Mentor Retention Strategies

  • Evidence Rating for this Practice:

    Insufficient Research (2 Studies and 4 Tests of the Practice)

    In both of the studies reviewed, the methodology used for assessing effects of the practice did not meet relevant criteria for rigor. As a result, these studies were each designated as Insufficient Evidence and the practice as a whole is designated as Insufficient Research. This rating is based on currently available research and may change as new research becomes available.

    Description of Practice:

    As an area of program practice, mentor retention includes efforts to sustain mentor involvement in a program. These efforts may be directed toward ensuring mentor participation through an initial commitment period as well as toward extending participation beyond initial expectations or agreement. Mentor retention may involve the continuation of the mentor’s relationships with an original assigned mentee (or mentees) as well as continued involvement in the program through re-matching of the mentor with one or more new youth. It can also involve other forms of continued program involvement, such as having former mentors serve as sources of support to existing mentors (Peaslee & Teye, 2015). It does not include efforts to retain involvement of mentors in other non-programmatic roles (e.g., as donors). Specific goals may be to help mentors feel appreciated and respected and to avoid inconsistencies between mentors’ expectations and actual experiences in the their mentoring relationships (Stukas, Clary, & Snyder, 2014), thereby increasing their confidence in and satisfaction with their role and motivation to continue (Martin & Sifers, 2012). Mentoring programs may seek to support such goals in a variety of ways. Possibilities include (but are not limited to) gathering and utilizing information on mentor expectations and motivations, individualized mentor retention plans, direct discussions and planning with mentors focused on retention, and formal recognition of mentors and their contributions. These types of strategies may be incorporated into program areas such as mentor training (pre- and post-match) and ongoing mentor support. Mentor retention efforts, however, are distinguished from such practices by their intentional focus on mentor retention. This practice is also distinct from activities that are focused primarily on strengthening or extending the duration of mentoring relationships, although clearly these can have the indirect benefit of sustaining mentor involvement in a program.


    To extend mentor participation/involvement in a mentoring program.

    Target Population/Eligibility of Target Sites:

    This practice is potentially applicable to all forms of mentoring and the full range of youth who may be served by programs.

    Theory and Background Research:

    Strategies focused on mentor retention may often aim to achieve this goal by strengthening mentor knowledge, skills, and efficacy beliefs for mentoring youth. Such approaches are broadly consistent with numerous established theories of how individuals form and act on intentions to engage in particular behaviors (in this case continued involvement in a mentoring program), including the Integrated Behavior Model (Montano & Kasprzyk, 2008) and Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1977; Baranowski, Perry, & Parcel, 2008). When mentor retention is achieved it is likely to have direct implications for mentoring relationship duration. This is an important consideration in view of research that indicates strengthening of mentoring relationships as they are sustained over time, coupled with both a growing potential for youth to benefit and a reduced likelihood for them to be inadvertently harmed in association with premature endings (e.g., DuBois & Neville, 1997; Grossman & Rhodes, 2002). Furthermore, at least theoretically, even mentors who are retained, but re-paired with new youth may bring valuable experience and learning to the new relationships that are of significant benefit.

    Efforts to facilitate realistic mentor expectations as one potentially useful avenue for mentor retention is supported by research in which mentors whose expectations for the mentoring relationship matches their experiences have been found to be more likely to remain in their roles (Karcher et al., 2016; Spencer, 2007; Stukas et al., 2014). Furthermore, research on motivations for volunteering suggests that mentors who are able to fulfill their motives for serving as mentors are more likely to continue in a mentor position, particularly if the motives are intrinsic in nature (Stukas at al., 2014). Training, as indicated in the Elements of Effective Practice for MentoringTM, provides one promising context in which to help mentors to form and adjust their expectations of the mentoring process. The Elements also note that recognizing and celebrating volunteer achievements is considered an important practice in promoting participation in a volunteer program and that research suggests volunteers tend to find informal, personal forms of recognition (e.g., thank you notes) to be most meaningful. In line with these considerations, the Elements recommend annual recognition of mentors as a strategy for increasing mentors’ perceptions of self-efficacy and encouraging them to continue.

    Corresponding Elements of Effective Practice:

    This practice is most relevant to the areas of Training, Matching, Monitoring and Support, and Closure within the Elements of Effective Practice.

    Key Personnel:

    The successful implementation of this practice will likely require staff to have effective listening, assessment, and problem solving skills, knowledge of normative stages of mentoring relationship development and the opportunities and challenges they can each present, and awareness of available resources to support and address the needs of mentors.

