Bright Idea: A Few Good Men

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A group of smiling guys.

Tom Baker’s organization has something every mentoring program wants: guys. Typically, programs prefer to match children with mentors of the same sex. “As men we experience problems and challenges specific to our gender and it’s easier to learn from someone who has gone through the same things that you have,” says Baker, vice president of programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. Put simply: Boys need male role models.

 But in many mentoring programs, the waitlist for boys seeking mentors is always longer than that for girls. Baker’s program was no exception. Like his peers across the country, he counted recruiting male mentors as one of his greatest challenges. Men, he found, were simply less likely to volunteer. 

In fall 2008, Baker hit upon a simple solution: “We need men to recruit their peers and use that positive peer pressure to tell them that it’s something they can do.” To that aim, he and other staff members tapped their most active male volunteers to serve on an advisory board specifically aimed at recruiting men.  

Members get other men to join the cause by working their connections and telling personal, heartfelt stories of their relationships with their mentees. They’ve also helped Baker’s organization pinpoint the best types of events to pique guys’ interest, from barbecues to golf trips to a Steelers party. 

If you run a mentoring program and you’re struggling to find male volunteers, consider forming an advisory board of men. Here’s Baker’s advice on how to make good use of such a group: 

Keep the commitment manageable.  “Many advisory board members are very involved in the program already so I don’t want to burn them out,” Baker says.  “We generally either have a meeting or event every month, which seems to work out well.”  Coordinating logistics and communication can be a lot of work, so at the group’s request Baker still leads the board.  “It helps that I have the inside knowledge of what is taking place within the program and the ability to develop and organize the group during my time at work.”  While it may be difficult for a volunteer to pledge the amount of time necessary to direct an advisory board, Baker notes that sometimes, “volunteers can motivate their peers more effectively.”

Encourage mentors to recruit friends and coworkers. This is the No. 1 priority for advisory board members, Baker says.  “I need them to be nominating people to become mentors and educating them about the program.” There are opportunities for recruitment everywhere: One advisory board member keeps a picture of himself and his mentee on his desk at work, next to a pile of nomination forms.  

Cultivate speakers. Advisory board members are probably your most passionate volunteers, so encourage them to share their enthusiasm. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh invites mentors to speak at volunteer trainings and other events. Baker says that when guys talk about their mentoring relationship, members of the audience get a little jealous. The marketing rule of thumb is that a message—“Join our mentoring program!”—has to be introduced at least seven times for it to make an impact. Baker says, “When it’s personal, it drops that number down.”

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