Designing the Mentor Experience at Innovation Works

TL;DR: Innovation Works engages volunteer mentors in their work to help social entrepreneurs take their ideas to scale.  To make the mentoring program sustainable, they sought to understand how they could keep mentors engaged over time and leverage mentors as ambassadors to grow the mentor network.  However, they needed to balance among the needs of the social entrepreneurs, volunteer mentors, and the staff/organization.  Thus, I decided to take a service design approach to understanding how we could design the mentor experience to support successful mentor-mentee relationships and a rewarding experience for mentors that made them feel truly part of a community.  Using surveys, interviews, and contextual inquiry, I was able to create personas and journey maps for both a mentor and a mentee (social entrepreneur).  I shared these user research insights with staff and then facilitated two workshops to co-design the ideal mentor experience and then to identify what was needed and how the team would get there.  These resulted in a service blueprint and an agile roadmap.  Although this was part of my master’s capstone and my work with them ended in 2020, Innovation Works continues to work on implementing recommendations.

Challenge | Approach | Results | Tools + Methods


Innovation Works is a nonprofit working to reduce the racial and neighborhood wealth divide in Baltimore, Maryland.  They do this by helping social entrepreneurs take their ideas to scale.  A key component of how they do this is with the help of volunteer mentors. 

Visual shows 3 steps, going up from left to right, with the first step being, “Engage & manage volunteer mentors, the second step being, “Build a strong mentor network, and the third step being, “Provide IW clients with high quality mentoring.”

As they had begun programming within the past year, they were eager to build a strong foundation for their mentor network.  The challenge that drove our work together was:

How can Innovation Works keep mentors engaged over time and ensure they have such a rewarding experience that they will be passionate ambassadors who can help grow the network?


As part of scoping the project, I talked extensively with the executive director and the volunteer leading volunteer engagement.  I reviewed their documentation for the mentoring program as well as survey data they had previously collected. I created context and process diagrams to check my understanding.

Diagram is comprised of circles with arrows pointing inward to central circle, labeled “Work of onboarding + engaging mentors.” This shows all the related organizational programs and processes and systems that are related to the work of onboarding and engaging mentors.  The outside circles include the following: Program resources/systems, with the arrow labeled “Welcome e-mail w/ articles”; One-off consults; Structured programs (Boost, GSBI); Fundraising (future), with an arrow labeled “Prospective donors”; Program evaluation, with an arrow labeled “Data TBD – in progress”; this also has an arrow connected to the next circle, which is Airtable (moving to CRM soon), and which also has an arrow connected to the central circle labeled “Mentor/SE data – contact info, who paired with who”; Assessing individual SE’s needs for mentors, which has an arrow labeled “Mentor pairing” pointed towards it and an arrow labeled “Placement need” pointed to the central circle; Recruiting + screening mentors, which has an arrow labeled “New mentors”; and Mentor Advisory Group (future).
Mentor Engagement Context Diagram

During my initial conversations with the Innovation Works team, it was apparent there would be a few challenges in answering this question:

  • Lack of feedback on/visibility into 1:1 mentoring, mentor engagement
  • Balancing among social entrepreneur (client), mentor, and staff/organizational needs
  • Lack of baseline data given that operations began in 2019

I started by conducting surveys, interviews, and contextual inquiry with mentors, social entrepreneurs (SEs), and staff. 

I used what I learned from this research to create personas (one mentor and one social entrepreneur) and one journey map for each of these personas.  Then I shared the findings with the Innovation Works team both in a report and a presentation.  Although we focused on designing the experience for mentors, it was mission-critical to ensure that the social entrepreneurs also had a positive experience and received mentoring that was valuable.

IW Journey Map shows a mentor persona’s journey from hearing about the mentoring volunteer opportunity from a friend and applying to volunteer to meeting with a social entrepreneur and what happens post-engagement.

Then I facilitated two virtual workshops with the Innovation Works team.  (These were originally slated to be in-person, but pivoted to virtual in March 2020.)

The first workshop focused on co-designing the service blueprint for the ideal state. 

