*Note: The National Mentoring Resource Center makes these “Insights for Mentoring Practitioners” available for each program or practice reviewed by the National Mentoring Resource Center Research Board. Their purpose is to give mentoring professionals additional information and understanding that can help them apply reviews to their own programs. You can read the full review on the National Mentoring Resource Center website.
As noted in the review of this practice, there is little direct research on the strategies that mentoring programs can use to draw in increasing numbers of male volunteers to serve as mentors. While this has been a subject of intense interest in the mentoring field for quite some time, unfortunately we are left with little beyond practitioner-sourced advice for what is effective in brining men from a community into mentoring relationships. Many of the tips below are hinted at in the review of this practice and all have been utilized in the field over the past several years in programs across the country. And there is some evidence that this emphasis on focused recruitment of men to the mentoring role has been effective: Between 2006 and 2015, the percentage of all reported mentors who were men rose by around 3%, a notable albeit not statistically significant shift. While both men and women increased their rates of mentoring over that decade, men’s involvement rose more quickly, showing a statistically significant increase from 0.7% of the adult population in 2006 to 0.9% in 2016.i
So what do practitioners and technical assistance providers recommend for recruiting male mentors?
1. Developing and testing a clear framework for approaching male volunteers.
For the most part, recruiting men involves many of the same steps that go into recruiting any particular type of mentor, but examined through the lens of how men might perceive the opportunity and wish to participate. The Men in Mentoring Toolkit developed by MENTOR Michigan offers one simple framework for thinking through how to court male mentors:
- Awareness: Making the Case – As a starting point, focus on making men aware of the need for mentoring. Statistics about the needs of boys and young men in the community might be powerful, as are statistics about the impact of mentoring on young people.
- Understanding: The Role of Stories – Men may be particularly motivated by stories that personalize what mentoring looks like in action. Having young men who have been mentored speak to prospective mentors may be powerful in making the abstract act of mentoring seem more real.
- Comfort: You Can Do It – Men may have particular fears about volunteering for such a personal form of support. They may worry that they lack the skills to form a new relationship with a youth or may have fears about what the experience will be like. Programs should brainstorm these fears and develop messages that can put men more at ease with the role.
- Commitment: Let’s Be Clear About Things – Men will appreciate clarity about the “nuts and bolts” of the mentoring role: expectations about meeting times and frequencies, the role of program staff, the ways that the program wants them to support mentees, the length of the commitment, and so forth. Make it clear what they are signing up for and how the program requires accountability.
- Success: The Ability to Win – Programs may want to paint a clear picture of what success looks like when mentoring a boy or young man. Male mentors may feel like they have to completely turn a life around or “hit a home run” in terms of the impact of their work. Make sure that they know that the point of mentoring is the journey and that even small growth in the child they are mentoring points to being successful not only in the present, but perhaps into the future for that youth as well.
- Closing/Making the Ask – Programs will want to make sure that their recruitment of men closes with a firm ask. Ideally, this ask may be delivered by another man, especially one who has served in the role and can express confidence in the prospective mentor’s abilities to be successful. Prominent women in the lives of men (wives, sisters, co-workers, etc.) may also be persuasive allies in making that ask.
- Overcoming Objections/Concerns – Even if men do not say “yes” right away, you may still be able to work on their concerns about what the experience will be like. If candidates seem to be “on the fence” about the opportunity, keep them on your program’s radar, invite them to participate in program-wide events or to support the program in another way while they think more about directly mentoring a young person. Engagement over the decision-making process may help eventually get more men on board.
Obviously, many of these steps are applicable to other groups a program may be courting. Test out the messaging your program develops with men you already know. See if the messages resonate, if there are objections you haven’t thought of, or if there are specific aspects of the program itself that seem to be sticking points for men. The aforementioned Toolkit offers a wealth of talking points and messages for overcoming male-specific fears about the mentoring experience.
2. Dig deeper on motivations for men.
As part of developing a framework to approach men to mentor, you may want to spend some time thinking about what exactly will best motivate them to participate. Chances are that there are specific motivations that will resonate with men (or subgroups of men) more than with women or other groups. The concept of “volunteer functions” may be helpful here. Clary and colleagues have developed a set of motivations for volunteering that attempts to unpack the many different reasons why individuals would do the same activity. This document does a good job of explaining the broad motivations and even offers a scale that can help you measure their presence in the mentors you already have. It may be worthwhile to have all the mentors in your program answer these questions and see if there are differences between the men and women who are already mentoring youth. Focus groups asking men about how they align with the broad categories of these functions is also a good starting point.
Programs may find more success in crafting diverse messages for men depending on which functions speak to them, rather than assuming that all men will be motivated by the same things. The Guide to Recruiting Black Men as Mentors for Black Boys is one resource that can help segment messages for men from the black community, but many of the principles can be used to recruit men more generally who may have different motivations or messaging preferences.
3. If possible, consider varying your programming (and how you talk about it) to make it more male-friendly.
MENTOR’s Director of Training and Technical Assistance, Brian Sales, offers these strategies based on his experience in the field for making mentoring a better fit for men:
- Men may respond better to mentoring opportunities that are group-based, as this may eliminate some of the concerns around being up to the challenge individually, provide a space where intimate or deep conversations can be held collectively, and even alleviate fears about accusations of misbehavior that often worry men about mentoring. Programs may find success starting men with group mentoring experiences that then transition into one-to-one matches over time.
- Men may also be more interested in mentoring programming that emphasizes activities (sports, recreation, hands-on building things, skills teaching) over purely conversational approaches or that features outings to places and events that interest men more generally.
- Programs may even find more interest by calling mentors something different: coach, buddy, guide, friend, teacher, etc. These roles may help clarify what they will be doing and reduce concerns they may have about how they think of a traditional mentor role.
4. Find men where they are at.
Brian Sales also recommends reaching out to men in male-centered spaces, such as those noted in the review: barbershops, fraternal organizations, recreational leagues, and sporting events. One MENTOR affiliate hosts a regular Monday Night Football viewing party at local restaurants and taverns designed to educate men about mentoring in a relaxed and social environment.
If it’s important to a program to recruit men of color specifically, Brian recommends leveraging cultural and historical holidays and related events that may resonate with men of particular communities (e.g., History Month, Hispanic/Latino Heritage month). He also suggests doing outreach at culturally-specific spaces, such as African-American and Latino fraternities, Black and Latino churches, African-American and Latino social clubs. Men at these events might respond well to images and messages that draw on national and local leaders that exemplified a spirit of giving back and a willingness to show up for those less fortunate, connecting the work of mentoring to larger movements in service of a people or culture.
For more information on research-informed program practices and tools for implementation, be sure to consult the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring™ and the "Resources for Mentoring Programs" section of the National Mentoring Resource Center site.
i Raposa, E. B., Dietz, N., & Rhodes, J. E. (2017). Trends in volunteer mentoring in the United States: Analysis of a decade of census survey data. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1, 1-12.