The Agency Mentorship Pilot Program: A Program Evaluation Summary
Since 2005, a growing number of nonprofits that provide programs and services to youth aged 13-29 years living in marginalized communities in Toronto are led by young people. While young staff are effective at engaging and serving youth, many struggle to sustain, grow and manage their projects or organizations. In response to this challenge, For Youth Initiative (FYI) developed the Agency Mentorship Program (AMP), a three-year pilot project to support the development of three youth-led organizations in Toronto. The structure of AMP was based on three pillars: workshops, one-on-one guidance, and partnership and network facilitation. AMP’s content was determined through baseline assessments of program participants. Through AMP, templates and resources were shared via email, website, and social media with program participants and the broader youth sector. Young leaders and youth-led organizations that were not committed AMP participants could access and benefit from one-on-one supports upon request and public workshops held every other month.
FYI and York University’s Applied Social Welfare Research and Evaluation Group (ASWREG) have completed a preliminary evaluation of the program. The purpose of this brief is to share with practitioners and supporters of the youth-led and youth-serving sector a summary of our findings to date.
What data did the evaluators examine?
To ensure a thorough evaluation of the AMP, participants had numerous opportunities to provide feedback on existing supports, request additional supports and articulate how AMP’s activities impacted their work. Feedback was collected through workshop evaluations, monthly progress reports, and monthly mentorship sessions, as well as annual progress reports, needs assessments and program evaluations. York University’s ASWREG is currently synthesizing and analyzing the data. A complete evaluative report on AMP will be released in the near future. This complete report will explore the program’s impact in depth, highlight program challenges, and recommend improvements for increased impact.
For the purposes of this report, an interim review has been completed based on findings from the following three data collection activities: online survey using Survey Monkey, a focus group and one-on-one interviews. All workshop participants were invited to participate in these assessment activities.
What did the evaluators find?
- Youth-led nonprofits require supports to work within established systems that are barriers to success: Nonprofits struggle to find funding, specifically core or operations funding, to sustain operations staff. Without stable resources, organizational leaders are unable to focus on the development of organizational infrastructure and growth. Formal program participants received funding from the Youth Challenge Fund to support organizational operations. This allowed them to focus the time and energy required on organizational development and growth. Furthermore, AMP supported participants to understand funding systems, develop strategies for fund acquisition, and provided training on grant-writing. AMP participants were able to write better grants, increase their organizational budgets, and better utilize funds.AMP participants feel that large organizations do not support their work. Established, well-funded organizations have little incentive to share their resources, funds or expertise with developing organizations. AMP provided a mentor relationship with an established organization that understands young people and the youth-led model.
- Trust in mentor relationships is essential to organizational growth: AMP participants indicate that FYI’s proven track record of supporting community-based organizations with our Administrative Support Program has legitimized our position as mentor and service provider. This foundation of trust facilitates comfort for participants and helps them be candid about the challenges they face in their community work. By identifying the root cause of these challenges AMP staff can propose effective strategies for change, work with participants to build strategies, and monitor progress over time.
- Real change requires continuity and stability that an organizational mentor can provide: Youth-led organizations face frequent changes in staff and board composition as well as funding, and these changes can impact their ability to provide consistent and effective services to their communities. Through frequent and reciprocal communications with participants AMP staff develop comprehensive knowledge of each organization and are able to assist in the transition of outgoing and incoming organizational leaders. Throughout the pilot program, AMP staff supported incoming leaders to understand the challenges faced by their predecessors and helped them develop strategies to address these challenges. Leaders were better equipped to move forward with minimal delays.
- Networks are integral to sustainability in youth organizations and the youth sector: AMP participants built relationships with young leaders, youth organizations and sector experts through the program. These relationships have developed into a network of supporters who share critical resources and powerful knowledge. AMP participants receive feedback and input from sector experts, and collaborate with like-minded organizations on areas like funding applications and program implementation. Building and exercising networks is critical in the youth sector.
- Operating efficiently leads to better service and greater impact in the community: Program participants indicate that AMP services support them in developing skills and knowledge in a variety of areas including: human resources, volunteer management, documentation and communication and program evaluation. As a result participants can develop infrastructure in their organizations, such as human resources policies and internal communication processes, which increases overall efficacy. Organizations have more time and resources to serve their communities.
FYI’s efforts to support the development of youth-led organizations through the Agency Mentorship Program and the subsequent program evaluation provide many insights that can guide capacity-building work across the sector. AMP’s multi-pronged approach of workshops, one-on-one guidance, and partnership and network facilitation is integral to the development of leadership and organizational capacity. Young leaders can increase their understanding of the systems in which they function and are better prepared to navigate them, while they gain the skills and confidence required to make change. The increased capacity of youth-led organizations strengthens the sector as a whole and leads to more effective programs and services in the community.
FYI has recently re-envisioned the Agency Mentorship Program as a centralized hub to access all of our capacity building services; we call this hub CORE or the Centre for Organizational Resilience. If you are interested in learning more, check out our website at www.foryouth.ca/about_core or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.