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  1. Youth Topics
  2. Mentoring
  3. Successful Mentoring Relationships and Programs

Successful Mentoring Relationships and Programs

Research focused on mentoring and mentoring programs is still relatively new (DuBois, Doolittle, Yates, Silverthorn, & Tebes, 2006) and findings seem to suggest that many factors influence the success of the mentoring program and the mentor-mentee relationship. Cavell et al. (2009) state that "Good intentions and a ready corps of volunteers are not enough to deliver an effective youth mentoring program - a solid infrastructure is essential" (p. 3). Creating successful mentoring programs is challenging because it depends on both the success of the mentor-mentee relationship and the success of the structure and organization of the mentoring program as a whole. While there continues to be a great deal of unknowns about the essential elements that are considered "best practices" for mentoring programs, preliminary research suggests that there are substantial differences in the success of mentoring programs based on the length of the relationship, the needs of the mentee, the frequency of the interaction, the quality of the relationship between mentor and mentee, and the organization and structure of the program.

Successful mentoring programs:

  • target youth that will benefit most from mentoring, namely those most at risk;
  • have clearly defined and articulated goals and expectations;
  • include a level of flexibility that accommodates the diverse personalities and needs of mentors and mentees;
  • have mentors with previous relevant experience in helping others and who are committed to at least 12 months of participation;
  • incorporate activities that facilitate relationship building;
  • support and involve parents and families;
  • coordinate with other services and supports as needed;
  • provide some structure to allow for careful matching between mentors with mentees;
  • provide training for mentors both before and after they are matched with youth;
  • have rigorous and reliable screening practices for mentors in order to protect children;
  • provide consistent oversight, training, and support including early problem detection to ensure that needs of mentees are being met and concerns are being addressed effectively; and
  • continuously evaluate and monitor program implementation and youth and mentor outcomes, and are flexible enough to change as necessary (Cavell, DuBois, Karcher, Keller, & Rhodes, 2009; Jekielek, Moore, & Hair, 2002).

Specifically, MENTOR (2009) provides the following guidelines that they have found to be essential elements of strong mentoring programs:

Recruit appropriate mentors and mentees and ensure clear expectations for the program. Because mentoring relationships can vary with the type of program, it is important that both mentors and mentees have a clear understanding of the program’s expectations. For mentors it is important that they have a realistic expectation of the benefits and challenges associated with mentoring. It is also important that the needs of the youth recruited for the program match the services that the program can provide. Eliminating mismatches between mentor and mentee expectations can help diminish the chance that the mentoring relationship ends prematurely, and ensure that it is a positive experience for both the mentor and the mentee.

Conduct reasonably intensive screening of potential mentors. MENTOR suggests that the screening process include an application, time commitment of at least one year and one face-to-face meeting per week, a face-to-face interview, a reference check, and a criminal background check. MENTOR also suggests that mentees should be screened. This includes parents or guardians filling out an application, providing consent, and committing to participate in the program for at least a year through the schedule designed by the program.

Provide at minimum two hours of training prior to the match. At a minimum, trainings should include the following topics:

  • Program rules
  • Mentors’ goals and expectations for the mentor/mentee relationship
  • Mentors’ obligations and appropriate roles
  • Relationship development and maintenance
  • Ethical issues that may arise related to the mentoring relationship
  • Effective closure of the mentoring relationship
  • Sources of assistance available to support mentors

Research on mentors participating in BBBS showed that mentors receiving less training prior to being matched with their mentee, specifically less than two hours, had less positive mentoring relationships. These mentors reported that they did not feel as close with their mentees, spent less time with them, and were less likely to continue the relationship the following year compared to mentors who had received two or more hours of training prior to beginning the mentorship. (Herrera, Sipe, & McClanahan, 2000).

Make matches based to encourage sustained relationships. MENTOR suggests that characteristics of the mentor-mentee should be considered during the matching process. Learn more about adults who mentor and the key attributes associated with successful mentoring. 

Offer continuous support and training to mentors that extends post-match. While initial training can be helpful for mentors, continuous ongoing support is also essential. MENTOR suggests that programs contact mentors and mentees at least twice a month during the initial month of the relationship and at least monthly after that. Programs should also provide mentors with resources such as experts, publications, connections with experienced mentors, and social service referrals to help address challenges that they may face during the mentoring relationship, and at least one or more opportunities for training following the initial training. MENTOR also suggests using evidence-based evaluations and assessments to assess the relationship.

Though practice and research suggest some best practices for mentoring programs, it is important to recognize that the needs children and youth face are unique to their circumstances. Programs designed for them are most effective when the needs of the mentees are taken into account and factor into the structure of the program and the pairing of mentors and mentees.


Cavell, T., DuBois, D., Karcher, M., Keller, T., & Rhodes, J. (2009). Strengthening mentoring opportunities for at-risk youth. Retrieved from http://www.mentoring.org/downloads/mentoring_1233.pdf (PDF, 4 pages)

Deutsch, N. L., & Spencer, R. (2009). Capturing the magic: Assessing the quality of youth mentoring relationships. New Directions for Youth Development, 121, 47-70.

DuBois, D. L., Doolittle, F., Yates, B. T., Silverthorn, N., Tebes, J. K. (2006). Research methodology and youth mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 34(6), 657-676.

Herrera, C., Sipe, C. L., & McClanahan, W. S. (2000). Mentoring school-age children: Relationship development in community-based and school-based programs. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.

Jekielek, S., Moore, K. A., &Hair, E. C. (2002). Mentoring programs and youth development: A synthesis. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved from http://www.mentorwalk.org/documents/mentoring-synthesis.pdf (PDF, 68 pages)

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