Community is a fast-growing industry, and continuous learning can help you grow and sharpen your skills. You can expand your knowledge through courses, by joining a cohort, or by upskilling — but one of the best ways to learn is from those who came before you.
Need to develop skills, make connections, get advice, practice leadership, or build confidence? Mentorship can get you there in a practical and rewarding way.
The list of benefits is endless for mentors and mentees alike. So what does mentorship actually mean, and what are its benefits? Let's get into it.
Regardless of your industry, mentorship means the same thing: a relationship between a more experienced professional and a junior that allows for knowledge transfer.
The community profession is complex and nuanced which is why having someone who has been through the ropes can be beneficial, says Former Director of Communities at TripActions Phoebe Venkat.
“Strategies, frameworks, processes, and metrics are ever-evolving in community, so mentorship can serve as an anchor that offers a safe space to talk shop, share perspectives and examples, and ask questions,” she says.
“I’ve been an informal mentor and mentee for the duration of my community career, and while it’s rewarding, it takes a lot of work to make it successful.”
A formal program, like The Community Club’s Mentorship Program that connects community professionals, can ease that burden from both mentors and mentees.
Phoebe, who serves as a mentor, says doing mentorship through an official program has helped take off a lot of pressure from the admin that often comes with active mentorship and has allowed her to focus on the relationship between her and her mentees.
Imagine being given all the cheat codes for some of the challenges you’ll go through as a community professional — that is one of the clearest benefits of having a mentor early in your career.
Phoebe has worked with quite a few mentees in her long career in community, and she shares how she makes sure her mentees are getting the most out of the relationship.
Listening: “This is a big part of mentoring,” she says. “I want to understand what challenges they’re facing, their strengths, and personal things they're willing to share that help me see the bigger picture of their community career and approach.”
Sharing: “I’ve also found it valuable to share tangible examples that the mentees can use to spark ideas for their strategies. For example, instead of just talking about how important it is to build internal cross-functional relationships, I show them how I do it through my own work.
“A big part of my responsibility is to help normalize how the mentees feel about their own work and career. One way I do this is by sharing stories of my failures, and how I addressed them.”
Being authentic: “It is important to paint a realistic picture for mentees, not an airbrushed version. They have to know the challenges and the wins they can expect as they grow as community professionals.”
Having a network of experts in your industry helps you advance your career, forge partnerships, and gain continuous support. Phoebe says these things are essential for every community professional.
“Through learnings gained from the mentorship relationship, mentees can build their credibility within their companies,” she says. “They’re equipped with more external qualitative and quantitative data to support their community strategies too.”
If you’re a community builder, she says, you can consider your mentors as your personal board of directors.
“As you gain broader perspectives, you’ll become more strategic over time. This will help create and deliver the best experience for the communities you serve.”
Mentor-mentee relationships can be extremely intimate, so choosing a person you want to go the long haul with is important.
“Connecting with Reina has been a game-changer,” she says. “It’s been so helpful having someone to regularly chat with about our Community-Led product, get feedback on our ideas, and help us make strategic decisions.”
For a mentorship relationship to work, good chemistry, communication, and consistency are vital. This is why Samantha and Reina committed to meeting every one to four weeks.
“We set this cadence expectation in our first meeting and would end each meeting by scheduling the next one,” says Samantha. “We found the best way of working together to be for me to bring a particular problem or challenge we were facing that week/month and workshop it with my mentor during that session.”
Reina often gives Samantha homework or things to accomplish, which has helped keep her accountable and set things up for their next meeting.
“We talked about hiring, building community, how to get feedback on community programs, and so much more,” says Samantha. “It was really helpful to be able to workshop ideas with someone who understands the importance of community to our product — it's everything.”
Her relationship with Reina helped her talk through difficult situations, learn how to handle the unexpected as a new company, and have easy access to someone who knows community and could offer advice when she needed it the most.
“She directed me to great resources, asked tough questions, and worked with me to expand my understanding of community and how to build community into our product roadmap,” says Samantha.
“My mentor and I got along so well and she was so excited about our company that she’s now joined our team as one of our advisors. This is awesome because she’s already up to speed on what we’re building, our goals, and challenges so she’s able to dive in deeper with us and provide more support right away.”
In community, there are many roles and specializations available for newbies to grow into.
Having a mentor in the specific field you’re interested in can help you quickly identify and acquire the skills you need to advance your career.
Through The Community Club mentorship program, Senior Manager of Community Operations at Public, Victoria Knox was paired with Vice President of Community and Exec Team at Venafi, Holly Firestone, who has over 10 years of experience in community.
“Her depth and range of experience were invaluable in providing advice during the mentorship program,” says Victoria. “She helped me clearly define my interests in the community space and offered tangible resources from her own experience to guide me.”
Community Operations has been around for a while, but professionals who have the expertise can be far and between. Through her relationship with Holly, who has vast experience with Community Ops, Victoria was able to accelerate her own growth.
“I've learned so much from them and this group. I'm grateful to Public for enabling me to participate, The Community Club for their work in providing such a helpful program, and Holly for her time and advice,” she says.
Are you interested in becoming a mentor or mentee?
The Community Club Mentorship Program assists in the process of mentorship to make things easier for both mentors and mentees.
Finding a mentor to best suit your needs can be difficult.
After signing up for the program as a mentee, the team will match you with a mentor that best suits your needs as a community professional.
Mentor-mentee relationships can last weeks, months, or even years. Knowing how long the commitment should be and what cadence your meet-ups should follow is not easy. This is why the program requires a time commitment of 12-weeks and 1-2 hour meetings between the mentor and mentee every week.
This program gives community professionals access to a wide range of community experts. Having a network like this has wide-reaching career benefits that might have been a challenge to find outside of it.