevel individuals to be both mentee and mentor.

This is all about giving people the opportunity to have more information, feel like they’re part of a community, have the opportunity to lead, and give back.

In addition, successful mentor relationships require repetition, Trueblood explained, which is why participants must attend all the events. Accountability teams and a staff liaison also ensure that mentors—who generally cause the failure of these relationships—are continuing to invest in their mentees.

“This is all about giving people the opportunity to have more information, feel like they’re part of a community, have the opportunity to lead, and give back,” she said.

Trueblood noted that IPRA actually loses money directly through the program because of its many components. However, it has brought in revenue indirectly, as the association currently has its highest number of members, satisfaction rate, and amount of money in the bank following the program’s first two years.

“Member recruitment, retention, and engagement all went up. And we did this, and it cost us, and that shows we’re making the money back,” she said. “So we make money indirectly, but we pour money into the program.”

Mentoring programs often fail because associations don’t fund or work at them. How each association creates sustainability will depend on their region, size, and member preferences, but ultimately such a program will serve members and their careers, the industry, and the association itself.

“You can create something for [members] that is a real long-lasting relationship that carries them through their career and into the future. So that has a direct impact on their career in a way that education, conferences, networking can’t,” Trueblood said. “And, for you at the association, you want to form something that … advances your organization forward.”


Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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