• Kevin Nourse, PhD

Leadership Mentoring for Associations: Study Findings

Mentoring is a powerful way to help professionals in any field develop. For that reason, most associations have established formal mentoring programs as a valued member service. However, relatively few have created mentoring programs explicitly focused on developing leaders. Given the continual need for associations to be intentional about creating a pipeline of talent to step into volunteer leadership roles, leadership mentoring programs can be part of the solution.

For associations considering establishing these programs, one of the best ways to determine how to design the program is by tapping the wisdom and experience of other associations. To this end, I recently conducted a study on the leadership mentoring program best practices used by eight leading professional associations in collaboration with my colleague Dr. Alice Waagen. In this article, I summarize some of the key findings and conclusions from that study.

Research Participants

The study consisted of interviews conducted with representatives from eight professional associations. An initial list of 25 associations were identified and asked to participate in the study. I eliminated seventeen associations because they did not have a leadership mentoring program. The eight participating associations had a total of eleven leadership mentoring programs; two associations had more than one leadership mentoring program.

Key Findings

The study identified a number of key findings in the focus, composition and design of leadership mentoring programs including:

  • Most associations created programs that are integrated with formal leadership development programs; only four of the programs examined are standalone.

  • Emerging leaders and early career professionals are the most targeted demographic for the programs.

  • Two common reasons why associations started these programs were to build a pipeline of talent to take on volunteer leadership roles and help participants develop and apply their leadership skills to apply to their workplace roles.

  • Current or former board members, as well as alumni of leadership programs, are the most common sources of mentors.

  • Few associations do a formal orientation for mentors and mentees.

  • There is a continuum of orientations among the associations interviewed about the level of structure in the mentor-mentee interactions, from highly flexible to structured.

  • Attracting, managing, and engaging mentors was one of the significant challenges faced by associations in this study.

  • Several associations noted that implementing a more formal orientation for mentors and mentees was an important next step in the evolution of their programs.


Three of the eight most noteworthy conclusions from the study include: (1) most associations target early career members with leadership mentoring programs, (2) effective leadership mentoring programs balance structure and flexibility, and (3) integrating mentoring with leadership development programs creates greater impact.

Click here for a case study on establishing a mentoring program in a professional association.

For more information about the study or to request a copy of the entire report, please contact Dr. Kevin Nourse at kevin@nourseleadership.com

(c) 2015 Kevin Nourse, PhD

#leadershipdevelopment #mentoring #associations #volunteerdevelopment #researchstudy


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