How a Mentorship Program Cut Costs Without Losing Its Value

A revamped mentorship program not only reduced expenses but also ended up with lots of surprising advantages for participants and membership staff. Find out why a more hands-on approach was a good thing.

Cutting costs has been the name of the game in the past year and a half, but it doesn’t mean a program has to lose it value or end altogether. Case in point: the Solid Waste Association of North America downshifted from a fully automated mentorship program, which was hosted by a vendor, to a hybrid version that is partially automated but also manually driven.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s also been fun,” said Shelby Truxon, SWANA’s membership program manager. And members love it.

How did SWANA do it? First, the program switched from an automated year-round enrollment to two fixed times a year—once in the spring and once in the fall. This created a “sense of urgency,” Truxon said, because there was a deadline to enroll in the program. And they went from unlimited participants to a capped number of 20 participants total, which created added incentive to sign up.

A More Personal Touch

Another reason for limiting participants is there is more manual work involved. The automated system was, no surprise, more hands-off. “We barely had to talk to them or walk them through the process,” Truxon said. The downside of that is, with the fully automated system, sometimes participants would look for matches, not hear back, get discouraged, and then give up.

“We didn’t always know right away if they were having a hard time finding somebody, or if they had questions,” she said. Now, if they have questions, they contact Truxon directly, and she can have a conversation with them, which gives the program a more personal touch. The manual aspect of the revised program has been helpful for participants because online they were on their own.

“Now I’m there to walk them through the enrollment and matching,” Truxon said. “So, it’s not as confusing as it used to be.”

The fixed enrollment schedule also has made it easier for Truxon because she knows when it’s coming—in February and September—and can plan for it. Once the matches are made manually, emails are set up in the automated system to send to the mentors and mentees once a month for six months to check on them and recommend different program worksheets they should be using to track their progress.

The change from a fully automated program to a hybrid one has not diminished its value. “We’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback,” Truxon said.

Passing the Baton

Another advantage is, the program helps SWANA members usher in a younger generation. “As current workers age out, we need somebody to fill their place to make sure the industry continues, and others know what to do,” she said. It also introduces the industry to students who are looking for career paths and industries to join.

“We’ve had several students who have signed up with mentors and, as a result, they plan on working in our industry now,” Truxon said. Before, they didn’t know much about the industry but participating in SWANA’s mentorship program and having a personal, one-on-one connection with an industry professional makes a huge difference, she said.

(sorbetto/DigitalVision Vectors)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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