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blog • Resource

Finding mentors to help you on your journey

Megan Raybould

04 August 2020

This week I’ve been researching how mentors and allies can support young trustees.

Why is having a mentor useful or important?

Leon Ward, Welsh Ambassador, wrote this Guardian article in 2017 on his ‘Top tips: how to be the best charity trustee’. In it he suggested getting a mentor:

“One of the best steps you can take if you’re new to anything, not just a board, is to find yourself a mentor. At first, you may want to consider someone who is already on the board – a sympathetic ear to just sound check ideas with. If you’ve been a trustee for a while, however, and already know the organisation, it is worthwhile getting a mentor from a different board. That will allow you to compare experiences and seek best practice from elsewhere. Obviously, this doesn’t have to be formal – a coffee before a meeting or a drink afterwards will suffice. This is about networking with your peer group.

If you are already a trustee, then offer to mentor someone else – it’s always nice when a newbie enters the room and is offered support like this.”

What are the benefits of having a mentor?

The Telegraph have written this article about mentors. They give 21 reasons why having a mentor is important. There focus is on professional mentors but lots of the points are relevant to trusteeships too.

  • Helps you grow and develop
  • Costs nothing but time
  • Helps you reach your goals
  • Enables you through who or what they know
  • Promotes your welfare, training or career
  • Makes time for you
  • Listens to you
  • Provides a mixture of advice and helping you to come up with your own answers
  • Someone you can learn from and leap up the learning curve
  • Someone with time to give you time
  • Gives you first-hand practical advice
  • Encourages your natural strengths and talents
  • Shares expertise with you
  • A wise, loyal personal advisor
  • Provides constructive feedback
  • Someone to bounce ideas off confidentially
  • Helps you deal with politics at work (or in the boardroom)
  • Stops/lessens the likelihood of you making mistakes from sharing their experiences
  • Introduce you to new contacts to build your network
  • Helps you grow and develop

Upskilled have written this article about why it’s great to have a professional mentor. Lots is relevant to having a mentor in your trustee role too, like: offering advice and networking opportunities.

What should I expect from a mentor?

This will totally vary depending on how formal your mentor relationship is.

You may find a formal mentor through a scheme set up by your board or by approaching someone. Alternatively,  your relationship with a mentor or a key ally might not  be so formal. It might simply come down to going for a coffee with someone before the board meeting and just chatting about your ideas so you feel more confident to speak out later in the meeting.

Upskill have shared these top tips for maintaining a successful relationship with your mentor, the points are mostly aimed at those with formalised relationships with their mentors, but are useful to consider:

  • Define exactly what you are hoping to get out of the working relationship right from the start.
  • Make sure you agree upon exactly how you will communicate with each other and how often you will meet.
  • Behave in a respectful manner with your mentor. Do your homework, dress professionally and come prepared to all meetings.
  • Remember that your mentor is a busy professional who is giving you the benefit of their time. Be aware of this and never turn up late.
  • You must drive the working relationship by proactively organising meetings and following up with your mentor regularly.
  • You will need to have at least 3-5 meetings to build a rapport and see if you have a good working partnership. If things do not flow smoothly, you can always seek a new mentor, but do not burn your bridges with your previous mentor.
  • When you receive feedback from your mentor, you need to acknowledge this by taking the advice and acting upon it. Make sure your mentor knows that you value and appreciate their guidance.
  • Make sure you keep in touch with your mentor even after your mentorship ends, especially on sites like LinkedIn.

What can I do if I’m nervous about asking for support?

Asking for help when you need it is never the wrong thing to do!

We all need a bit of support with certain things and if, that’s the case for you, speaking up is definitely the right thing to do. If you feel a bit nervous about doing it and what people might think,  remember that you don’t need support because you’re young - nor are your skills or experience less valid - you’re doing a new thing and getting help is normal!

We’ve heard from trustees that when a young trustee on their board has asked for help , it’s helped to transform the board culture. Rather than everyone struggling alone , all board members felt more empowered to speak out, ask questions and get help as a result.

What should you be looking for in a mentor e.g. experience in a similar skill set to you or a skill you are lacking or from a similar background? How can we seek out the right mentor?

Finding a mentor can be difficult and you don’t need to put too much pressure on yourself to find the perfect match. If you’re a current young trustee you could try reaching out to a member of your board. They’re likely to be the warmest contacts and a good place to start.

You could also ask if they know anyone who might be interested in being your mentor.