    Additional Information:


  • Study 1 (Four tests of the practice: Match Activities, Match Support, Network Engagement, and Match Closure):

    Evidence Classification:

    Match Activities – Insufficient Evidence
    Match Support – Insufficient Evidence
    Network Engagement – Insufficient Evidence
    Match Closure – Insufficient Evidence

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC) (2016) examined correlates of mentor retention as part of an evaluation of programmatic enhancement to its In-Schools Mentoring Program (ISM). At the time of the research, the ISM program provided mentors to 12,000 students through almost all 118 agencies in Canada. Volunteer mentors were screened and trained and engaged in one-on-one, one hour, weekly meetings with elementary school students in the school setting throughout the school year. Activities were collaboratively selected by the mentee and mentor and were aimed at fostering confidence and improving attitudes towards school, peers, and other adults.

    The evaluation was conducted in 10 agencies, which collectively served about 1,300 students during the study period. Four programmatic enhancements/modifications were selected and implemented in at least one agency each – a match activities modification, a match support modification, a network engagement modification, and a match closure modification.

    The match activities modification sought to enhance mentor-mentee activities by building in time for reflecting on shared interests. During the first three sessions, mentors and mentees engaged in activities targeted at helping them get to know each other. In the fourth session, they spent time reflecting on their shared interests and this information was then used to inform the planning of future activities.

    The match support modification sought to enhance match support contacts by specifying the type of contact based on the period in the relationship (i.e., beginning, middle, and end). At the beginning of the relationship, match support coordinators conducted an initial face-to-face introduction meeting with the mentor and mentee followed by an email check-in contact with the mentor 2 weeks later. For ongoing matches (i.e., those active the prior school year), staff arranged details of the match restart via phone or email and scheduled a face-to-face reintroduction meeting with the mentor and his or her mentee within 4 weeks of the start of the school year. In the middle of the school year, staff checked in with the mentor, the mentee, the mentee’s network, and the school and assessed goal attainment. At the end of the school year, staff conducted separate, in-person, one-on-one check-ins with the mentee and the mentor and assessed plans to continue the relationship.

    The network engagement modification sought to build and improve connections between the mentor and other key individuals in the mentee’s life. Mentors in the agencies implementing this modification were provided with a list of ways to be more engaged with members of the mentee’s network, including his or her school network (teacher, school administrator, counselor, etc.), home network (parent, step-parent, guardian, etc), and peer network. Mentors were not expected to implement every item on the list but were expected to look for opportunities to make network connections.

    Lastly, the match closure modification sought to promote healthy endings to mentoring relationships by preparing mentees and their parents for closure (i.e., they were informed that relationships would close, at least administratively for the summer, at the end of the school year), providing mentor training and support around the discussion of closure with mentees, creating opportunities to formally end (at least temporarily) the relationship (e.g. ‘last meetings’ during which mentors and mentees could say goodbye, and review and celebrate the time they spent together), and providing mentors and mentees written recognition of completion (i.e., letters and certificates).

    Outcome data were collected from mentors at the beginning of school year (baseline) and at the end of the school year (follow-up) on their perceptions of program quality, quality of staff support, mentoring relationship quality, and likelihood of continuation in the program the following school year. Program quality was measured using a 4-item scale (e.g. “the mentoring program is clear about its goals”, “I received sufficient training from the mentoring program prior to beginning my match”). Quality of staff support was assessing using 3 items (e.g., “program staff seem truly concerned about how well our match is going”, “program staff help make me a better mentor”). Relationship quality was measured using a 9-item scale (e.g. “I think my Little sees me as someone special in his/her life”, “I feel close to my Little”). Likelihood of continuation was measured with a single item asking “How likely is it that you will be mentoring in this program next year?” Response for all of the questions were on a 5-point scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).

    Baseline data were provided by a total of 285 mentors (60 at match activities agencies, 89 at match support agencies, 81 at network engagement agencies, and 55 at match closure agencies) and follow-up data was provided by a total of 293 mentors (71 at match activities agencies, 125 at match support agencies, 63 at network engagement agencies, and 34 at match closure agencies). Mentors across all agencies were predominantly female (for example, 81 percent of mentors in match closure agencies and 73 percent of mentors in match activities agencies were female). Most Littles in match support agencies (64%), network engagement agencies (63%), and match closure agencies (67%) were also female, while most Littles in match activities agencies were male (56%). Most Littles across all agencies were in Grades 1 to 6 (78 to 90 percent across types of agencies).

    Statistical tests were conducted to determine whether there was a difference in outcome measure scores from baseline to follow-up among mentors in agencies implementing each modification. The specific type of statistical test conducted was not reported.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Program Quality
    BBBSC (2016) found that mentors across all agencies did not differ significantly from baseline to follow-up in their ratings of program quality.

    Quality of the Support Staff
    Mentors in the match activities, network engagement, and match closure modification agencies had significantly lower ratings of quality of staff support at follow-up in comparison to baseline. Mentors in the match support modification agencies, however, had significantly higher ratings of quality of staff support at follow-up in comparison to baseline.

