FORUM: Should mentors be compensated for their time?

Do you think that mentors should be compensated for the time they put into working with youth?  Although more intensive programs are associated with better youth outcomes, programs must balance the potential benefits of more intensive relationships with potentially greater difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteer mentors. Some programs have addressed this tension by offering incentives to mentors, often through academic credit for college students  or a paid para-professional position involving a caseload of several youth  Although compensation may increase the extent to which mentors fulfill their obligations it also may reduce intrinsic, internal motivation–or send the wrong message to youth. Do you see this trend of compensating mentors is a good idea?

Timothy A. Cavell, PhD,Professor Timothy Cavell is the Director of Clinical Training at the University of Arkansas. He is also the Director of the Center for Research on Aggression and Victimization (CRAV). Primarily, CRAV’s researchers are interested in the development of effective interventions for school age children that may be on their way to having problems as they grow.

Sometimes it makes sense to compensate mentors

Although more intensive programs are associated with better youth outcomes, programs must balance the potential benefits of more intensive relationships with potentially greater difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteer mentors. Some programs have addressed this tension by offering incentives to mentors, often through academic credit for college students  or a paid para-professional position involving a caseload of several youth  Although compensation may increase the extent to which mentors fulfill their obligations it also may reduce intrinsic, internal motivation–or send the wrong message to youth. Do you see this trend of compensating mentors is a good idea?

There is little evidence that compensating mentors is always needed. Mentoring has been operating for a long time and with great success through the “kindness of strangers” who volunteer their time. I’ve been a Big Brother for nearly a year, I have no plans to stop, and I’m not looking for compensation. But there are circumstances when it makes good sense to compensate mentors. One is when programs need to ensure consistent visits in short-term school-based mentoring (SBM). We use college students as Lunch Buddy mentors for children who are bullied or are highly aggressive. Given SBM can be harmful when mentors are inconsistent (Karcher, 2009), Lunch Buddy mentors enroll in a 3-credit college course. This helps ensure consistency with minimal match support and on-site monitoring.

Compensating mentors also makes sense when promoting multi-year matches with challenging youth. For example, Friends of the Children (FotC) has the ambitious goal of mentoring high-risk children over a 12-year span. Mentors have a caseload of several children, they meet for a few hours each week, matches can last 5-6 years, and mentors are paid.  Why? First, parents of FotC children often struggle to maintain their relationships: Nearly 50% of FotC children are later placed into foster care. Secondly, Grossman and Rhodes (2002) found that 55% of BBBSA matches didn’t reach the 1-year mark and youth with greater psychosocial risks were likely to have matches end early. Thus, maintaining a multi-year FotC match is no easy task! As a Big, I regularly face obstacles (e.g., travel, scheduling, feelings of discouragement) just to visit my Little each week. When obstacles mount (and benefits recede), many Bigs give up. Compensating FotC mentors is one way to keep mentors invested in the life of a child.

But are paid mentors less intrinsically motivated to serve youth, and is that harmful? Research has yet to address this question but I offer two points. First, compensation will broaden your pool of potential mentors. A steady salary will entice some ill-fitted folks to do long-term CBM, so selection and training must be thorough. FotC staff are highly selective in who they hire, so they combine compensation, intrinsic motivation, and required skills. Course credit will entice some ill-equipped folks to do short-term SBM, but if consistent visits are combined with a clear, workable structure, there will be less variability from one mentor to the next.

Secondly, don’t assume that compensating mentors eliminates intrinsic motivation or leads to poor performance and poor relationships. As a clinical psychologist, I’m paid for therapy I provide. This work can be fairly intense and the therapeutic relationship is often quite intimate. I know that my performance, especially in more difficult cases, is aided by the fact that I’m compensated for my time and expertise.

6 Comments on "FORUM: Should mentors be compensated for their time?"

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  1. Timothy Cavell says:

    We find that compensation given to college student mentors (course credit, grade) generally functions as intended: It draws a pool of potential mentors, it helps ensure consistency in mentor visits, and it doesn’t undermine the goal of the mentoring program.

    The following are excerpts from an end-of-term paper written by one of our Lunch Buddy mentors. Like all mentors in our program, she earned course credit and a grade for her semester of mentoring. I offer it here because the mentor, like so many of our college student mentors, appreciated the opportunity to be a mentor and to help a young child.

    This was my second semester as a mentor and both times I have enjoyed it immensely. I cannot think of a better way to earn three credit hours than by hanging out with some kids twice a week. Having mentored both a boy and a girl, I can say that they are very different experiences. It was a bit of a shock going from the kind of shy but silly boys to an outspoken and dramatic group of girls. I have had a lot of fun getting to know these kids and hopefully I have been able to help them out in the process.

