Matching Strategies and Tips

There are three main ways that mentors and students can get matched in YouthBuild mentoring programs:

1. Direct Nomination By the Youth

This may be an occasional occurrence, but youth may nominate or recruit their own mentors to the program—someone with whom they already have some connection. In these instances, you may be able to make a match without much effort. Just make sure the mentor goes through your standard screening and training procedures first.

2. Matches the Emerge During Group Mentoring Time

These matches are ideally suggested by the volunteers and students themselves, although the mentoring coordinator may also suggest pairings at the end of the three-moth group mentoring period. This approach to making matches, sometimes called “natural matching,” puts a premium on the youth’s personal preferences and initiative. All mentors and mentees start out together doing unmatched group activities for the first three months of the program. After mentors and mentees have interacted and got to know each other a bit, the students may privately nominate their top three or four choices for a mentor. As the coordinator, you can also suggest possible pairings to the students and encourage them to ask the volunteer directly. Pay close attention to mentor-mentee interactions during the group time and see who is bonding and getting along.

This approach capitalizes on the student’s natural enthusiasm for a particular individual. But be aware that this method can create expectations around being matched with a specific person, which can lead to disappointment if that person is not receptive or ultimately selected.

3. Coordinator-Selected Matches

You may wind up with situations where natural pairs have not really emerged for some or all of the participants. In these instances, the mentoring coordinator can make pairs based on relevant criteria and observations of the group to this point.

You may want to consider a quick "speed mentoring" activity at some point in the initial three months of group time that can suggest who might be compatible for matching with another participant. For example, students and potential mentors can take turns having five-minute conversations with each other covering where they were born, their favorite music, whom they would pick if they could have a dinner with anyone, etc. Feel free to be creative with the topics you have them discuss. After these conversations, mentors and mentees write down the top three people they enjoyed talking to (as opposed to who they had the most in common with or who they would like to be matched with).

This exercise almost always results in a mentoring coordinator being able to match everyone in the room with someone in their top three choices, allowing for very natural and initially comfortable matches. The exercise works because it asks participants to reflect on whom they enjoyed talking to, whom they clicked with—something that might not happen if the lists were simply based on who has the most in common with whom.

General Matching Tips

  • Keep the best interests of the student at the forefront of your decision-making process. Ask yourself what does this particular student need in a mentor? What type of person can help him or her reach goals? What type of person might that student have a spark with?
  • Do not get caught up in finding the across-the-board perfect match for every student. No mentor will match every single need a young person has. Leaving a student on a waiting list for long periods of time while you search for his or her perfect mentor does not help anyone.
  • Do not overvalue certain mentor characteristics at the expense of others. A lawyer who volunteers in your program may be a great match for a student who wants to become a lawyer, but not if the mentor lives far away, can’t meet oft en, and has a personality that will not gel with the mentee you have in mind.

Matching for YouthBuild Programs With Ongoing Enrollment

Matching can be a bit more difficult for YouthBuild programs that take in students throughout the year. Try to have bimonthly or quarterly matchmaking times, so you maximize the number of volunteers and students that you can consider matching at any given time. Try to avoid a scenario in which you match the one new mentor you have with your one new mentee simply because they are the only ones available. Focus on building up a larger pool of participants before making new matches. Ideally, quarterly matching ceremonies would naturally follow from any quarterly mentor recruitment and training you conduct.