The first two posts in our vegan mentoring series provided an introduction to mentoring and profiled several successful programs. It’s clear from our exploration that many people who are receptive to veganism benefit from one-on-one guidance and support. So, let’s now put all our learning together and look at some guidelines, tips, and resources for starting a successful program in your community!
STEPS FOR STARTING A MENTOR PROGRAM
1) Learn about existing mentor programs. As you familiarize yourself with existing mentor programs, you can get a better sense of what’s involved, understand the options for organizing a program, and have a network of support available.
2) Define your program. Mentoring doesn’t need to be complex. Informally mentoring a family member, friend, or coworker interested in veganism is a great way to get started. Alternatively, you may be able to connect with someone via Facebook, at an outreach event, or in person elsewhere and offer your support. If you’re interested in initiating a formal program, more planning and advertising are necessary. In considering the kind of program you’d like to develop, ask yourself the following questions to help organize your thoughts:
- Do you want the program to be structured around a time-limited pledge or will it be ongoing?
- Will you:
- Develop a custom menu of various events, programs, and workshops to support matches (e.g., nutrition workshops, cooking demos, film screenings, potlucks, restaurant outings, field trips, discussion groups, book clubs, and/or market tours)?
- Tap into already existing programs to support matches?
- Provide extensive suggestions and guidelines to mentors?
- Create a program based on a combination of any or all of the above?
- Will mentors need to meet certain requirements?
- Will mentors and mentees be required to attend certain programs or events?
- How will mentors be supported by the program organizer(s)?
3) Reach out for support. Once you’ve decided on the kind of program you’d like to initiate, reach out to other mentor programs with any specific questions. If you aren’t already affiliated with an organization, you may want to contact a local group (Meetup.com is a great resource) about your idea to see if a partner can help get the program off the ground. If you wish to structure your program around a vegan pledge, consider contacting the Peace Advocacy Network. They have a successful program model, offer extensive materials, provide guidance, and are looking to expand the pledge to other cities.
4) Plan and organize the program. Meet with one or more volunteers or staff to discuss how the program will work. Create a program outline with all of the agreed upon policies so you can have everything in writing to use as a reference. This document will also help you develop marketing materials and communicate with volunteer mentors. If events and workshops need to be planned to support a monthly pledge or ongoing mentor program, develop a calendar of events and an action plan.
5) Develop program materials. You’ll need mentor and mentee application forms. If you are conducting a vegan pledge, you’ll also want to have a vegan pledge sign up form. See the Resources section below for samples. We also recommend developing evaluation forms for mentees so you can gauge the success of the program.
6) Create outreach materials. To attract mentors and mentees, consider creating various tools such as a flyer, brochure, website, Meetup.com group, or a Facebook page that advertises the program.
7) Spread the word. Advertise the mentor program to the vegan community and recruit mentors/ other volunteers to support the program via social media platforms, Meetup.com, meetings, email, local organizations, etc.
8) Recruit mentees. Conduct outreach to potential mentees through the above publicity suggestions, at events, and through other advertising strategies.
9) Seek funding to support the program. Consider applying to VegFund’s Merit Awards Program for assistance with specific costs.
MENTORING GUIDELINES & TIPS
There are numerous ways a vegan mentor, also referred to as a coach or buddy, can provide meaningful guidance to someone interested in vegan living. Some key mentoring principles to keep in mind are:
1) Begin wherever someone is on the vegan journey. If a person is not participating in a vegan pledge and is initially only willing to give up meat but not dairy, focus on helping him or her do that. As the person meets with success and has a positive experience, he or she will typically become more receptive to expanding and sustaining changes in their food choices.
2) Offer general support and resources. As a mentor, your role is to answer questions as they arise, point your mentee toward online and community resources as needed, inform your mentee about relevant events that may be of interest, and be there consistently for guidance and to acknowledge success.