  • We conducted the two-hour workshop within a Google Sheets workbook I had set up with various tabs.  I had piloted using a Miro board with the team the week before, but this tool did not work as well for everyone, so I switched to a tool that the team was very familiar with using.  This workshop ended up also having to be cut short and continued on another day due to a tornado warning.  (Fortunately, no tornadoes touched down, but we figured better safe than sorry!)
  • I introduced the 5 E’s of Experience Design (entice, entry, engage, exit, extend) and then had them brainstorm ideas, placing them under one of the E’s. 
  • We discussed and voted on which ideas to move forward with vs. table for later.
  • Then we mapped these ideas onto a tab where I had set up the rows to be the building blocks for a service blueprint.  We discussed the elements of the experience we wanted mentors to have and what it would take to deliver that experience.

Here’s a video showing how I set up the Google Sheets workbook:

The second workshop focused on creating the roadmap to get from the current state to the ideal state mapped out in the service blueprint. 

  • Since the service blueprint workshop, I had taken the pieces and organized them into a draft service blueprint.  I reviewed the changes I made to fill in gaps or smooth things out, as well as how I had categorized them into things that the organization already had in place, things that the organization could modify, and some things that would be new and need to be created. 
  • We focused on the matching/initiation of a mentoring relationship as a key point to set mentors up for success by helping them build trust, as well as ways to support and check in on mentors throughout the mentoring relationship, which (in some fortunate cases) did not end when the official program ended.
  • We worked on identifying what was needed at the intersection of staff roles and the mentor experience, to categorize them based on operational area or organizational strategies, and then to prioritize action items into now, next, and later. 

After the workshops, I revised the service blueprint and created the roadmap. 


Here is the service blueprint:

Service blueprint of the Innovation Works Mentor Experience shows stages of delivering this volunteer opportunity from Recruitment through In-Between Engagements, from left to right.  From top to bottom are the layers in the stack: Stage, Purpose or Goal, Touchpoints, Mentor Actions, Onstage Staff Actions, Backstage Staff Actions, Support Processes, Resources + Tools, Metrics + Indicators.

Although metrics are not a typical part of a service blueprint, my background in data and discussions with the staff about their goals led me to add it.  Part of planning any program or service is also planning for how you will evaluate success and how you will monitor whether or not it is on track towards its intended goals. 

Based on discussion with the staff and hearing their concerns about the roadmap becoming a quickly out of date document, I created two versions for them.  One was a visual roadmap that could be shared with mentors, board members, et al.  The other was in Airtable and could serve as a working document that could be updated as things changed and could also be used to track their progress, if they so wished.

Here is the first roadmap:

Roadmap for Innovation Works Mentor Experience Improvement shows action items in order of priority from left to right: Start with, Now (Initial 2-4 weeks), Next (1-3 months out), and Later (3+ months out).  They are also organized in groups, which make up the following rows from top to bottom: Roadmap implementation; Realign internal processes; Usable, actionable data; Build feedback loops; Improve matches; Onboarding/training; Community building strategy; Communications strategy; Events strategy; Leverage mentor leadership; Recruitment strategy.

I took an agile approach to this roadmap because of how change management typically goes and in particular because I knew the team had already made significant shifts in how they were supporting their social entrepreneurs due to COVID-19.  This was in late April, when it was starting to become apparent that it would take us longer than a month or two to emerge from the pandemic.  However, I knew their leadership and the team was committed to moving forward because mentoring was a strategically important element in their programming.

The categories for priority were thus set up to be relational and easily adapted as the landscape changed.  They were start with (decisions to be made first), now (done in the 2-4 weeks after those decisions were made), next (1-3 months out), and later (3+ months out).  The action items themselves were based on the service blueprint and related either to a certain phase in the delivery of the mentor experience or to overall operational areas or organizational strategies that intersected.

Here is the working document version I had set up in Airtable, a tool they already used, which allowed the team to filter by priority or by focus area and to make updates easily:

Airtable base named UXR Mentor Experience 2020, showing the tab labeled “Roadmap.”  Records are organized in the Kanban view by the field Priority, so the columns are Start with, NOW, NEXT, and LATER.  Boxes represent each action item and have color coded labels.

This work was completed as my individual capstone project for the Master of Information Management at University of Maryland – College Park and thus was completed in May 2020.  Additionally, I knew that COVID-19 had shifted some of the timelines.  However, as of July 2020, Innovation Works was working on the first phase of implementing recommended changes.  Since then, they have also brought on a staff member who is focused on managing the mentor network – one of the recommendations that came out of our work together. 

Tools + Methods

  • Project management
  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Virtual workshop facilitation
  • Context diagrams
  • Personas
  • Journey mapping
  • Service blueprinting
  • Google Sheets
  • Miro
  • Zoom