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Mentoring Among Local Organizations—Here’s How!

Following on the interest in my posts on exchange visits between local organizations and oral reporting, here’s another set of guidelines on mentoring relationships for use and adaptation. Please do note that this is not describing a specific program. I am simply sharing the guidelines so that they can be distributed and used widely by donors and local organizations as a sound capacity building practice. I hope they can be useful as you connect with other organizations through your own initiatives.

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Stronger, more sustainable community-based organizations can contribute to a more effective and participatory civil society response to the needs of vulnerable people in the developing world.

Donors can support organizations even at the beginning stages of organizational development with an intent to leave groups stronger than when they first entered into partnership. Different types of capacity building activities such as exchange visits and mentoring relationships between organizations can offer the most relevant and supportive technical assistance through sharing on-the-ground experience among organizations at all levels of organizational development.

The following guidelines offer some sound practices as a starting point from which mentoring relationships can provide effective and meaningful technical assistance among local organizations.

POTENTIAL AREAS FOR SUPPORT OR SHARING AMONG LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

  • Leadership/management
    • Strategic planning
    • Governance/working with boards
    • Decision-making/communication
  • Budgeting & financial management
  • Administrative systems such as human resources, recordkeeping/information management, etc.
  • Issues around program quality or improved services for children and families
  • Monitoring and evaluation/organizational learning (planning, data collection, analysis, documentation, etc.)
  • Basic skills building for staff or volunteers – such as writing, computer, etc.
  • Fundraising and resource mobilization
  • Networking and advocacy
  • …and many others! 

WHAT IS A MENTORING RELATIONSHIP?

Mentoring is a term generally used to describe a face-to-face, long-term relationship between a less experienced individual and a more experienced individual known as a mentor. It is often helpful to think of a mentor as a leader who facilitates a learning process, rather than as an expert who passes down “the word” to a favored person. 

Recently, mentoring has become a useful concept to describe a process where one organization serves in a role of a teacher and guide to another organization within a relationship that could be described as empowering, based on mutual trust, support, and skills and knowledge transfer that is reciprocal. (That is, it goes both ways.) Mentoring is a tool that organizations can use to nurture and grow their programs, systems and people. An informal practice or a formal program, mentoring often includes activities between more established, larger organizations and emerging organizations so that they can learn from each other as they progress in their organizational development. However, mentoring can also occur between peer organizations.

WHY ARE MENTORING RELATIONSHIPS IMPORTANT?

In the developing world, there are thousands if not millions of local organizations that are helping vulnerable families and communities. An important way to strengthen organizations is to help them learn from each other, and peer-to-peer learning is considered to be an effective capacity building strategy. More established organizations have much to share in terms of their experience in implementing programs and fostering social change. 

Benefits for Emerging Organizations

  • Provides a non-threatening learning opportunity
  • Improved self-confidence and pride
  • Develops key stills and technical knowledge
  • Explores news ideas and approaches
  • Provides support and reassurance
  • Offers networking/partnership opportunities

Benefits for More Established Organizations 

  • Increases motivation and confidence
  • Offers an opportunity to positively influence an emerging organization
  • Offers new insights and perspectives
  • Offers a self-development opportunity for staff
  • Increases peer recognition
  • Offers opportunity to improve learning, documentation and communication.

WHAT MAKES A MENTORING RELATIONSHIP SUCCESSFUL?

  • Ongoing, open communication, feedback and dialogue
  • Attention/commitment to developing the relationship over time
  • Shared responsibility for learning between organizations
  • Realistic, shared expectations – setting a “contract” for learning, written or otherwise
  • Making an appropriate “match” between organizations
  • Good rapport and high level of trust and respect
  • A sense of independence and autonomy for each organization is maintained.
  • Well-formulated action plans – a means to provide guidance on key skills to be shared, issues to be covered, timing/regularity of activities, responsibilities and next steps for each organization throughout the process
  • Focus on capacity building through methods such as instructing, “coaching,” offering and sharing experiences, modeling and advising.
  • Motivated people in both organizations
  • Effective board, stakeholder and community leader support
  • Sharing stories of both “how to do it so it comes out right” and “mistakes from which we have learned.” Successes and failures offer powerful lessons that provide valuable opportunities for analyzing individual and organizational realities.
  • Recognition that continuous learning that is not an event, or even a series of events. Rather, it is ongoing experiences, observations, studies, and thoughtful analyses.

Characteristics of a Good Mentor

  • A DESIRE TO HELP – Organizations who are interested in and willing to help others.
  • GOOD REPUTATION FOR DEVELOPING OTHERS – Experienced people who have a good reputation for helping others develop their skills.
  • TIME AND ENERGY – Mentors must have and commit this to the mentoring relationship. They must be available.
  • UP-TO-DATE KNOWLEDGE – Organizations who have maintained current, up-to-date knowledge and/or skills about OVC care.
  • LEARNING ATTITUDE – Organizations who are still willing and able to learn and who see the potential benefits of a mentoring relationship for themselves.

Characteristics of an Organization That Will Benefit from a Mentor

  • Committed to expanding their capabilities
  • Actively communicates what the organization needs or wants to learn
  • A level of organizational development that includes regular planning and learning processes
  • Open, receptive, and willing to try new ways and ideas
  • Knows when to ask for help
  • Able to accept feedback and act upon it

SETTING EXPECTATIONS IN A MENTORING RELATIONSHIP

For any mentoring relationship to be successful, the organizations should develop a “contract” or mutual agreement that makes expectations clear for both organizations from the beginning of the relationship. Workplan and activities can then be easily formulated and responsibilities assigned.

