by Angela Wilson
Soon after I joined the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) Board of Directors, the Chair, Ruth Leonard, rang me up to ask what I wanted to get out of volunteering, what was it that motivated me? I said I hoped to learn from the diverse experience of other AVM members: I wanted to progress in my career, and so it would be great to learn from others how they had gone about developing theirs. We then got to talking about mentoring, and how it would be wonderful if AVM could set up a scheme where members could learn from each other, much as I was describing. Top volunteer management marks to Ruth: she had identified my own motivation, and matched it with a strategic aim of AVMs. Thus it was agreed I would lead the setting up of AVMs mentoring scheme, and use the learning for the search for my own mentor to inform and facilitate the project. Great! I was excited to get going. But where to begin?
Fortunately, I was not alone: fellow Director Jo Gibney agreed to join forces with me. So, we met, drank coffee, and did a lot of brainstorming. Jo also wanted to find a mentor…so we started by thinking about what we wanted to get out of it. Discussing it helped us to think through our aims, which made it easier to consider who might be a good person to help me to achieve those aims. Reading up on it, I found out that the mentoring relationship works best when there’s a high level of trust between both parties, and this is most likely to occur when the mentee chooses their own mentor. It should be someone with whom you are not too familiar (e.g. a friend) as you are unlikely to really be challenged in your thinking or to learn very much. Also the experience gap is important: if it is “too narrow, mentor and mentee will have little to talk about. If it is too great, the mentors experience will be increasingly irrelevant to the mentee” (Clutterbuck, D. 2014).
Where would I find such a person? And how would I make the approach? I felt quite awkward about the whole thing, it reminded me of the bashfulness I felt when I was in my late teens, about to ask a guy if he wanted to go to the movies! So it took me a while to work up the courage…
After a fair bit of umming and ahhing, I took a deep breath, and called a colleague I really respected in the volunteer management field, who had experience within the area I wanted to move into. It was great to catch up with him, and talk through some of my aims and hopes. In the end I sort of blurted it out – “would you have any interest in mentoring me…of course no worries at all if you can’t…” [in my head: “EEEEEEEEEK!”] sadly, this colleague had just changed jobs himself, and just didn’t have the time right now. Oh. Oh well, not to worry. I didn’t take it personally. Onwards!
There was one other person I knew who I’d thought for some time, would make a wonderful mentor, but I’d never plucked up the courage to ask. She was talented and very experienced, and probably very busy. I didn’t think I had much chance, but I thought I’d give it a shot anyway – nothing ventured and all that. And she said yes! I was more delighted than when the guy agreed to go to the movies with me. Having someone I really respected agree to invest their time in ME seemed incredibly generous: I was very grateful.
Meanwhile, Jo and I have been busy working up our ideas for the AVM Mentoring Scheme. We’ve been learning from others, designing registration forms and a project plan for how it all might work. We hope that the scheme will make it much easier for mentors and mentees to find each other and pair up.
Since just last week, 29 people have approached AVM to say they’d like to sign up as a mentor, mentee, or both…so we’re well on the way to making it easier (and a bit less like asking someone to go to the movies?!) for members who want to find mentors. We want to bring people together, both in person and online, and facilitate links between people in similar geographic areas. But those are just some of our ideas.
Expressions of interest are currently closed.
We are really keen to hear from AVM members who would be happy to help us shape the scheme and test out the tools (such as the registration forms) that we’ve developed. If you’re interested in getting involved, please do leave us your details here – we’ll get back to you.
Angela is an AVM Director, and Head of Volunteering at MS Society.