by Ioana Good, Jill Huse and Nikki Girard Sherrill | November 01, 2015

As association executives, you may have weighed the pros and cons of starting or reviving a mentoring program. As anyone with experience in the process can tell you, there are plenty of challenges but the service usually proves to be an invaluable one. What steps can you take to establish an effective program for your association and make it a success? The list isn’t long but it does require some time and effort.

1. Do your research. When the nonprofit Legal Marketing Association Southeastern Chapter decided to add a mentoring program, its board of directors first studied how other trade associations successfully integrated similar programs into their offerings. Next, the association sought feedback from members. The board wanted to gauge the interest of instituting a mentoring program and, after speaking to some members already, was encouraged by the enthusiasm but wanted to have statistics to reinforce its assumptions. So the group decided to survey its membership to better understand what association benefits were being used and also which new benefits could offer value, such as mentor efforts. After completing an analysis of the survey, the board unanimously voted to move forward and create a pilot program.

2. Establish achievable goals. The group’s director of development was tasked with organizing and implementing the mentoring program. Numerous challenges were addressed prior to its rollout, including how it would bridge a membership base that was geographically dispersed throughout nine states and how the program would capably engage a membership with a broad range of experience, from chief marketing officers to business development assistants.

3. Keep it simple. The association’s Mentor Match program was promoted through the chapter newsletter. One of the program’s hallmarks is its simplicity: Mentors and mentees were paired based on a brief survey of their interests and what they hoped to gain. Board members worked with the director of development to align complementary personality types and experience levels.

Two years after the rollout, the feedback has been positive. “The Mentor Match program has offered the ability to make new connections in the industry and grow professionally in a one-on-one setting,” said Caroline Yarborough, of McGuireWoods LLP and an active member of the group. “The ability to partner with a mentor who has sought and built a professional career similar to the one you are seeking and can discuss real-life examples is a significant benefit to Southeastern Chapter members. As new memberships and 2015 renewals are being considered, I have time and again noted the mentoring program as one of the leading membership benefits.”

4. Set guidelines. In the Mentor Match program, each pair is required to connect every two months. At the onset, each pair was provided resources that would help guide their mentoring relationship; these resources included information on best practices, articles and helpful questions designed to promote the start and continuation of suitable mentor-mentee conversations.

The assigned matches are expected to last one year, after which mentors and mentees have the option of engaging in a new match or staying the course with their current match. The Legal Marketing Association Southeastern Chapter encourages additional mentoring relationships in the hope that initial matches will continue to keep in touch while new relationships will be cultivated, broadening horizons.

5. Spread the word. With a successfully established initiative under its belt, the association has been identified as one that offers a valuable service to its members, and word of its program has spread. In addition, followers continue to watch the association as its leaders begin to introduce a similar effort at the international level.

The benefits of a mentoring program are multifold. Not only does it connect young professionals with those experienced in their field but it can prove to be the mark of a first-class association, one that always keeps the advancement and learning of its members front of mind. Before long, your members—and other groups within your industry—will be relying on your association to lead the way in other matters as well.