As part of our work to provide effective and relevant capacity building to community sector organisations, The Bishop’s Action Foundation launched a pilot ‘Critical Friends’ programme in 2008. The programme was developed in response to comments from community sector leaders who said that they experienced isolation and often lacked support to strengthen their organisation and develop their leadership potential. The nature of the sector and its reliance on charitable funding meant that community organisations were typically operating in a deficit environment, with limited budget for external support.
By the end of 2009 the programme was supporting 14 organisations. The programme continued to offer this level of support until 2013 when discussions began with Business Mentors NZ about the potential of leveraging their existing business mentoring services to support the not-for-profit sector. Although this initial discussion did not prove fruitful it opened the door to a discussion with the Tindall Foundation who were interested in the potential impact of mentoring for community organisations.
In 2014 BAF was asked to work with Mel Wilson, a changemaker currently working with the Tindall Foundation, to develop and pilot a national mentoring programme based on our experience. Our challenge was to try and develop a high-quality model that could be easily replicated, was low in overhead costs and that could provide mentoring for both geographically connected organisations and interest/sector connected organisations.
Working with Mel and colleague Annie Ackerman, we scoped, validated and then launched a pilot mentoring programme in 2018 with funding support from The Tindall Foundation. The programme was originally piloted in four regions, including Taranaki, with BAF acting as the fund holder and project manager so that the pilot could evolve without having to create a new organisation straight away. Working with partners in Auckland, Whanganui and the Bay of Plenty, the pilots offered geographical connection in Whanganui and the Bay of Plenty and a sector-based connection in Auckland where the programme worked across the arts sector.
It has been rewarding to see the value the programme offers, with mentees reporting an increase in effectiveness and confidence in their roles. This support has been especially important during the interruptions and challenges that COVID has brought in recent years. Feedback has included comments like:
“The biggest impact for me was the ability to network with a variety of different groups with similar back stories, creating a relationship with the mentor which will continue on post the programme.”
“Having a mentor completely on the outside of what I do, who was able to ask the hard questions that helped me get more clarity around what I was trying to do.”
In 2018 BAF supported the creation of a new trust – The Mentoring Foundation of New Zealand – to continue to grow the flourishing initiative and fully handed over the operation of the programme in early 2020. By the end of 2021 over 180 mentees had been supported and in 2022 The Mentoring Foundation of New Zealand will operate 14 mentoring programmes. The Foundation has been contracted to deliver a range of governance-specific mentoring programmes by Community Governance New Zealand and continues to deliver community leadership programmes through partners in Taranaki, the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Whanganui and Kapiti.
Mel Wilson commented that, “Working with BAF in the early stages of developing the Mentoring Foundation model has been critical to its success. It was helpful to be able to operate under the BAF ‘umbrella’ initially as we explored the feasibility of the model. Simon and Andrew have been incredibly generous in their support of MFNZ through the design and pilot phases and continue to play a key role in the organisation initially through Simon’s role, and now Andrew’s presence, on our governance board.”