What fuels mentor commitment?


Gettings, P.E., & Wilson, S.R.. (2014). Examining commitment and relational maintenance in formal youth mentoring relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 1-27.


This study utilizes a social exchange perspective in order to investigate mentors’ commitment and their specific relational maintenance behaviors in the context of formal youth mentoring relationships. Specifically, the study pulls from the “Investment Model” variables of satisfaction with the relationship, alternatives to the relationship, investments in the relationship, and commitment to the relationship. The study examined how these factors impacted mentors overall commitment to the mentoring relationship and the specific behaviors that mentors enacted to convey commitment to their mentees.


Participants included 145 mentors (101 female) from four formal mentoring programs. Average age was 30 years old, with the majority of mentors identifying as white (92.4%), with varying levels of education. Mentors reported on their relationships with youth mentees (M = 11.26 years old), with mentoring relationships lasting an average of 1.5 years.

First mentors were asked, “Why did you decide to become a mentor?” and “how long have you known your mentee?” Next, mentors completed questionnaires assessing their satisfaction with their mentoring relationship, (e.g., “Mentoring <name> fulfills my need for feeling good about helping others”), alternatives to mentoring, meaning how might the mentor spend their time if they were no longer in a mentoring relationship, and lastly, investment in the relationship, including items such as “I have put a lot into our relationship that I would lose if the relationship were to end.”

The study also examined mentors reported use of relational maintenance strategies, which include five sets of behaviors:

  • Assurances Current: the kinds of things a mentor can say or do to let the mentee know how s/he currently feels about the mentoring relationship (i.e.,
  • Positivity and conflict management: ways that mentors can cultivate an upbeat, healthy relationship with a mentee
  • Social Networks: how mentoring pairs share common affiliations
  • Advice: how mentors can assist mentees in making decisions or resolving problems
  • Assurances Future: how the mentor views the future of the mentoring relationship

Approximately 7 months after the initial survey, 44 mentors participated in a follow-up survey, which asked if they were still in contact with their mentee, 54.5% responded that they were still in contact with their mentee.


  • Mentors’ commitment was greater the more satisfying the relationship, the fewer desirable alternatives, and the more investments the mentor made into the relationship
  • Investments showed to be a stronger predictor of mentors’ commitment than satisfaction and alternatives
  • Commitment significantly predicted 3 of the 5 relational maintenance strategies (assurances current, positivity/conflict management, and assurances future)
  • Commitment acted as a mediator, or a way to explain the relationship between many of the Investment model variables (satisfaction, alternatives, and investments) and the specific relational maintenance behaviors of the mentors (conflict management/positivity, assurances current and future)


Overall, this study demonstrates the Investment Model’s ability to predict commitment in the youth mentoring context. Specifically, for mentors investment was the strongest predictor of mentor commitment. This differed from other relationships, such as romantic relationships in which satisfaction is the most important predictor of commitment. It makes sense that mentors typically enter a mentoring relationship because they want to positively help a youth, so they may not anticipate “getting” as much out of the relationship in terms of satisfaction as other relationships in their life.

The findings of this study, also suggest that formal mentoring commitment may be more in line with a mentor’s commitment to activities than a commitment to interpersonal relationships. Accordingly, adult mentors usually make a commitment to a mentoring program to volunteer before meeting a mentee; in this way, engagement in mentoring may be more closely associated with a mentor’s commitment to an organization or hobby than a specific individual, at least in the early stages of relationship development with the mentee. This makes it important to tap into an individual’s sense of engagement with programs and activities in order to promote their commitment to the mentee.

This finding is likely in opposition of studies of Youth-initiated mentoring (YIM), in which youth are responsible for nominating adults in their existing social networks to be their mentors. This approach of mentor-mentee matching would suggest that mentors’ commitment and engagement is based on their commitment to interpersonal relationships right at the onset of the relationship.

Additionally, this study suggested that mentors who perceive they are in committed relationships tend to communicate this feeling to their mentees by enacting specific behaviors (i.e., providing the mentee with assurance of the relationship for the present and future, and showing positivity and managing conflicts). Also, this study makes important links between “pro-relationship orientation” of the Investment Model and the relational maintenance strategies. Specifically, the results help us to gain insight into how mentors undergo a transformation from self-centered motivation to more interdependent behavioral preferences (those that incorporate the mentee and the mentoring relationship), as shown through the specific behaviors reported by the mentors.

An important implication for practice, is that making sure that mentors feel invested in their relationships is important to fostering commitment – this could be a key aspect to emphasis during mentor training.