    Mentoring Relationship Quality
    BBBSC (2016) found that mentors across all agencies did not differ significantly from baseline to follow-up in their ratings of mentoring relationship quality.

    Likelihood to Continue Following Year
    BBBSC (2016) found that mentors across all agencies did not differ significantly from baseline to follow-up in their reported likelihood of continuing in the program the following year.

    Study 2

    Evidence Classification:

    Insufficient Evidence

    Evaluation Methodology:

    Herrera and colleagues (2007) examined correlates of mentor retention as part of a randomized control evaluation of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) school-based mentoring program. This evaluation was conducted in 10 BBBSA affiliate programs, with a total of 1,139 youth in grades 4 to 9 recruited and randomly assigned to intervention (n=565) and control (n=574) groups. A total of 554 volunteers were assigned to serve as Big Brothers or Big Sisters (“Bigs”) for the youth in the intervention group. Almost three quarters (72%) of the Bigs were female. Approximately half of the Bigs (48%) were 18 years old or younger (i.e., high school students) and an additional 17 percent were 19 to 24 years old (predominately college students). The remaining Bigs were adults ages 25 and older. Approximately one fourth of the Bigs (23%) belonged to a racial or ethnic minority group, African-American being the most common of these (8% of all Bigs). Further details on the study design and sample can be found in Herrera et al. (2007).

    Mentors met with their mentees during or after school during the school year. To retain mentors into the following school year, five of the agencies in the evaluation facilitated summer match interactions by organizing agency events for face-to-face, supervised mentor-mentee meetings. These agencies also encouraged matches to communicate over the summer via phone calls, emails, or letter. The other five agencies did not attempt to facilitate summer interaction.

    Bigs were surveyed in early Fall 2005 (one year after the mentor and mentee were first matched) to provide information on their interaction with their Littles during the summer; 170 mentors in the 5 agencies that encouraged summer interaction and 101 mentors in the 5 agencies that did not provided responses (representing 78 percent of mentors in matches that were still open at the end of the previous school year). Each mentor’s report of interaction with his or her mentee across six different forms of interaction (phone, email, letters, postcards, face-to-face agency events, and face-to-face outside of agency events) was considered additively – for example, a match was considered to have interacted monthly if they used a single form of interaction at least once a month (e.g., phone) during the summer or if they used each of 3 or more forms of interaction (e.g., phone, email, and face-to-face) at least once each during the 3 months of the summer. Using this approach, frequency of summer interaction was categorized as Never, Once During Summer, Once a Month, Every Two Weeks, Once a Week, or More than Once a Week.

    The frequency of summer interaction with mentees reported by Bigs in the two sets of agencies (agencies that did versus agencies that did not facilitating summer interaction) was compared using chi-squared analysis. The use of statistical control in testing the association of interest was not reported. Furthermore, although whether or not summer interaction was encouraged varied at the level of the agency, analyses were conducted at the level of individual reports by mentors without adjustment for nesting of mentors within agency.

    Evaluation Outcomes:

    Frequency of Summer Meetings
    Herrera et al (2007) found that Bigs in agencies facilitating and encouraging summer interaction reported significantly more frequent summer interaction than Bigs in agencies that did not support summer interaction.

    Additional Findings:

    Herrera and colleagues (2007) found that frequency of summer interaction was positively associated with match retention into the second year and match duration; matches that communicated at least monthly over the summer were more likely to continue into the following school year (88% vs. 62%) and lasted significantly longer after the end of the summer (13.3 weeks vs. 8.7 weeks) than matches that did not communicate. However, these differences were not tested in relation to the practice (i.e., between agencies that did and did not take steps to facilitate summer interaction). In other analyses conducted for this study, mentor-reported receipt of group, individual pre-match, or individual post-match training was also positively associated with match continuation into a second year.

  • External Validity Evidence:

    Variations in the Practice
    The studies reviewed examined a range of different strategies aimed at improving mentor retention. More specifically, the BBBSC (2016) study examined four program practices (i.e., match activities, match support, network engagement, and match closure) that were implemented with the intentional goal of promoting mentor retention. In Herrera et al. (2007), mentor retention practices involved supporting mentors to maintain their communication with mentees during the summer break in order to increase the likelihood that they continue their relationship with their mentee into a second year. However, the implications of varying levels and types of support for mentor retention remain in need of clarification.

    The studies reviewed provide limited information on the demographic and background characteristics of the youth served by the programs evaluated. The majority of program participants in both studies were female. The full sample of youth in the Herrera et al. (2007) study were mostly upper elementary school-age, represented a diverse racial/ethnic group, and were predominately from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Neither study tested for differences in effects of the practice across subgroups of youth. Therefore, the applicability of findings to different demographic groups of youth included within each study is not known.

