Micro-mentoring: An idea whose time has come?

Ben, Co-founder of CrowdGuru.org, tells us why charities and social enterprises need access to practical skills and experienced people. 

A few months ago I started mentoring a small charity through Timebank’s Leaders Together programme. It was a great experience and a core inspiration for CrowdGuru.org.

There are over 215,000 voluntary sector organisations and social enterprises in the UK, employing over 800,000 people. Combined they spend over £31bn on charitable activities and deliver products and services in every area of life.

Making small into beautiful

According to NCVO, over 97% of charities are small. Like any small organisation, they represent a group of impassioned people trying to achieve goals with limited resources, and very often, limited time. Many perform a wide range of tasks, as its simply not viable to recruit specialists in each area. And where there are specialist roles, often they will be performed by a  single employee, with no colleagues to learn from or even just bounce ideas off. Research from the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) shows that small charities’ ability to “do good” is being limited by lack of access to critical skills.

This chart (taken from the FSI survey) shows that half of charities struggle to recruit the fundraising and marketing skills necessary for their organisations. The FSI goes on to say that over 40% of charities believe that they need some, or significant, upskilling on the fundraising side. UnLtd, an amazing charity that supports social entrepreneurs, indicate that the picture is similar for social enterprises: they just call it income generation rather than fundraising.

The challenge facing these organisations is how to acquire the necessary skills to be as effective as possible, without diverting funding or staff time from the crucial focus on beneficiaries.

Teach a man to fish, not the theory of fishing

Often, the tasks people need help with are not complex – if you know how to do them! These tasks can range from strategy planning to setting up a cashbook in Excel. Our argument is that, whilst training has its place, it is quicker and more affordable for causes to gain the skills through “micro-mentoring”. We believe this should become a core pillar of the up-skilling strategy, alongside recruitment or expanding the governing board.

Although formal training also has its place, it is expensive. It offers little in the way of applied examples or follow-up “on the job”.  Many organizations report that 85-90% of a person’s job knowledge is learned on the job and only 10-15% is learned in formal training events.

Crowd Guru seeks to make potential mentors available almost on tap.  By creating an online tool that can match mentors to those seeking help, it will put the control over how much time and effort are expended in the hands of the participants. Mentors will have built up their experience over years and will often have received professional training and education – they can then pass on just those aspects which are relevant to the task at hand, meaning help is well-targetted and efficient to give and receive. The best part is that the commitment from the mentors is really… well… micro! A half hour here or an hour’s meeting there might be all that is needed.

We hope that by creating a scalable micro-mentoring community, charities or social enterprises will be able to use expert resources as a core part of their business strategy. By being able to benefit from years of experience applied to their particular problem without having to invest lots of time or money, they  will be able to make a bigger impact, doing more good without investing in training or new specialists.

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One Response to Micro-mentoring: An idea whose time has come?

  1. Pingback: The Big Advice Day, micro-mentoring and online dating |

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