Sustaining the volunteer base for mentoring programs

By Meanie Ervin, Director of Communication, Adopt A Class
A repost from National Mentoring Resource Center

Hi Friends, It’s Melanie Ervin, Director of Communication of Adopt A Class. I am here to share our work and 3 lessons we’ve learned that has sustained our program year over year.

But first, What is Adopt A Class?

Adopt A Class (AAC) is group mentoring program in Greater Cincinnati that connects businesses and civic groups to students in high poverty schools. Serving students Pre-K through 8th grade for more than 15 years, the AAC program positively impacts the students AND businesses involved. Today, Adopt A Class serves over 6000 students with the help of over 2500 mentors, representing 150 organizations.

For the student, this program provides access to a variety of role models, the opportunity to learn life skills and exposure to a diverse set of careers paths – something AAC believes helps young people realize their full potential!

For the business, this program enhances workplace culture by providing an excellent employee engagement opportunity. AAC offers an EASY and FUN way for employees to give back to the community together as a team.

The AAC model is simple and unique.

A team of volunteers from the same business agrees to “adopt” a classroom during the school year, where they mentor for an hour once a month. By matching a team with the same classroom teacher every year, the program allows for two things to happen:

  1. Students are exposed to new careers and mentors from different backgrounds each year and,
  2. Businesses expand their reach and impact more young people over time. AAC mentors, called “adopters”, visit their class once a month, take their mentees on an annual field trip, routinely exchange pen pal letters and most importantly, exposes them to a breadth of experiences and a wide variety of careers.

While AAC provides several programming options, many businesses like to add their own spin. For example, US Bank teaches financial literacy. Kroger shows careers in retail. Cintas Corporation talks about the importance of fire safety (see short clip from a recent mentor visit). Just imagine the many experiences, careers and diverse role models a student is exposed to by the time they reach high school!

3 Lessons for Sustaining a Volunteer Base

Volunteers are central to mentoring. They deliver on your program’s mission. Though in this industry, it can be hard to retain volunteers over time. Here are our three lessons for sustaining a volunteer base:

  1. Meet your volunteers where they are.Every volunteer has the intention and desire to give back. Though in the day of “busy-ness”, some may not have the time or capacity to really dedicate to this work. Recognizing this, it is important to find creative ways for volunteers to contribute. The AAC model has evolved over time and found a great middle ground for our mentors – one hour a month. As seen in this short video, the impact that can be made in one hour a month is tremendous. Simultaneously, the time commitment we are asking of our mentors each month is low, yet significant.
  2. Make it an enjoyable experience for them too!Think about it – how often have you volunteered for a cause, had a “not-so-good” or “just ok” experience and said to yourself, “I am going to do this again?” Not very often, right? It’s those fun and enjoyable experiences that really determine if you are going to come back and volunteer again. So what makes an enjoyable experience? In our opinion, one that is accessible, easy, feels natural AND obviously shows that a difference is being made.We recognize that mentoring youth can be a frightening task for many. So in our model, we decided to change how we approach mentoring. Instead of having a specific curriculum for each of our mentors to deliver, we have three focus areas for mentoring in our program. We ask our mentors to focus on building life skills, teaching STE(A)M and/or college & career preparedness. This kind of flexibility gives our mentors the opportunity to bring their own expertise and interests into their mentoring. We find our mentors really like that they can be themselves and add their own spin to the lessons they bring into the classroom.
  3. Create alignment with partnering organizations.When considering sustaining partnerships, it is important to think about what other benefits your program provides for those involved. So far, the AAC model has shown great promise for strengthening employee engagement based on data we have collected about our adopters. When surveyed, over 91% of adopters said they built stronger relationships with their colleagues, 80% felt a stronger connection to their organization and, 70% gained skills they can use in the workplace after participating in the AAC program. Many businesses not only give back through AAC, they also use the program as a tool to meet some of their employee engagement goals. And, it has been encouraging to see that most of the businesses participating in AAC were recently ranked as some of the best places to work in Cincinnati. By collecting and sharing these outcomes with potential partners, we have been able to sustain existing partnership with corporations and build new ones, by showing how participating in our program aligns with their interests and goals.

Above all, adopters tell us that the tangible impact they make is most rewarding and the reason why so many of them come back each year.


For original article, click here.