It’s About Time: Staff Support Contacts and Mentor Volunteer Experiences


  • Thomas E. Keller Portland State University
  • Alison L. Drew Boston University
  • Hyuny Clark-Shim Portland State University
  • Renée Spencer Boston University
  • Carla Herrera Independent Researcher



youth mentoring, match support, program support, volunteer supervision, organizational culture


Formal youth mentoring programs typically rely on volunteers to serve as mentors to young people, with training and guidance from agency staff. A fundamental program practice is to provide ongoing support and supervision to volunteer mentors by engaging in regular contact to monitor the progress of the mentoring relationship and offer guidance and encouragement. Using data from mentors (n = 504) in multiple mentoring programs (n = 55), the current study investigated how the amount of time devoted to these match support contacts was associated with mentor perceptions regarding the nature of their volunteer experience, specifically: the quality of supervision received, the mentoring agency’s organizational culture with respect to engaging volunteers, and satisfaction with their volunteer service experience. Mentors who had no staff support contacts gave the lowest ratings for quality of supervision, organizational culture, and service experience. Further, mentors who typically had the shortest support contacts (1 to 5 minutes) reported lower quality supervision, organizational culture, and service experience compared to mentors with longer support contacts. In most cases, the associations between staff support contact length and mentor-reported outcomes remained significant after controlling for the helpfulness of the support contacts and the frequency of using advice suggested during the contacts. These findings provide evidence that match support contacts are an important practice for youth mentoring programs and suggest that programs should encourage staff to spend time engaging in meaningful conversations beyond quick check-ins. Future research should examine how the content of support contacts influences volunteer mentoring experiences.

Author Biographies

Thomas E. Keller, Portland State University

Thomas E. Keller is the Duncan and Cindy Campbell Professor for Children, Youth, and Families in the School of Social Work at Portland State University.

Alison L. Drew, Boston University

Alison Drew is a Post-Doctoral Scholar in the School of Social Work at Boston University.

Hyuny Clark-Shim, Portland State University

Hyuny Clark-Shim is a doctoral student in the School of Social Work at Portland State Unviversity.

Renée Spencer, Boston University

Renée Spencer is Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the School of Social Work at Boston University.

Carla Herrera, Independent Researcher

Carla Herrera is a well-known researcher in the field of youth mentoring.


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