The most common reason holding someone back from becoming a mentor is a lack of confidence in their skills or experience. However, if you’ve got experience of engaging with volunteers and have knowledge that you can pass on, then you are already mentor material. And what’s more, there are lots of benefits that you can gain from the experience too.

We spoke to Sophie Jones who is a Samaritans listening volunteer and has also been participating in AVM’s Mentoring Scheme since 2020 as a volunteer mentor. Sophie explains why she signed up to be a mentor in the first place, how the experience has helped her in her role, and provides some inspirational advice to encourage others to give mentoring a go too.

Why did you sign up to AVM’s mentoring programme?

I am a passionate believer in the power of mentoring in all roles, having been well-supported as a listening volunteer, a team leader and as branch director in Samaritans. I think having a mentor – official or unofficial – can help learning any new role, and help you get the most out of roles even when you’ve been doing them for a while. 

I really like a partnership way of working – two individuals problem-solving together – and my day job as a primary school teacher means I’m always interested in different ways to use my skill-set of working to overcome challenges and set next steps while nurturing individuals and groups. I really wanted to learn more about volunteer management in other settings too.

What were you hoping to achieve?

I wanted to help others, hoping to show them what they were doing well and hold up a mirror to their existing skills and good practice. I’m always quite nosy about other ways of doing things, and I thought I’d learn some interesting things about other organisations and ways of managing volunteers.

How has this experience helped you in your role?

Immensely – I hadn’t thought how much getting involved in this programme would mean I would reflect on my own volunteer management, articulate why Samaritans do things the way we do and help me to see the value of many aspects of my volunteering that I take for granted.  

I hadn’t really seen myself as a proper volunteer manager – I felt a bit of an imposter in the AVM as I ‘only’ do this as a volunteer – until I heard from mentees what a difference my perspective and input made during our discussions. 

I’ve learned a lot from hearing how other organisations and teams are set up, and it’s helped me value and appreciate the aspects of volunteer management that I’m really passionate about.

What would your top tip be to anyone about to sign up as a mentor?

Go for it! I wish I’d known that there isn’t really any pressure – if you can listen carefully to what someone’s up to and what they want to do next, they will tend to find solutions themselves and work out what their next steps are. It’s a real gift to have a bit of uninterrupted time and attention, and the amount you can achieve together is so rewarding.

Did you have any previous experience of mentoring before this?

Most new roles in Samaritans have seen me paired up with a peer with slightly more experience (and, in the listening role, with someone who has been trained). Having seen how supportive this is, I tend to look for unofficial mentors whenever I try new things, and encourage others to approach the person that they have in mind when they think ‘what would X do?’ (only if it’s someone they actually know, obviously!).

I’m not mentor trained at work, but I do take looking after mentee/student wellbeing quite seriously. I think that helped with AVM mentoring: I don’t have a lot of theoretical knowledge, or sector-wide skills or experience, but I do like to hear other people’s experiences and how they feel about things. And I think quite a lot of what holds us back or slows us down can come down to how we react or process things – it’s always interesting to have honest and reflective conversations with others about what they want to change, and what they can do about it.

I’ve learnt such a lot about myself in the process and I never fail to be inspired by these conversations – it’s a real privilege to have others share their hopes and aspirations and even better to see them achieve them.

If you would like to take part in AVM’s Mentoring scheme you can make your application when the scheme opens again on 8 May 2024 by completing the mentor or mentee sign up form on our website.

Watch a Bitesize Mentoring Conversation between Nicky Adams who is an AVM Member and supports the mentoring programme, and her colleague, Dr Jenni Jones, who teaches and researches coaching and mentoring. (This video is only available for AVM Members to watch).

AVM’s Mentoring Scheme is only open for AVM Members. If you’re not already a member, you can join now and enjoy all the benefits of being part of the AVM community.