BlogMembership Virtual Mentoring: What is it, and how to build an effective online mentorship program Membership Virtual Mentoring: What is it, and how to build an effective online mentorship program Author: WildApricot April 14, 2022 Contents 🕑 6 min read Over the last few years, we lost the organic mentorship conversations that once took place at conferences, coffee shops, and other events. That can be a tough pill to swallow. Mentoring opportunities are a great way for association members to grow and connect! Losing mentorship was a threat to member satisfaction—and, as a result renewal rates and membership growth. But all was not lost: we gained virtual mentoring. By offering a virtual mentorship program, your organization can develop your members while offering record flexibility! If you’ve considered creating a virtual mentorship program as part of your membership engagement strategy but aren’t sure how to start, this article will walk you through the basics. We’ll go over: The benefits of virtual mentorship Best practices and tools to consider Virtual mentorship ideas What is virtual mentoring? A virtual mentorship program connects experienced members of your organization with members who are newer to your industry—entirely online! This win-win relationship benefits both parties. Mentees can learn from their mentors’ experience, and mentors can develop leadership skills as they support their mentees’ personal or professional goals. By going virtual, your members can engage with whoever from wherever. That means they have more mentor options and greater flexibility—but we’ll get into that below. What are the benefits of virtual mentoring? A strong virtual mentorship brings all the great things about a regular mentorship and all the flexibility of being online together into a nice little package. Get mentored anywhere. Whether you’re in transit, on vacation, or grabbing coffee, all you need is a device and a wifi network. Get mentored by anyone. With no location limits, mentees can access qualified mentors worldwide. More mentors, more perspectives. More mentors means mentees have more tools to support their personal and professional development. No commute. The only commuting required is from one software to another, so say hello to time to prepare for mentorship sessions, answer emails, or grab some fresh air. Inclusivity. Virtual mentorships makes it easier for parents, on-the-go members and disabled members to access mentorship—it fits into their schedules and provides greater access. Room for trial & error. Timing, frequency, and even activities can easily be changed as soon as you get feedback from your members. Run multiple mentorship programs. Without location-specific limitations or juggling the logistics of in-person events, you can easily create and manage multiple mentorship programs at once. Is virtual mentoring effective? Since virtual mentoring often takes place one-on-one or in smaller groups, it doesn’t suffer from the same challenge of keeping virtual attendees engaged as larger events do. That being said, virtual mentoring is most effective when supported by a strong program with the capacity for open, honest communication. Virtual mentorships have their own challenges, and the needs of those involved will be different. The benefits listed above speak for themselves, but they can’t guarantee success without adequate preparation. Let’s review some virtual mentoring best practices to help members get the most out of your virtual mentoring program. 10 Best Practices for Starting Virtual Mentoring Programs Your virtual mentoring program can start strong by implementing general best practices for mentoring, alongside best practices for online engagement. Create your mentorship program Beyond establishing goals, there are several steps to follow to start your mentorship program. You’ll also need to provide a structure, create guidelines, pair and prepare mentors and mentees, and continue to support the program’s growth. Advertise the opportunity to mentors and mentees Give your participants guidelines & resources Provide safety tools Develop your mentors Train your members on tech tools IT support Create a goals and expectations framework Run regular check ins Collect and implement feedback 10 Tools for Virtual Mentorship The only technical requirement for virtual mentorship is a way to connect! When you think about how, video conferencing is probably the most obvious. BUT! There are a ton of other platforms that could be useful, from asynchronous chat to task management. Check it out: 1. Jitsi Jitsi is a free, secure, and open-source platform for voice and video calls and instant messaging. Price: Free. 2. Google Meet Google Meet is a browser-based video conferencing platform that integrates seamlessly with Gmail and Google Calendar, and is a great option for those using GSuite. It also includes accessibility features like live captions, a built-in screen reader, and keyboard shortcuts for camera and microphone control. Price: Free for up to 100 users and calls of up to an hour. Premium accounts start at $7.99 per month. 3. Zoom Zoom is one of the most widely-used video conferencing services. It can also integrate with Google Calendar, and even social media like Zoom Live on Facebook. Price: Free for up to 100 users, group calls of up to 40 minutes, and 1:1 calls of up to 30 hours. Premium accounts start at $14.99 per month. 4. Trello Trello is a collaborative task-tracking tool that allows you to organize tasks in boards, lists, and cards. It’s a great way to stay on top of action items that come out of mentor sessions. It also integrates with common tools like Slack, Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote. Price: Free for any number of users. For more advanced and automated services, plans start at $5 per month. 5. Slack Slack is a communication software that is primarily used as a messaging service. It allows you to create channels for different topics and audiences. It also supports “Slack Huddles” which enable phone or video calls through their desktop or mobile app. Price: Starts at $6.67 per month. 6. GoToMeeting GoToMeeting is a web-hosted voice and video call software with enterprise-grade security. Price: $12 per month for up to 150 users. 7. Guider Guider is a mentorship software application that manages multiple mentoring programs. It provides reporting to monitor and track mentoring relationships and integrates with MS Teams, Outlook, and Google. Price: Contact for pricing. 8. Mentornity Mentornity is a mentoring program management software that matches mentors and mentees, tracks activities, and automatically generates ZOOM and JITSI meeting links for each scheduled session. Price: $249 per month for up to 50 users. 9. MentorcliQ MentorcliQ is a mentoring software that helps organizations create their mentoring programs, match mentors and mentees, and tracks the success of each engagement. Price: Contact for pricing. 10. PUSHfar PUSHfar is a comprehensive management solution for mentoring programs that are run by organizations. It supports mentor matching, management, reporting, and career progression. Price: Contact for pricing. 7 Virtual Mentoring Activities 1. Video Chat Probably the first thing you think of when you hear “virtual mentoring”. Video chats are one of the most common ways to connect, and the next-best thing to talking face-to-face. It requires the use of a video conferencing platform. 2. Voice Call A good option for when the “Zoom fatigue” sets in. This can be done on a phone or through any video conferencing platform (with the video turned off). 3. Group Mentorship Group mentorship works best for smaller groups. They can either take place through a video conferencing platform or over the phone, though video tends to be better for this. 4. Coffee Chats Mentors and mentees can send each other their favorite tea or coffee, or just talk over a hot cup of whatever they have on hand. This lends itself well to more casual connection since it doesn’t have the formality of a conference call. 5. Lunch & Learn There’s nothing better than talking things out over a nice meal. Mentors and mentees can simply book a time slot over lunch, or even consider ordering lunch for themselves or for one another. A nice thing to do on occasion, and, like coffee chats, feels more informal. 6. Book Club Mentors can select a leadership or skill-development book they think would benefit the mentee. Alternatively, mentees can select a book they’d like to get their mentor’s perspective on. Each session can cover a chapter or chapters depending on meeting frequency. 7. Virtual Speed Networking An alternative to group mentorship where a mentor interacts with a mentee for a set period of time before mentors and mentees are swapped. A great way to get lots of perspectives in a short amount of time and increase connections across your membership network. How WildApricot Can Enable Your Virtual Mentorship Program With the flexibility and opportunities provided by virtual mentorships, they can easily replace or even augment your existing mentorship programs. Administrative work can make it tough to get started, but WildApricot has everything you need to get emails out about your program, schedule mentor sessions, and obtain survey feedback so you can keep iterating. 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