The Power of Mentoring


Think back to when you were growing up. Was there an adult who took a genuine interest in you, perhaps giving you a chance to talk through your thoughts or your plans for the future?

For some, a special teacher or another adult mentor was a key part of their childhood or adolescence, helping them manage difficult situations and make smart decisions. For others, however, that adult is nowhere to be found. A recent report from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership shows that one in three young people say they never had a mentor growing up. Over half of those young people are at-risk of dropping out of school, hunger, homelessness, abuse, becoming parents at a very young age, or other experiences that prevent children from living healthy, productive lives.

The good news is that in the last two decades, mentoring has seen significant growth: 4.5 million at-risk young people are currently matched in mentoring programs, an increase from an estimated 300,000 in the early 1990s.

January is National Mentoring Month, an initiative created in 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health and MENTOR to focus attention on the need for mentors and to support best-practice sharing amongst mentoring programs. In honor of National Mentoring Month, we offer three resources for impact-focused donors:

  1. For donors looking to support effective mentoring programs, we recommend seeking out programs that have a demonstrated record of success in this area. For example, the Social Innovation Exchange’s “S & I 100” list includes 18 nonprofits with proof of positive results and a focus on youth mentoring; the list includes well-known organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, City Year, iMentor, YouthBuild, and the MENTOR National Mentoring Partnership.
  2. In addition to financial support, consider the invaluable gift of mentoring someone in need. Mentors can work formally, through organizations like those listed above, or informally by connecting with youth in their own networks. Mentorship doesn’t have to be intimidating–for seven tips on how to be an effective mentor, check out this article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
  3. Finally, we often discuss how beneficiary perspective is critical to understanding social impact. In “The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring,” the authors draw on a nationally representative survey of over a thousand young people, along with academic research and insights from business and public sector leaders. One especially hopeful finding: while the mentor gap remains, teens with mentors may also be more likely to become mentors themselves, helping to close that gap in the long term.