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Chamber relevance has been a common discussion for the past several years.

As the search for relevance as an organization evolves, it becomes increasingly essential for chambers of commerce to cultivate a new generation of leaders who can carry forward the organization's mission and vision.

This comes through employing young people as well as recruiting them as volunteers and members.

One of the easiest ways to get them involved is mentorship. Mentorship plays a pivotal role in guiding and empowering emerging talent to become future chamber professionals.

The Significance of a Mentorship Program for the Chamber

A mentorship program can create a symbiotic relationship between experienced chamber professionals and aspiring talents. It creates a pipeline for employment, volunteerism, and much more.

Here are a few ways that it can strengthen the future of your chamber:

Knowledge Transfer

Through mentoring, experienced mentors share their expertise, wisdom, and industry insights with young mentees, fostering a culture of continuous learning within the chamber. It can also spur interest in new job opportunities in workforce development.

Leadership Development

Mentorship cultivates leadership skills in young students and graduates, preparing them to take on future roles within the chamber and the broader business community.

Enhanced Networking

Through mentorship, young professionals gain access to an invaluable network of contacts, both within the chamber and in relevant industries, propelling their career growth and they will remember where they got their start.

Additionally, some members may want to be involved in the mentorship program as mentors because they will have access to young professionals looking for work. They may also value their opinions on marketing efforts if the mentors work for a company that is looking to market to a younger generation.

Innovation and Fresh Perspectives

Engaging with younger mentees brings fresh ideas and innovative perspectives to the chamber, driving its adaptability and relevance in a rapidly evolving world. Their energy and enthusiasm can be infectious.

Mentorship can also become a pipeline to help attract more young people to the chamber. In addition to marketing your mentorship program, you may have to approach people through direct recruiting.

Now that you know why a mentorship program can benefit the chamber, let’s get into how you would go about starting one.

Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Mentorship Program

Step One: Define Program Goals and Objectives

Clearly outline the purpose and desired outcomes of your chamber mentorship program. Identify the skills, knowledge, and experiences mentees should gain and the value mentors will bring to the program.

While this article focuses on mentor programs to recruit and build future leaders for the chamber, there are many kinds of mentor programs. If traditional mentorship doesn’t mesh with your strategic plan and goals, there are other ways you could create a viable mentorship program. You could focus on:

  • Reverse Mentorship: where seasoned professionals learn from new grads in areas such as technology, social media audience building, and other subjects that younger people spend time developing.
  • Group Mentorship: Instead of a one-on-one mentor-mentee relationship, group mentorship involves a single mentor guiding and advising a small group of mentees collectively. This format fosters a sense of community and allows for peer learning and support among the mentees. It also requires fewer mentors. If you have more interested mentees than mentors, this is a solid solution.
  • Career Development Mentorship: focuses on helping mentees advance in their careers, develop specific skills, and navigate professional challenges. The mentor guides in areas of career planning, skill-building, and networking. This could be used at any level of a mentee’s career or if a mentee wanted to switch industries. You could also use a mentorship program like this as part of your workforce development initiative to create interest among students in the jobs that will be available in your future economy.
  • ​Diversity and Inclusion Mentorship: aims to foster diversity and inclusivity within an organization by pairing individuals from underrepresented groups with mentors who can support and advocate for their career or business growth. This can also work well as a mentor program for new minority business owners or women.
  • Leadership Development Mentorship: targets individuals with leadership potential, and pairs mentees with experienced leaders who can help them develop leadership skills, address leadership challenges, and provide guidance in their leadership journey.
  • Entrepreneurship Mentorship: connects aspiring entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals or business leaders who can offer insights, advice, and mentorship on starting and growing a successful business.
  • Skill-Specific Mentorship: focuses on developing specific skills, such as public speaking, marketing, sales, or other business talents. The mentor provides expertise and feedback in the advertised area. This program needn’t be a standing program. It could function as a one off if someone needed guidance or help with a question in a specific area as well.

Create Program Structure and Guidelines

Develop a comprehensive framework for the mentorship program. Define the roles of mentors and mentees, the frequency and format of meetings, and the expected duration of the mentorship relationship. This will be important when marketing the program.

Recruit Passionate Mentors

Reach out to experienced chamber professionals or community leaders who are willing to invest their time and expertise in nurturing the next generation. Encourage enthusiastic individuals who are committed to giving back to the community.

Attract Promising Mentees

Establish partnerships with local high schools, trade schools, colleges, and universities to attract aspiring talents. Utilize social media, community events, and educational institutions to spread the word about the mentorship program.

Other ideas for recruitment include looking for people who are:

  • Actively involved in community activities. Keep an eye on individuals who actively participate in community events, volunteer work, or local business initiatives for the chamber or other civic and business organizations. Look to young business owners and those involved with incubators. Their passion for community engagement can indicate strong leadership potential.
  • Networking and building relationships. Observe those who excel at networking and building meaningful connections. Leaders often possess exceptional communication skills and the ability to collaborate with diverse groups. Identify your community’s joiners.
  • Exhibiting entrepreneurial spirit. Look out for individuals who display entrepreneurial traits, such as creativity, a willingness to take calculated risks, and a drive to innovate. A Junior Chamber can be a natural feeder for a chamber mentorship program as can members from a chapter of Future Business Leaders of America or even 4-H. If you see a young person taking on a leadership role, they may be a good candidate for a chamber-led mentor program.
  • Committed to lifelong learning. Future leaders often prioritize personal and professional growth, continuously seeking opportunities for learning and development. If you have a local newspaper, read the coverage on young people who are participating in programs and working with organizations to learn and grow. That’s your target market.
  • Members. Speak with members who may have employees who don’t feel like they’re getting enough “on the job” feedback. A surprising number of employees feel this way. A chamber mentorship program can help ease that management burden from your members.

Pair Mentors and Mentees

Thoughtfully match mentors and mentees based on their interests, career goals, and compatibility. Consider the mentees' preferred industries and the mentors' expertise to ensure meaningful connections.

Provide Training and Resources

Offer mentorship training to mentors to equip them with effective communication and coaching skills. Provide resources to guide the process. Make sure everyone understands the time requirements involved before agreeing to the position.

Facilitate Regular Check-ins

Encourage mentors and mentees to have regular check-ins to monitor progress, address challenges, and celebrate achievements. Act as a facilitator and provide support when needed. Some mentees will be “needier” than others from a time and feedback perspective. Set a minimal number of check-ins over the quarter and ensure those are happening. Anything above that is a bonus.

Organize Networking, Learning or Celebratory Events

Arrange networking events, workshops, or seminars where mentors and mentees can interact and learn from other chamber members. These events can enrich the overall mentorship experience. You could arrange a group community service project or presentation so other chamber members can see the impact the program is having on your area.

It’s also beneficial to have an end to the program like a calendar or school year. That doesn’t mean the mentor-mentee relationship has to end but it allows you an easy way to fix something (like a bad match) that may need to be reworked without embarrassment to either person.

Evaluate and Refine the Program

Regularly evaluate the mentorship program's effectiveness and gather feedback from participants. Use this input to make improvements and enhancements for future iterations.

Starting a mentorship program for high school, college, or new graduates is an investment in the future of the chamber and the broader community. It can be a strong component of your workforce development program. By nurturing and empowering the next generation of professionals, you pave the way for a thriving business landscape and a stronger, more resilient chamber of commerce.

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