Victorian Youth Mentoring Alliance

Greg Jessep Joshua Beasley Photo with Paper PeopleThe Victorian Youth Mentoring Alliance (VYMA) isn’t the most glamorous part of the mentoring process.  They don’t forge long-lasting relationships with young people, match them with their perfect mentor, or get reminded of the great work they do in the form of a flourishing adolescent.  But they are the ones who keep them safe.

In 2005 a small group of program coordinators got together to talk about the frequent calls they’d received from new organisations looking to set up new mentoring programs.  Popularity was on the rise, but the organisations didn’t know what they were doing and inexperienced staff were matching volunteers from the community with young people. Their concern was that already vulnerable people were being put at more risk, so VYMA was established in support of these young people and the programs themselves.

Executive Officer Sarah Johnson said, “Program coordinators wanted to do a great job but they didn’t have the tools to do that.”

Six years on they now have access to more than 80 resources online, tailored workshops, and events where they have a platform to discuss solutions–based problems with their peers.

All of these tools are made available for a nominal membership fee determined by the organisations budgetary means.  Otherwise VYMA relies on government grants, philanthropic trusts and donations to keep afloat. Unfortunately it just wasn’t enough, they needed more money – a common story for a not-for-profit – and they thought the answer might lie in corporate partnerships.

Sarah found she didn’t have the time, within a team of 1.8 people (yes .8!), to gain the scope.

“So I made contact with LV to gain support around our corporate engagement strategy.”

The mission was to uncover whether corporate partnerships could sustain VYMA. A small group of Williamson Community Leadership Program (WCLP) participants, class of 2010, set out to answer: How should VYMA engage with corporations, and do they want to engage with us?

The outcome wasn’t what the board expected, and Sarah was a little surprised herself. The WCLP (’10) team suggested they not go down the corporate road.  Their findings indicated that while corporations were interested in youth mentoring programs, they were interested in it at grass roots levels and didn’t value what VYMA offered the programs themselves.

“It might be perceived as negative, but it was a real positive in the end because the board had been thinking for a while that we should be engaging with corporate. We made a bunch of assumptions that this would occur quite easily, and the feedback from the team counteracted that,” Sarah said.

The team’s research made it clear to VYMA what business wants, and shifted their corporate marketing focus to the promotion of mentoring as a whole, and their organisations, rather than the Alliance itself.

Working with the WCLP team meant that Sarah, the whole person in the 1.8 person team, did not have to perform an in-depth analysis of the landscape herself, and VYMA didn’t spend the time and money chasing corporate partnerships unsuccessfully.  They now have the insight and recommendations to focus on more viable options.

However, their relationship with Leadership Victoria is far from over. Asked if she would continue to call on LV in the future, Sarah said:

“I already have! We’re recruiting board members at the moment and promoted through LV. Our biggest strength is our network.  Admittedly we are a tiny team, but the strong networks we get through LV and others mean we can achieve a hell of a lot.”

“If we didn’t have support from organisations like LV we certainly wouldn’t be able to achieve what we do.”