Part 1: Motivation

Motivation, Expectations & Approach 

What motivated you to volunteer? Is being a mentor what you expected? How do you approach your mentoring relationship? Is it working for you? Dive into this module for some great ideas and scenarios!


Let’s start with why you entered into this mentoring relationship. Chances are, one of your motivations was to participate in a satisfying friendship. That's great, because young people who experience a strong emotional connection in their mentoring relationship have been found to realize positive outcomes from it, such as improved academic performance and increased self-worthiii.

Believing that motivational factors are of central importance for satisfaction and commitment, Clary and Snyderiv identified six primary motives for volunteerism:

  1. to express important values;
  2. to better understand the world and its people;
  3. to gain positive self-enhancement;
  4. to achieve protective effects against guilt, self-doubt, and other negative feelings;
  5. to strengthen social relationships; and
  6. to obtain career skills and opportunities.

If you’d like to check out Clary and Snyder's Volunteer Function Inventory scale, and answer a series of questions to assess your own motivational style, click here...

Which of these factors resonate with you?

That is, do any of these relate to your reason(s) for mentoring?

  1. Express or act upon important values: If you score high on this motivation, you likely have great compassion and feel it is important to help others, particularly in ways related to a cause that is important to you. Click here to read more.
  2. Better understand the world and its people and/or exercise some of your skills that are often unused: You want to learn more about mentoring, through training and direct experience. Not only do you want to do community service, you want to do it well. You look forward to learning how to do your volunteer craft better. Click here to read more.
  3. Positive self-enhancement: Volunteering enhances your self-esteem and makes you feel important, valued, and needed. Click here to read more.
  4. Protective effects against guilt, self-doubt, and other negative feelings: When we reach out to others, it often helps us understand our own issues and experience self-growth. That’s good, but it is critically important that you set and respect boundaries in your mentoring relationship. Click here to read more.
  5. Strengthen social relationships: The desire to volunteer can have a broader social appeal, and it can evoke a sense of community among mentors. Although you may be in a one-to-one mentoring friendship, your agency may schedule match activities where you can interact with other mentors. Some agencies offer social or learning nights for mentors. Mentors need to “get something out of it too”, and building friendships as a result of being a mentor is a win-win situation. Click here to read more.
  6. Obtain career skills and opportunities: Sometimes people see volunteering as a way to enhance their academic or career options, make new contacts, practice job-related skills, or satisfy volunteer requirements. Click here to read more.

Prior to being matched with a young person, you will have completed an extensive application and interview process, during which the above motivational factors will have been explored. Once you’re matched, situations, emotions, and attitudes evolve and motivations may change. All of these motivations are natural and, more importantly, workable in ways that can allow a strong relationship to flourish. But often, staff support is needed to effectively bridge personal motivation to relationship success.

Try to remain aware of your reasons for volunteering. Your program staff at your local agency are there to support you in this, every step of the way. It’s okay to talk about you and your needs and goals! In order for you and your mentee to feel positive about your mentoring relationship, you need to keep communication lines open with your mentee, your program staff, and depending on the program, your mentee’s parent or guardian, or your site-based liaison. Effective communication and consistent training and support will enhance your ability to positively support your mentee. This, in turn, will motivate you and will sustain your enthusiasm for the program, and the same will be true for your Little Brother or Little Sister.

See Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s “High School Bigs Mentor Training” for a quick and fun way to explore motivation, expectations, and actions in a mentoring friendship. Created by Dr. Michael Karcher to help teen mentors benefit from research in the field, it provides a quick assessment of another motivational characteristic − social interest − which can differentiate successful and satisfied mentors from short-term, disappointed mentors. More importantly, it provides suggestions on how to be more successful and satisfied in your mentoring relationship. Please note, part of the High School Bigs training is based on J.E. Crandall’s social interest research. Sometimes volunteers may interpret some of the terms, such as ‘self-interested’, negatively. No need to – it generally just suggests you would benefit by more frequent contact with your program staff, to ensure mentor – mentee goals and interests are aligned.