“I never meant for that to happen.”
Just as the above lament can be the swan song for a nonprofit that doesn’t follow good organizational practices, it can also be the epitaph for a mentoring partnership gone wrong.
All the good intentions of any individual can fall prey to human weakness or error.
In their book “The Mentor’s Field Guide” Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick offer ethical principles for mentoring, citing earlier work done by Jean Rhodes, Belle Liang and Renee Spender. The principles are:
- Promote the welfare and safety of the young person. In reverse terms, it could be “do no harm.” This might seem self-evident, but differing values, cultures and worldviews can come into play. It can also mean establishing a rapport with primary caregivers.
- Be trustworthy and responsible. This involves ethical considerations but also practical items such as the frequency and duration of meetings as stipulated by the program.
- Act with integrity. This related principle highlights the obligation of mentors to be thoughtful and forthright about commitments and to avoid setting up false expectations.
- Promote justice for young people. This calls for mentors to exercise good judgment and ensure that the potential biases inherent in their own backgrounds do not lead to prejudicial treatment of mentees.
- Respect the young person’s rights and dignity.
Except in extreme situations, volunteers should seek to understand and respect the decisions and lifestyle of a young person and his/her family.