Beyond your board, or if you’re not yet a trustee, Linkedin can be a useful tool to find a mentor. You could try posting in the Young Trustees Linkedin Group. You could also share that you’re looking for a mentor on the Young Trustees Movement digital hub. And finally, try looking on Charity Connect too!

Try not to worry if you don’t hear back - some people are really busy and not everyone will always get back to you. That’s not a criticism of you and it’ can encourage you to keep looking and reaching out to other possible mentors.

Do different forms of privilege play a role in accessing mentors and how can they be addressed? What can the young trustees movement members do to challenge this if so?

Privilege can play a role in how easy it is to find a mentor (or a trustee role for that matter). But it’s a problem the Young Trustees Movement was, in part, set up to tackle. I’d really encourage movement members to consider being mentors. If you’ve only been a trustee for a short while, you may well still be able to make a big difference to someone completely new to it. And being a mentor doesn’t need to be a big scary thing - it can be as simple as going for a coffee!

Having a mentor is useful for almost all trustees. It may make the most difference to people who don’t currently see people who look like them in the boardroom. However, it can also be harder for these people to find a mentor.

We know that privilege can play a role in who you are connected to and how confident you may feel to ask for support in the boardroom. It may be easier for people with certain types of privilege to build, inherit or tap into networks that are often useful when we are looking for a mentor.

This problem is reflected in boardrooms.  If boards are recruiting people from their own networks, this often means they find people that  ‘look like them’ or come from a similar background.

This doesn’t just impact young people, but multiple and intersecting aspects of people's identity &/or backgrounds.  For example, we know that on trustee boards, People of Colour and Black People, people who haven’t been to university and people with disabilities, are underrepresented. Beyond Suffrage work specifically on recruiting young Women of Colour. You’ll also be able to read more about Beyond Suffrage in next week’s spotlight story.

Having a mentor, being a mentor and/or making mentorship schemes may help diversify the boardroom and create better and more meaningful experiences for trustees. For example, a mentor may be able to share their network or allow the young person to feel confident to build their own.

Mentors may play a particularly important role for people who currently don’t see other people that look like them in the boardroom. They may help someone who feels like an outsider be more comfortable in the boardroom and more confident to speak up. Therefore,  mentors might be the difference between someone finding a trustee role and feeling prepared to apply.

It might be harder to find a mentor if you currently don’t have a large network. That’s where other Young Trustee Movement members can step in - if you are on a board already and would be happy to be a mentor to someone, why not comment below? Anyone looking for a mentor could then message you. If you’re well connected and know people that might like to be mentors - why not invite them to the hub and tag them below too.

To reiterate, being a mentor doesn’t need to be a big or scary thing, it can simply be offering to chat or be a sounding board for a new or aspiring trustee to make their experience a little easier.

If you’ve got your foot in the door with regards to trusteeship - can you hold it open and welcome other young trustees, or trustees from other underrepresented groups? If you experience some form of privilege and that’s partly enabled you to find a seat in the boardroom - can you use your position and privilege to create another seat for someone that might not have experienced the same privilege as you?

Precious talks more about this question in the weekly Q&A - which you can watch here!

Tips for anyone who wants to be or become a mentor?

Being a mentor can be a good way to give something back. If you’ve been on the board for a while, perhaps you could reach out to new board members and offer to have a phone chat or go for a coffee.

Being the friendly or familiar face in a boardroom can be really helpful and reassuring to new trustees.

You could also think about being a mentor/ally on the digital hub, simply by commenting on other people’s posts when they have questions. Or you could consider hosting a group meetup to support other young people. If that’s something you would be interested in you can let me know!

Could and should boards set up a mentorship scheme? If someone wanted to approach their board to encourage them to set up a mentorship scheme, how could they do that?

If you are currently a trustee, or play a role on a board, you could think about staring up a mentorship scheme.

This could be as simple as outgoing and incoming trustees having a handover period. During the handover the outgoing trustee could be the ‘named’ person for new trustees’ questions, or someone who  meets them before the first couple of trustee meetings to go through the board papers together.

If you don’t have any outgoing trustees, would a member of the board be happy to take on that responsibility?

Alternatively, could you reach out to another charity board and suggest a partnership scheme for all your trustees!

I hope that you’ve found this helpful. Don’t forget, I researched and interpreted everything included here.

This movement is made up of people with lots of different expertise. If you know more about any of the questions asked, please do add it to the comments section. We’d love to have your input and we'll update this post to make it the best possible resource.

You can re-watch the live Q&A about this topic with Precious Sithole here. She offers more in depth answers and a different perspective on the questions asked.

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