Mentorship vs Sponsorship: Which is the Better Approach to Personal Development?

1 minutes

We get it, mentorship and sponsorship are often confused. And it’s easy to see why given that they have many similarities making it easy to see them as an either or personal development tool. 

Yet, when we look at the differences, you’ll see that they both work in slightly different ways and can be used together.

In fact, the more you know about the two practices, the better you can incorporate both into your personal development toolkit. Used alongside one another, you can turbocharge your people.

Read on to find out how, and remember to speak to our expert team to learn even more about how to make sponsorship work for you.

What is sponsorship?

As always, let’s start with defining our terms. Sponsorship is a professional endorsement from someone more senior that is aimed at getting the sponsee a tangible result.

For example, a sponsor may put their sponsee forward for promotion and provide a glowing reference to the hiring manager. 

Sponsorship is about putting your money where your mouth is and giving a worthy party your support.

The sponsor will also work with the sponsee to help them prepare for opportunities and give them advice, similar to mentorship. The key difference is that a sponsor goes above and beyond, actively opening doors for their sponsee.

Many companies have sponsorship programs, which they use to accrue new talent, help new companies to get off the ground, and of course, make themselves look good. Because let’s face it, the ability to fund a sponsorship program is a mark of success in its own right.

How is it different from mentorship?

Mentorship is when a person gives advice and guidance to a mentee. The goal is to assist them in their career and develop their skills. It’s a fantastic form of knowledge sharing to foster in your organisation. 

This is often an activity that takes place privately and involves regular meetings between mentor and mentees. Remember, just because a person is being mentored, that doesn’t mean that the mentor in question would be willing or able to sponsor them. 

Sponsorship is an extra level of support. It’s more formal and puts the sponsoring party’s judgment into the spotlight. A sponsor will promote their sponsee to other people, and if the sponsee doesn’t perform, this reflects badly on the sponsoring party.

Equally, if the sponsee does a terrific job, it proves the sponsor’s judgment. So, the stakes are higher with sponsorship. But what are the benefits?

📖 Find out more about what a mentor is in our guide 📖

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Find out more in our sponsorship e-book

What are the benefits of sponsorship vs mentorship?

There are countless benefits when it comes to mentorship vs sponsorship. Here are some of the top ones: 

  • Career development: Mentorship and sponsorship can both be used for career progression and development. The old adage states that mentors will talk directly to you about your career, whereas sponsors will talk about you to influencers when you are not in the room.
  • Improved skills: Mentorship will improve the skills of the mentee, professionally and personally. As well as developing the mentor too!
  • Networking: Mentorship and sponsorship both introduce your mentee or sponsee to industry leaders and new circles.
  • Inclusion: For underrepresented groups, sponsorship and mentorship can give them support, advocate for them and, particularly sponsorship, break down systemic barriers. 
  • Impacts on mental health and well-being: Mentorship has powerful benefits to health and well-being. Both mentor and mentee benefit from connection, support and feeling seen, heard and valued. 

📖 Find out more about the benefits of mentoring for mental health in our guide 📖

The top benefit of mentorship

Mentorship isn’t about telling you what to do. It’s about finding the right people that can guide you through the many challenges and twists of your career. 

The main benefit is that in mentorship you get personal, tailored support. A good mentor will act as a sounding board and explore a range of topics with you from career advice to building skills to name a few.

📖 Find out how mentoring boosts employee wellbeing in our guide 📖

The key benefit of sponsorship

If there’s one thing you need to know about sponsorship it’s this…

Sponsorship is the act of going further. A good sponsor will be your champion and actively work to get you opportunities. 

An impressive resume is one thing, but it is fairly anonymous compared to when you have somebody vouching for you. Sponsorship works as a way to get opportunities that are often out of reach to the average person. In this way it’s a powerful tool for diversity and inclusion

Mentorship vs sponsorship decorative imageSo, do you need a mentor or a sponsor?

That’s the golden question!

Both mentors and sponsors are terrific for developing personally and professionally. You can be a talented and innovative thinker in your industry, but without great advice and support from somebody who knows how to navigate the industry, you won’t get the recognition you deserve.

A mentor will guide you to develop your strengths and set a path to achieve your goals. A sponsor will then be able to go a step further and shout your praises in order to get the tangible opportunities you deserve. This is an even greater level of support.

Ultimately, whether you need a mentor or a sponsor depends on what your goals are, and which barriers you are facing. If you are just getting started and are not ready to be introduced formally to your industry, a mentor might be the support level to look for. But remember, a mentorship can turn into a sponsorship given time and diligence.

If you’re finding it hard to progress towards a goal and want to find targeted support to open doors for you, finding a sponsor is best. Remember, in sponsorship it’s important to run through open doors. If your sponsor gets you an opportunity you need to be ready to grab it with both hands!

📖 Find out how to find a great mentor in our guide 📖

How can I implement a sponsorship program in my workplace?

Implementing a sponsorship program in the workplace carries many great benefits such as supercharged people development, improved culture, and better diversity and inclusion.

It’s important to design your program with a clear goal in mind and who you want to help. For instance, if you wish to sponsor underrepresented people to break down systemic barriers to progression and improve diversity in leadership, you’ll need to design your program to do this. 

📖 Find out more about best practice in program design with Guider 📖

Firstly, define and refine your company’s goals. Knowing what you are trying to achieve with this plan and how you will go about it is a big element of the planning. Then, whittle it down further with your founders and key stakeholders. This will get the program approved and also optimise it through your team’s guidance. Next,  ensure that you give the best support that you can to everybody that you sponsor. 

Remember, mentorship and sponsorship work well together. So, tying your sponsorship and mentorship programs into each other means you can provide the best level of support possible to your people.

If you’re looking for help setting up your sponsorship program, consider talking to one of our expert team members and get it going with Guider.

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