Young, empathetic, and interested: A profile for volunteer mentors

volunteersRandle, M., Miller, L., Ciarrochi, J. and Dolnicar, S. (2014). A psychological profile of potential youth mentor volunteers. Journal of Community Psychology, 42, 338–351.

Summarized by Melanie Feldman


There is ample support, anecdotal and evidence-based, for mentorship programs and the benefits they confer upon program mentees. However, little is known about the type of person who is most likely to get involved in a mentorship program and how to attract those people to volunteer for the program. This study focused specifically on the Aunties and Uncles youth mentoring program in Australia; this program is similar in nature to the American Big Brothers Big Sisters program, although is more intensive, involving the mentee staying at the Auntie or Uncle’s home one weekend per month. There is an increasing population of children who are eligible for the program yet not enough volunteers to match the children with an Auntie or Uncle.

Randle and colleagues approached this issue from a market orientation perspective, meaning they were concerned with how the Aunties and Uncles program could attract more volunteers to their program similarly to how a business attempts to acquire new customers. Due to the involved nature of the Aunties and Uncles program, it is not easy to compare interest in the mentorship program as opposed to other types of volunteer programs (e.g. Big Brother Big Sister) or even other more involved roles such as becoming foster parents. Therefore the goals of the current study were to increase understanding of:

  1. Public awareness of the Aunties and Uncles program.
  2. Extent of program appeal.
  3. The personal profile of potential volunteers
  4. How best to reach out to potential volunteers.


Participants were composed of a representative sample of 1,094 Australians who completed an online survey split into two main components. The first component assessed public awareness and appeal of the Aunties and Uncles Program. The second component was implemented to create a profile of likely volunteers including environmental/personal factors (e.g. social support, life satisfaction, religiosity, hope, empathy, problem solving, etc.) and socio-demographic factors (e.g. sex, age, education, wealth, relationship status, former volunteer efforts, etc.). In addition, the second component gathered information on respondents’ media usage to determine which mode of media (newspaper, radio, television, or internet) is most likely to reach their potential volunteers.


Awareness: Only 14% of respondents’ knew of the Aunties and Uncles program and of those aware of the program, just half knew what the program was about.

Appeal: Despite low awareness, after learning about the program through the survey, 47% of respondents’ indicated that they would consider becoming an Auntie or Uncle in the future.

Volunteer Profile: Based on whether respondents’ indicated “yes” or “no” to the question asking if they would consider volunteering for the Aunties and Uncles mentorship program, a profile of potential volunteers emerged.

  • Sociodemographic factors: The “yes” group of potential volunteers tended to be younger, female, homeowners who were wealthier on average, as compared to the “no” group. The potential mentors were also less likely to have retired and had fewer children.
  • Knowledge: The potential volunteers also demonstrated greater experience with disabled people and a greater proportion of them knew people who were currently or had served as foster parents.
  • Volunteering: The “yes” group consisted of people more likely to have volunteered in the last 12 months and were more interested in learning about foster care and potentially becoming a foster parent in the future.
  • Environmental/personal resources: Potential volunteers had greater social support, life satisfaction and perceived wealth. Relationship quality did not differ between the “yes” and “no” groups.
  • Personal Characteristics: Potential volunteers exhibited greater self-directedness, demonstrating more hopefulness for achieving their goals as well as better problem solving abilities. In addition, they showed more social cooperativeness demonstrating high levels of empathy to understand others emotions and deal with emotional issues. The importance and proportion of religious people did not differ between the “yes” and “no” groups.
  • Overall, the most important factors in predicting who will become a future mentor included age, empathy, and interest in foster caring.

Media Outreach: There was a trend that the “yes” group was more likely to prefer local newspapers as opposed to the “no” group who was less likely to read newspapers. The “yes” and “no” groups did not differ in their use of other forms of media use including radio format or magazine usage.


While this study was designed to specifically determine potential volunteers for the Aunties and Uncles youth mentorship program, the findings can apply to other potential mentorship programs. The high interest in the program by survey respondents’ indicates that people view mentorship programs positively and demonstrate an interested in getting involved. In addition, there does seem to be a specific profile of potential volunteers which would allow for mentorship programs to send out more targeted messages to potential volunteers. For example, programs could attempt to recruit younger, empathetic women who have the altruistic tendency to get involved in a mentorship program at other volunteering events in the local area.

This study also guides the content of the message that can be used to recruit volunteers by their personal characteristics. The potential volunteers indicated greater empathy, hope and problem-solving skills. This means messages targeting their ability to make a lasting impact by improving the life of a disadvantaged child could be highly appealing. As there was no specific media channel indicated as highly effective in this study, mentorship programs should choose a mode that best fits their goals for the recruitment of volunteers. This study highlights the broad appeal for mentorship programs and the fact that there are multiple pathways to get ones message out into the world in order to attract an increasing number of volunteer mentors.