Expectations to be discussed and agreed upon include:

  • Goals of each organization in the mentoring relationship – how will each organization benefit?
  • Duration/length of relationship – preferably at least several months of focused work together
  • Skills to be transferred, that is, what each organization has to learn from the other based on their learning needs
  • Type of activities to be carried out – meetings, trainings, observation, visits, etc.
  • Responsible persons in each organization and who will participate in the various mentoring activities
  • Frequency of communication and feedback
  • Markers of success (indicators that the mentoring relationship is going on well and that the goals are being attained)
  • Financial responsibilities – which organization will pay for what?
  • Who will be responsible for reporting to the donor and other stakeholders?

PLANNING PROCESS

Organizations should agree on the detailed aspects of how planning will be carried out. Below are some suggested steps that may help the process move forward:

1)     Carry out an initial meeting between both organizations during which you clarify your own expectations for the mentoring relationship.

2)     Develop a contract or agreement that reflects these expectations for both organizations.

3)     Perhaps in a more in-depth visit to the emerging organization, conduct an assessment of their current systems, policies & procedures, structures (e.g., governance, staffing, etc.), and day-to-day operations. This dialogue would help to identify strengths, resources or assets, as well as challenges or areas for improvement.

4)     Formulate an Action Plan that would help to address the identified challenges or gaps. This action plan should include activities, timeline, and responsibilities of each organization. Also discuss and include indicators of success that can help you determine if the mentoring relationship is going on well and if both organizations are reaching their goals.

5)     Based on the Action Plan, formulate a budget.

REPORTING TO DONORS ON MENTORING RELATIONSHIPS

Reporting is an important way to communicate with key stakeholders about the purpose and outcomes of your mentoring relationship. The following key questions should be answered in the report to donors in order to share what both organizations have learned during the relationship. We also encourage you to include any additional information, insights or ideas of interest to you in the report. Length of these reports should not exceed six pages.

MENTORING FINAL REPORT QUESTIONS

USE OF FUNDS

1)     Please provide the following general information about your grant:

  1. What is the full name of your organization and your current contact information (mailing address, street address, telephone, fax, e-mail, website)?
  2. What is your grant award number?
  3. How much money did you receive from the donor for the mentoring relationship and how did you use the funds?
  4. What are the names of those who participated in the exchange visit and what are their roles within the organizations?

DESCRIPTION OF MENTORING ACTIVITIES

2)     Describe the overall purpose and intent of the mentoring relationship. (Consider: What did both organizations want to gain? What activities were planned? What key issues were discussed?)

3)     What types of mentoring activities were carried out and with what frequency?

4)     Who participated in the mentoring activities? What are their roles in the organizations and what skills did they gain?

5)     What was the most successful, positive or rewarding aspect of the mentoring relationship for both organizations?

6)     What new information, approaches, skills, recommendations or ideas did the mentored organization apply to their programs or systems? In other words, from what aspects of the mentor’s programs or systems did they learn the most?

LEARNING AND FOLLOW-UP

7)     What challenges or constraints did you encounter in the mentoring relationship and how did you overcome them?

8)     What advice would you give to others who are planning to engage in a mentoring relationship? How can they make the most of the experience?

9)     Please provide feedback on the donor’s procedures. For example, you can comment on the process of receiving this grant, the communication with staff and/or any other aspects of the partnership.

If at all possible, these questions should be discussed by both organizations. That way, the report can be considered a team effort even if it is the responsibility of only one. Before it is shared, the report should be circulated among all participants for review.

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Real Impact with Saeed Wame

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BrandOutLoud: Own Branding Makes Local NGOs Less Dependent

Aid, Africa, Corruption and Colonialism: An Honest Conversation


7 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Ashok Nawani #
    1

    Well written document. Very informative.

  2. Lily Murei #
    2

    This is very informative especially on the perspective of organization. In many instances mentoring has been taken to apply only at individual level. I see it as another way of building sustainability for local organization

  3. Mehrunissa #
    3

    Thanks Jennifer ….Very informative

  4. Adriaan Ferf #
    4

    Well written and very interesting thoughts. I would be interested to get information on practical experiences with mentoring programs, preferable at scale, e.g. program descriptions,final program or evaluation reports, etc.
    Adriaan

  5. 5

    Thanks for this valuable info

  6. SocioSolidarity #
    6

    Nice article. I’ve always seen this kind of cooperation as a perfect way for big INGOs to be sure that they have made a long-lasting impact on some local community.
    After they leave the country/community strong local organization is the only guaranty that someone will continue the straggle for prosperity and act as agent of change. They, I mean local organizations, have to be strong enough to continue the process of change, maintain it, expand it and/or monitor it.
    So, my suggestion for all big organizations, especially those working oversea, is to empower local organizations. This has to be one of the most important pillars of your strategies, because only what stays after you is what really matters.

  7. 7

    My dearest Jennifer,
    having read your theory on “how to” I can only say well done…the ideas are not all new, but well put together.. ..just one thing strikes me odd…with all our desires to help, our commitment and our skills (and millions of dollars)..
    ..WHY ARE THERE STILL PEOPLE STARVING IN AFRICA..
    ..Is it because WE use 80 to 90% of donated money to administer ourselves and our good will….is it because we too are as corrupt, even if only in thinking, as the so called uncivilised world ….hmmmm…makes me wonder….and don’t we dare blame it on the Africans, because they pay dearly for their (and our) faults…with their lives…



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