While most groups are happy to accept offers of resources, transport support, etc., not every organization is a good candidate for mentorship. To truly embrace the opportunity participation in a Shelter Ally program provides, groups must be willing to accept the recommendations for change and implement mentor group suggestions. Honest and forthright initial conversations must be had in order to determine the prospective mentee’s openness to change.
This is not to say that every group must be 100% ready to change every existing policy before becoming a mentee. After all, even the most progressive groups had a journey by which they embraced change, and even current best practices were likely initially resisted. The key in selecting a mentee group is their openness to potential change, and their willingness to have dialogue and conversation around ideas that currently seem foreign to them. For example, a group that insists its transfer partners use strict screening and provide them the opportunity to reject placements may evidence a group that is unlikely to recognize the value of open adoptions any time soon. By contrast, a group that currently uses strict adopter screening but is willing to dialog about why their transfer partner uses conversation-based adoptions is potentially open to change once they see the benefits of that approach.
In a nutshell, the most important ingredient for success as a mentee group is leadership that is committed to change. There is no animal welfare group that has truly unlimited resources—even groups with the largest operating budgets, newest facilities and most robust fundraising teams still work for every dollar and must spend their resources wisely. Being selected as a mentee by another group is an honor—they have chosen to voluntarily share their valuable resources (including their time and professional expertise) with you! As such, it is important that mentees enter this relationship with a commitment to being open to change, and accepting advice even when it seems contrary to current practices or experience. A mentee must be open to hearing their mentor group’s experience, trusting their recommendations and adjusting policies accordingly. If a group’s desire is to simply continue doing what they have always done but have someone temporarily relieve some of the burden, they don’t need a mentor—they need a basic transport partner.
To ensure success, it is vital that, before entering into an official Shelter Ally relationship, both groups are clear as to the goals and expectations of the partnership. The mentee should know—and agree—that their mentor’s goal is to support them beyond simply providing transport, and that to achieve that goal they will be asked to provide data, participate in trainings, consider operational and policy changes and more. By the same token, mentor groups must be transparent about the types of assistance they will and won’t provide; for example, mentor groups should be clear about whether or not they will supplement staffing, underwrite structural improvements or provide equipment or other assistance. While an informal discussion may be easiest, groups should consider entering into a formal Memorandum of Understanding to ensure that unmet expectations do not derail the sister shelter relationship.