Research suggests that the mentor's attitude is the most important ingredient in the matching process. A mentor with a healthy and caring attitude can be matched successfully with almost any young person.
Some youth mentoring programmes hold gatherings where potential mentors and young people meet each other participate in a variety of fun activities and then write down their preferences for mentors and mentees respectively. Programme staff go through these choices and then make the final match. While this method can be very successful in matching mentors and young people with similar interests, it can also lead to disappointment if first choices are not possible. In some cases young people tend to choose mentors who are closer in age to themselves. This could leave older, more experienced mentors on the outside, which can also negatively affect the programme.
Wherever possible, mentors should be of the same gender. However, the global shortage of male mentors has resulted in female mentors being matched with male young people.
Presuming that the mentors and young people meet the programme's eligibility criteria and are committed to the matching process, some helpful criteria from international research for effective matching would include:
- Similar interests
- Geographic proximity
- The preferences of the mentor and the young person (wherever possible)
- Similar family makeup
- The young person's needs and goals
- Ethnicity - pairing mentors and young people of the same race or culture can have many positive benefits to both parties. However, such matches are not always possible. There are may examples of successful cross-cultural mentoring relationships
- Similar faith groups
- Availability of the mentor
- The risk factors of the young person
- The personality and temperaments of both the mentor and the young person, which is why pre-training face-to-face interviews and the training itself is so important.
Programmes should build into their structures a time for the mentor and the young person to decide whether or not they wish to continue with the match. A period of six to eight weeks after the initial match would be a good time to review the relationship. If either party chooses not to continue with the match, programme staff should follow a clear closure procedure which will affirm both the mentor and the young person, leaving the way open for new matches to be made after a possible cooling-off period.
Wherever possible, programme staff should facilitate the initial meeting between the mentor, the young person and the young person's family (where applicable). Policies and procedures of the programme should be discussed e.g., sharing of contact details, boundaries, confidentiality, meeting times and so on.