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How to Build a Nonprofit Leadership Mentoring Program

As a nonprofit leader, you can cultivate many skills in your volunteers through proper mentorship. When your organization adopts an internal focus on leadership and volunteer mentorship, it may lead to a change in your volunteers’ world views, the growth of new relationships, and the mastery of new skills.

Developing your volunteers through a mentoring and leadership program can also be central to
capacity building and nonprofit growth. In fact, a nonprofit leadership mentoring program is one of the best ways for a nonprofit to train and retain skilled volunteers. In this article, we explain more about volunteer mentorship and leadership, as well as provide tips for how to develop your own internal program.

Article Contents:

What Is a Leadership Mentoring Program?

A nonprofit leadership mentoring program is designed to instill your volunteers with core leadership principles. Volunteer leaders can introduce mentorship as a way in which to train new volunteers. Through these mentorship programs, community members attain the necessary skills to become community leaders.

Volunteer leadership mentoring programs support nonprofit sustainability and volunteer retention. These kinds of programs allow volunteers to fill leadership roles and transfer their knowledge to new volunteers.

A mentor can be nonprofit personnel, a senior volunteer, a board member, or even a local community partner. Your mentees are volunteers who wish to develop new skills, change their career path, or become leaders themselves.

Through a leadership mentoring program, you can encourage growth and development within your organization.

Why Should Nonprofits Invest in Leadership Development Programs?

Nonprofits should consider implementing a leadership development program because it has the potential to generate both internal and external success. When a nonprofit focuses on developing the volunteer talent they already have, they can forge a culture of leadership that encompasses the whole organization.

Organizations with strong leadership are 5 times more likely to be innovative. Furthermore, these organizations are 7 times more likely to have leaders who inspire others to follow them. Leadership and mentorship is clearly a powerful boost to fundraising, recruitment, and retention efforts.

By providing leadership and mentorship to volunteers, you can:

  • Guide volunteers in gaining new skills
  • Increase volunteer efficiency and effectiveness
  • Develop or enhance the volunteers’ sense of community
  • Transfer knowledge and decrease the need for additional training
  • Reduce staff and volunteer turnover
  • Support retention
  • Retain skills and specialized knowledge
  • Strengthen community relationships and program loyalty 
  • Build your donor base

How to Build a Nonprofit Leadership Mentoring Program

When building your nonprofit volunteer leadership mentoring program, Volunteer Toronto suggests that you first consider the following questions:

  • Who and how is the program managed? Who will identify and work with mentors and mentees? Will someone oversee the relationship? Will there be check-in meetings? How often?
  • How are relationships built? Are volunteer leaders paired with a specific mentee? Or are leaders extending this opportunity to all regular volunteers? When and where will the teams meet? How often?
  • Is there a time limit? If you decide to pair volunteer leaders with mentees, how long will the relationship last? A quarter? Six months? A year?
  • What is the next step for mentees? Once the mentees “graduate” and possess leadership skills, do they automatically mentor the next volunteer? What’s the best way for them to pass on the knowledge they’ve gained?

After answering these guiding questions, you can begin focusing on the 4 steps needed to build your volunteer leadership and mentoring program:

1. Assess Your Nonprofit’s Leadership Needs

It may seem like a no-brainer, but one of the first things you should do is visualize the kind of leaders you want to cultivate in your organization. Do you want to grow empathetic volunteer leaders? Ones who take a more democratic approach? Your nonprofit leadership mentoring program should be structured to produce the outcomes you want to achieve.

Then, begin by taking stock of your organization’s mission, long-term development goals, and capacity. Jot down how you might be able to meet these goals, as well as how leadership and mentorship fits into the picture. Finally, make sure to note how you intend to develop these leaders, as well as the resources you currently have to do so.

And finally, find your why. Dig into
why you’re creating this program. Perhaps you want to facilitate the transfer of knowledge throughout your organization. Maybe you want to revamp your organization’s volunteer culture. This will help be the guiding principle as you build out your program.

 

2. Survey In-House Talent

Once you’ve documented the kinds of leaders you want to cultivate, you may begin considering your current volunteer pool and whether or not they already possess some of the skills necessary to become volunteer leaders.

Depending on your organization's size, you can meet in person or send a
volunteer survey that assesses their current performance, their skills, their leadership potential, and their desire to participate in the program. Consider the respondents’ availability, engagement, and commitment to your organization.

3. Draft a Leadership Mentoring Program Outline

As previously mentioned, your leadership mentoring program should be structured to not only fit the culture of your nonprofit, but also the needs of your community and organization as a whole.

According to ​​MissionBox, your program outline should include:        

  • A clear action plan. The plan should include the roles, responsibilities, and time commitments necessary to achieve your organization’s goals. For instance, do you already have engaged community members who can provide volunteer mentorship? Will you need to build these connections? What nonprofit staff members are able to participate in the leadership mentoring program?
  • Defined milestones. It’s important you outline the important dates and milestones right from the beginning. First, choose a program kickoff date. Will the program begin after a volunteer has been with the organization for a specific amount of time? Or are you implementing a quarterly mentoring program? Then, create a program timeline that includes key training dates and the topics you’d like to focus on throughout the mentoring relationship (these might be individualized or aimed towards your group as a whole). You should also decide on any required meeting dates and share those from the get-go.
  • Expectations for senior leaders. How involved will senior leadership be in the program? How will you identify those who will work directly with mentees? Those who decide to participate in the leadership and mentoring program might want to outline goal-setting sessions, performance evaluations, check-ins, and other activities that will reinforce the lessons being learned by your volunteers.


While you build your plan, you should also consider the type of mentoring program you want to initiate in your organization. These are the most common mentorship program structures:

  • 1:1 Mentor to Mentee. By far the most common program type, the 1:1 approach pairs a volunteer with a seasoned leader–perhaps a veteran volunteer, a board member, or a member of executive leadership. In this type of program, people are typically matched based on their similarities and skill sets. They typically meet in one-on-one settings for formal feedback and guidance.
  • Peer to Peer. In this approach to mentoring, a new volunteer is paired with a seasoned volunteer at the nonprofit. The benefit of this type of relationship is that it elements some of the power dynamic inherent in the traditional mentor to mentee model.
  • Group Mentorship. In this model, two or more volunteers are paired with a single, more experienced member of the organization (this could be a staff member or a long-standing volunteer). This paradigm can also work in the context of a group meet-up, in which new volunteers receive co-training and collective feedback.

4.  Decide How You Will Measure Success  

Before launching your program, make sure to draft a variety of success measurements or ROI indicators. These will be used to compare results before and after the program launches.

One measure you might look at is
volunteer retention before and after the program launches. You might also look at volunteer satisfaction surveys, increases in volunteer donations, and event engagement.

Aside from quantitative data, you should look at the qualitative findings. Ask your volunteer participants how they like the leadership and mentoring program you have in place. Do they feel like the program is valuable? Are they learning the skills that they intended to? How can your nonprofit improve the program for future volunteers?


Take this baseline measurement before the program launches. After about 3-6 months, measure or survey program participants again to see if the needle has moved. If the outcome is negative, take time to consider the possible reasons for this outcome and course correct.

Additional Resources

Capacity Building: Your Nonprofit and Volunteer Management Toolkit
Word-of-Mouth Recruitment: How to Leverage Volunteers to Promote Your Program
Using the Enneagram to More Effectively Lead Your Volunteers
Volunteer Retention: 9 Ways to Keep Your Volunteers

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