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How to find a mentor for charity staff

Capacity building within a charity often starts with staff. Having the latest software isn't much use unless people know how to use it, and sending everyone on a course can get expensive fast. Here is how to plug the knowledge gap without breaking the bank.

Things you'll need

  • Paper and pens for brainstorming your Gap Analysis
  • Time to make some phone calls and send some e-mails
  • Someone with a persuasive go-get attitude

Skills pool and gap analysis

Before you can start looking for a mentor, you need to identify what your mentor will be mentoring in.

You may already have a sense that something is missing from your skills pool, but in order to make the most of mentoring, you need to be able to define exactly what that is.

A Gap Analysis is just that: looking for the gaps in your knowledge.

You can find a bit more about them here.

The quickest way to perform a simple Gap Analysis is as follows:

  1. Draw three columns on a piece of paper.
  2. In the right column, brainstorm your perfect office. What makes it so brilliant? What skills, resources or processes does it have?
  3. In the left column, brainstorm your office as it is now. What do you already have in terms of resources and skills?
  4. In the middle column, compare what you already have with how you see your ideal office. What do you need in order to get from where you are now to where you want to be? This might refer to training, equipment or hardware.

Because you're doing this to help find a mentor, pay particular attention to skills. Tidy the list up and bullet-point the items you have identified as missing.

Another easy exercise is to get everybody into a room (brainstorming works best with everyone's input - volunteers and staff), and pin up a sheet of flipchart paper.

  1. Draw a line down the middle, one side marked Resources and the other Skills.
  2. Hand out four colours of post-it notes: Resources (have/want) and Skills (have/want).
  3. Get people to brainstorm all of the material resources (computers, vehicles, equipment) and all of the skills (accounting, fundraising, administration) your organisation already has, and those people want. Try to be specific.
  4. Write down each item on a sticky note and stick the appropriate colour post-its in the appropriate columns.

This helps to add an extra dimension to your Gap Analysis, rather than one person assuming what you already have and need.


The mentor role

As with any form of volunteering, you will get the most out of your mentor by providing a clear outline of what is expected from the role.

A checklist of things to think about:

  • Which specific skills have you identified as missing from your Gap Analysis? What will a mentor need to mentor in to close this knowledge gap?
  • Is there a level to which the mentor will need to mentor? Which qualifications or areas of experience will they need to possess?
  • How often will they need to be available to mentor, and for how long? How will this fit in with your staff and their duties? Will it be on-the-job mentoring or time set aside? Will the mentor come to you, or are you prepared to allow staff to shadow external mentors in other offices?
  • Once you have identified the person who is going to be mentored, sit down and talk to them to find out how they would like to be mentored, and to make sure that you find a mentor of the appropriate level.

Make sure to write this up in a mentor Terms of Reference (ToR) that you can use, much as a job description, to advertise the position and seek out a suitable candidate.


Key learning points

The basic outline of a mentor role lists the type of candidate you're looking for, their qualifications, and how often you think you are likely to need them. Alongside this, it is also important to draw up some Key Learning Points for your ToR.

As with the Gap Analysis, draw three columns:

  • Left: The broad area your mentor will be mentoring in (i.e. Excel, Word Processing, Tax Returns, PDF Publishing, Social Media)
  • Middle: Identify within that broad subject area the specific things you expect the mentor to cover, and bullet-point them (i.e. Social Media: Scheduling Tweets, Using Hashtags, Uploading Images etc.)
  • Right: Re-word the middle column into a set of learning points that you will be able to test. Do this by using the word 'will'. For example: 'The mentee will be able to schedule a timetable of tweets for the week', or 'The mentee will be able to analyse our core membership and display as a pie chart.'

It is extremely important that you think about the end result in terms of how you can check that the knowledge gap has been closed. Testing what people have learned does not have to be formal or exam-like, but you do need to know whether they've learned it.

The best mentoring programmes tend to be short-term and high-impact. Identify what's missing, provide the solution, check it's solved.


Sourcing a mentor

Once you know the type of person you're looking for, and exactly what you need them to teach, the next step is trying to find that person.

There are many companies who provide training to charities for a price, but if you're looking to keep your costs down, try showing your ToR to others first:

  • Your Membership: by advertising the training opportunity on your website and through your social media, you may find that you already know someone who can provide what you need.
  • Local Volunteer Centre: Try googling '<your county>' + 'volunteer centre'. Most regions have one, and their job is to help community organisations to source general and skilled volunteers. Providing them with a copy of your ToR will make it much easier for them to find the right person.
  • Inter-Charity Mentoring: Have a look around at other charities in your area. Can you identify any who already appear to have the skills you want? If so, pop along and say 'hello'. Show them your ToR and what you're hoping to achieve. Some might see you as competition, especially if you're asking about fundraising training, others might not feel that they have the time or inclination. Hopefully, more will be happy to help. Perhaps you can offer reciprocal training in an area they are missing. This might even lead to a mentoring network among charities in your area, like Skill Share, making it easier for everybody to find the skills they want.
  • Corporate Mentoring: As with Inter-Charity Mentoring, if you know of a business with the technical skills you need, it might be worth approaching them with your ToR. Most companies like to improve their reputation within a local area, and they're usually relieved when charities approach them with anything other than requests for money.

Your chances of finding a mentor will be greatly improved by presenting people with a well thought through and specific ToR. This allows people to see straight away whether they have the skills you need, and how big the commitment is likely to be. It also makes it easier for them to forward the information to other people if they can't do it themselves.


Filtering down

So, you've worked out what you need, you've found the perfect mentor, and your staff can now print off PDFs whilst simultaneously statistically analysing merchandise trends and playing the tin whistle through their noses.

Gap Analysis? What gap?

The next important thing is to make sure all that hard earned knowledge doesn't trickle away. Staff, volunteers, even trustees come and go. The danger is that they will take their knowledge with them.

A few ways to ensure that you capacity build your organisation and not just individuals:

  • Once a member of staff has completed a mentoring course, ask them to deliver a summary presentation about it to the rest of the office.
  • Create a knowledge-base folder in the office where staff can write down the most useful things they've learned on a quick HowTo sheet that anyone can access.
  • Link the folder to a database on the computer where people can add any PowerPoint presentations, tools or learning materials they find useful.
  • Once a month, tag a skills development workshop onto the end or your staff meeting, or invite a guest speaker along from another organisation.
  • Start a wall chart where staff and volunteers attribute stickers to one another if they feel they've learned a new skill.

All of these things can help to create a culture of knowledge sharing within an organisation. Yes, there should be an expert in the office, but there's no reason that everyone else can't learn the basics too.

Further information

Knowledge Sharing Capacity Building

The Kilfinan Group

CharityComms: Mentoring Scheme


Page last edited Jul 25, 2017 History

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