3) Get to know your mentee. In order to connect with your match, it’s critical that you take some time to understand their interests. Does your match like to read, cook, or spend time on the computer? Once you understand their interests, you can suggest activities to do together or encourage your mentee to pursue independently. For example, if your mentee likes to cook, suggest one or two cookbooks they may wish to purchase or check out at the library. If he or she enjoys spending time on the computer, you can share some popular vegan blogs, recipe sites, chat forums, or cooking videos. VegFund’s VegVids has an expansive video library that might appeal to your match.
4) Respect preferences and boundaries. Your mentee will most likely have preferences about the kind of support they want and how they wish to connect. It’s important to respect these boundaries. For example, if your mentee loves to go out to eat but doesn’t like big crowds, be on the lookout for smaller vegan dining out gatherings or intimate potlucks. It’s always best to discuss your mentee’s preferred method of communication and your availability so that your mentee can have realistic expectations for your support. If your mentee prefers to ask questions or share concerns via email, then respect that and don’t call him or her on the phone to check in regularly. On the other hand, your mentee may like to talk on the phone rather than connect via the computer if he or she has a question.
5) Respond appropriately to specific challenges and concerns. Perhaps your mentee is overwhelmed by animal suffering and doesn’t understand why his or her family doesn’t care. Maybe your mentee tried a vegan meat product for the first time, didn’t like it, and now feels discouraged. Another person may be worried about not being able to have favorite foods any longer. And another may not know their way around a kitchen and gets intimidated by the thought of cooking. There are various ways a mentor can support each of these challenges and we encourage you to consider the next section for options.
SPECIFIC WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR MENTEE:
As you remain cognizant of the principles above as well as your mentee’s schedule, availability, interests, and level of preferred engagement, there are many additional ways to provide support. Whether you are mentoring informally or plan to develop a formal program, consider the following:
- Meet with your mentee in person to discuss their goal, the kind of support they are looking for, what you can offer, and develop an initial plan for working together. It’s a good idea to plan something (market tour and shopping, restaurant outing, etc.) at this first meeting to get your mentee started.
- Share your own journey toward vegan living to help build a connection. Discuss the benefits and any challenges that you faced and how you coped.
- Establish a scheduled check-in weekly/monthly by phone, email, or in person.
- For a mentee who doesn’t enjoy cooking, focus your support on vegan friendly dining out options, a grocery tour with a focus on convenience foods, and simple meals to prepare at home with ready-made products.
- Recommend one new product a week for him or her to try with some easy preparation suggestions (e.g., coconut milk ice cream, Vegenaise-based dip, Daiya cheese pizza, etc.).
- Meet at the market to show your mentee products and go on a market tour.
- Join other mentors and mentees for available support and discussion circles. If none exist and there’s an interest, establish one with other active matches.
- Read an animal rights related book and discuss chapters or join a vegan book club.
- Share an activity together that you both enjoy like walking, a trip to a museum, etc. as an opportunity to discuss how things are going.
- Watch an animal rights related film together and talk about it.
- Invite your mentee to vegan Meetup or local organizational activities, restaurant outings, vegan nutrition workshops, etc.
- Help your mentee veganize favorite recipes or cook together to discover new foods.
- Attend a vegan food festival or potluck together.
- Visit or volunteer at an animal sanctuary.
RESOURCES TO GET YOU STARTED
1) Sample Forms and Materials
4) Existing Mentor Programs
- London Vegan Pledge through London Vegan Campaigns (London, England)
- Mentor Me Vegan Mentor Program through endXmeat (Jacksonville, Florida)
- Rent a Vegan Buddy through Animal Friends Croatia (Zagreb, Croatia)
- Vegan Buddies Program through Northwest Animal Rights Network (Seattle, Washington)
- Vegan Living Program through Open the Cages Alliance (Baltimore, Maryland)
- Vegan Mentor Program through Animal Rights Advocates Inc. (Mount Lawley, Australia)
- Veggie Mentor Program through Bay Area Veg Society (San Francisco, California)
- Vegan Mentor Program through the Penn Vegan Society (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- Vegan Pledge Program through The Vegan Society (Birmingham, United Kingdom)
- Vegan University through Animal Rights Coalition (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
We hope you are now inspired to think about the possibilities for vegan mentoring in your community and have the tools to get started. We look forward to hearing about your experiences and wish you much success!