    I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone who has time, patience, and a good sense of humor. If you are able to be silly and think fast and have some patience for the drama that 10 year-olds get involved in, you will love being a mentor.

    The highlight of this experience has just been getting to know my mentee and her friends and becoming one of their friends. These girls are goofy and dramatic and sometimes all I could do was smile and shake my head at just how silly they were. They could go from giggling over who had a crush on whom to arguing about who would share their candy to telling corny jokes in a matter of minutes. It was rarely ever dull. Most classes you tend to dread getting up and going to but I was always excited to go hang out with my mentee.

    At the beginning of the semester, my mentee had a tendency to be rude and obnoxious to her friends. She acted like she was the coolest person there so everyone else should just do what she said. I don’t think she was overt about it enough that her friends would have stopped being her friends, but it looked like they could easily become the group from the movie Mean Girls.

    I knew that I had to be careful in changing this situation or I would risk alienating myself from my mentee. The more you tell someone not to do something, the more they tend to want to do it so I focused more on praising and reinforcing good behavior. If my mentee shared some of her food or candy I would say how sweet that was of her. This also encouraged her friends to say thank you which improved the positive reinforcement. I also tried to share my attention with the other students as a way of modeling good behavior and as a way of passively letting my mentee know that the others are important and deserve respect just as much as she does.

    This strategy has seemed to work very well. My mentee has been much more considerate of those around her. She now asks to trade food, rather than just grabbing. Her friends are responding positively as well. Everyone seems to be a lot more respectful of each other’s space and there has not been nearly as much bickering as there was at the beginning of the semester.

    This has been a spectacular experience for me. These kids are awesome and I feel very lucky that I was given the chance to get to know them. I hope the research gained progresses well and has a great impact on the lives of these kids!

    • Crime says:

      Thanks so much for the shout-out, Rosie! We’re excited to see the GoodGuides pogarrm start to really make a difference for both the mentors and the mentees. Love the mutual mentorship concept it’s so true!

  2. Marion G. says:

    If anyone should be given an incentive, it should be the mentee. There are plenty of adults that are already employed who could commit an hour or two per week as part of their community service. Most of these kids could benefit from incentives, i.e,. smart phones, internet access, etc., where they can connect to information.

  3. Jo-Ann Schoefield says:

    Although I understand the rationale behind offering stipends or college credit to mentors for high risk, hard to match youth, in my opinion it undermines the true value of a mentor-mentee relationship. When mentors are compensated in some way, they may view their meetings as a job; a means to an end rather than something they do to give back to the community. I don’t think that a youth who knows someone is paid to spend time with him/her will value the relationship. Just one more adult intruding in their space. I believe that the relationship will suffer.

    There is something magical about an adult who commits to being a positive role model for youth for the sole purpose of making a difference. As long as the youth and the mentor see the value in the time spent together, both lives will be changed. As with any relationship, you get out of it what you put into it. Not all mentor-mentee relationships create lifelong friendship, but some do. If someone is being compensated to mentor a youth, when the compensation stops, I’m guessing the relationship will stop, too. As we all know, the longer a relationship exists, the stronger influence it has on the participants. In a perfect world, adults would step to the plate to mentor our youth for the pure joy of it, knowing they have the potential to make a difference. And that’s priceless.

    • Samia. M says:

      With due respect to what you said, which I agree with the content of it but slightly disagree on the substance concerning the Mentor incentive initiative. I think the college credit will be a good idea as it encourage more college students to get involved in a youth life. That is especially important, given the age factor that can bring a teenager and a young college student together. The relationship could be more reliable and based on understanding which may form a long term relationship and lifetime role model. On the other hand, a monetary incentive could be beneficial if it is rewarded based on certain criterias. For instance, someone who’s working part-time job and willing to contribute the other half to a cause will be in need to fill the financial gap. or if the mentor is financially in need but s/he can make a difference; it will be beneficial to attract that individual and help with his/her financial burden to allow better concentration on the case. I think a well designed system of compensation based on merit and results driven evaluation criterias will help make this initiative positive rather than “protecting one’s own livelihood” as one of the commentators wrote.

  4. Christopher R says:

    As someone who worked in a paid mentoring position all to often saw mentors making up false contacts in order to ensure they received their pay check. The position I worked for only allowed a 1/2 hr pay if youth skipped session. The position became more about protecting one’s own livelihood rather than about the positive influence on the youth.

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