    Approximately three-quarters of the mentors in the reviewed studies were female. Additionally, mentors in Herrera et al. (2007) were predominantly White. Mentors in this study varied considerably in age (from high school to adult) and had varying levels of prior experience working with youth (e.g., about 25% had previous mentoring experience through a formal program and 35% had informal mentoring experience). Again, though, because test for differences in potential effects of mentor retention strategies along such dimensions were not conducted, applicability of findings to different subgroups of mentors is not known.

    Program Settings/Structures
    Studies in this review were conducted within BBBS affiliate school-based mentoring programs that were using a 1-to-1 mentoring format. Therefore, the effects of the mentor retention strategies examined (and others) with respect to other types of program formats and for programs operated by organizations other than BBBS remains unknown.

    The studies reviewed evaluated the effects of mentor retention strategies on qualitatively different outcomes. BBBSC (2016) assessed outcomes related to the quality of the mentoring relationship, program, and staff support as well as the likelihood that the mentor would continue in the program the following year. Herrera et al. (2007), on the other hand, assessed frequency of summer interaction between mentors and mentees. Both studies utilized mentor-reported data and findings were mixed – mentor retention strategies were associated favorably with frequency of summer interaction (Herrera et al., 2007), but, for example, with a decrease in the reported quality of staff support among most of the agencies in the other study (BBBSC, 2016). Youth outcomes, furthermore, were not assessed in either study. These considerations present clear limitations to understanding the implications that the strategies involved may have had for mentees.

  • Resources Available to Support Implementation:

    Resources to support implementation of practices for mentor retention can be found under the Resources section of this website. These include:

    Supporting YouthBuild Students in Mentoring Relationships – This customizable Word document provides information to parents, caregivers, and other supportive adults about the student’s new relationship with a volunteer mentor and may be useful for addressing expectations for mentoring relationships.

    Going the Distance: A Guide to Building Lasting Relationships in Mentoring Programs – This guidebook is intended to help programs create long-lasting mentoring relationships and provides tools and templates for matching, training, and supporting participants.

    Mentoring Fact Sheet: Overcoming Relationship Pitfalls – This fact sheet provides a review of common challenges that arise in mentoring relationships and provides recommendations for how mentors can anticipate and manage these challenges in the best interest of the youth with whom they are working. The resource may be most useful in helping mentors anticipate and address challenges that may arise during each stage of their relationship, and thus increase their likelihood to remain engaged with their mentee.

  • Evidence Base:

    Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. (2016). In School Mentoring Modification Project report. Unpublished report.

    Herrera, C., Grossman, J. B., Kauh, T. J., Feldman, A. F., McMaken, J., & Jucovy, L. (2007). Making a difference in schools: The Big Brothers Big Sisters school-based mentoring impact study. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures. Retrieved from

    Additional References:

    Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191–215.

    Baranowski, T., Perry, C. L., & Parcel, G. S. (2008). How individuals, environments, and health behavior interact: Social cognitive theory. In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior: Theory, research, and action (5th ed., pp. 165–184). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    DuBois, D. L., Felner, J., & O’Neal, B. (2014). State of mentoring in Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Mentoring Partnership.

    DuBois, D. L., & Neville, H. A. (1997). Youth mentoring: Investigation of relationship characteristics and perceived benefits. Journal of Community Psychology, 25, 227–234.;2-T

    Grossman , J. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (2002). The test of time: Predictors and effects of duration in youth mentoring relationships. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 199–219.

    Karcher, M. J., Benne, K., Gil-Hernandez, D., Allen, C., Roy-Carlson, L., Holcomb, M., & Gomez, M. (2006). The Study of Mentoring in the Learning Environment (SMILE): A functional approach to predicting mentor satisfaction from mentoring interactions. Paper presented to the 14th Annual Meeting of the Society for Prevention Research, San Antonio, TX.

    Martin, S. M., & Sifers, S. K. (2012). An evaluation of factors leading to mentor satisfaction with the mentoring relationship. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 940–945.

    Montano, D. E., & Kasprzyk D. (2015) Theory of Reasoned Action, Theory of Planned Behavior, and the Integrated Behavior Model. In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior: Theory, research, and action (5th ed., pp. 95–124). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Peaslee, L., & Teye, A. C. (2015). Testing the impact of mentor training and peer support on the quality of mentor-mentee relationships and outcomes for at-risk youth, final report. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from

    Spencer, R. (2007). “It’s not what I expected:” A qualitative study of youth mentoring relationship failures. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22, 331–354.

    Stukas, A. A., Clary, E. G., & Snyder, M. (2014). Mentor recruitment and retention. In D. L. DuBois & M. J. Karcher (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (2nd ed., pp. 397-409). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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