Originally posted in 2008 - it has been slightly updated since then 

Being an Online Mentor: A Real Relationship, A Real Commitment
(What I've Learned as an Online Mentor)

One of the most sought-after online volunteering activities is mentoring another person via the Internet. But while many, many people may desire to make a difference in someone's life by working with that person online, many of these same people also often have a misconception that mentoring online takes far less time and commitment than traditional, onsite volunteering - that it takes just minutes, even seconds, every now and again, rather than an ongoing investment of several hours (yet another myth of online volunteering).

Mentoring someone online takes real time and commitment, because mentoring requires trust-building. Relationships have to be cultivated, personalities and points of view have to understood, and respect has to be earned - and none of that happens in just a few seconds or a few minutes when you might have some time to spare. The work required for online mentoring doesn't happen only at the most convenient time for the volunteer; the mentor has to schedule real time for mentoring to happen regularly, and for questions and comments by the person being mentored to be addressed promptly and fully. A mentoring relationship can actually cause harm to the person to be mentored if the volunteer does not make the relationship a priority, and makes the person to be mentored feel forgotten or not of great importance.

I have been an online mentor several times, including:

How did I become involved in these online mentoring experiences?

The most satisfying relationships for me have been the one-on-one exchanges, where I am working with and focused on just one person. In such online relationships, I feel like I'm not only making a real difference, but also building a very real relationship. The one-to-many exchanges are worthwhile - I do think I've passed on some good information, as well as learning a lot myself - but it's the one-on-one relationships that have been most satisfying for me, personally, and that I feel that I see real results because of the online exchanges.

Not every online mentoring relationship has been successful. In one program, xxxx, those to be mentored seemed unclear about what the purpose of the program was for, and their messages to our private communications platform didn't seem to have any particular focus - I can't tell you much of anything about the students I was trying to help. In the Sanchez program, the mentoring relationships ended when the program ended and the private communications platform was discontinued, much to the disappointment and even sadness of the students involved; for them, their mentors "disappeared." 

For all of these online mentoring experiences, what has been most important for me to be successful as a volunteer mentor are:

Regarding my experiences mentoring my Afghan colleague, specifically:
To date, all of my online mentoring experiences have been via written communications and have been asynchronous rather than synchronous; mentors, and those to be mentored, don't have to be online at the same time. This is all done usually via a special password-protected online platform, so that exchanges are private and can be easily monitored. Sometimes, this platform hides the identities of the mentors and those to be mentored; we know each other only through "handles" or user name; the reason for such a system, is for online safety -- messages are monitored so that there is no way for participants to contact each other outside the program's communications platform.

Would video work in online mentoring? Certainly, provided that all participants:

If you want detailed information on how to work with online volunteers, and how to fully integrate virtual volunteering in to all of your community engagement, including how to set up and support an online mentoring program, see:

 The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

available for purchase as a paperback & an ebook

from Energize, Inc.
Completely revised and updated, & includes lots more advice about microvolunteering!
Published January 2014.

Also see:


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