How to Become a SCORE Small Business Mentor
And there are other ways to volunteer at the nonprofit nurturing entrepreneurs
When Meleisa Holek retired from a 24-year career in marketing at IBM in 2018, she hoped to find a meaningful, flexible, volunteer role that would take advantage of her professional skills. She found one: becoming a business mentor and director of marketing with the Fairfield, Conn. chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration. SCORE provides mentoring and educational workshops to small business owners and wannabes nationwide, for free or at low cost.
“I like helping people think through problems,” said Holek. “It’s fascinating to learn about their businesses. It’s simply amazing how creative people can be.” Holek volunteers at SCORE about ten to 15 hours per week, but many others put in less time.
Her experience at SCORE echoes what I’ve heard from other volunteers there over the years. That’s why I wanted to explain the variety of ways you could share your expertise at SCORE to help people starting businesses.
These days, you don’t need to have been an executive — or to even be retired — to volunteer at SCORE.
The opportunity to do skills-based volunteering, mentor and join a community of peers helps retirees replace the intellectual challenge and social perks of going to work. And if you hope to work part-time in retirement yourself, volunteering with SCORE can let you expand your professional network and pick up skills, while giving back to your community.
Who SCORE Is Looking For
Fortunately, with over 250 SCORE chapters nationwide, there are plentiful of opportunities to volunteer. (The Trump administration has just proposed cutting SCORE’s budget by about 23%, though.) According to SCORE public relations specialist Racquel Royer, 70% of people who apply to volunteer at SCORE are placed in some capacity.
SCORE has been around for 56 years and, originally, its acronym stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives. But these days, you don’t need to have been an executive — or to even be retired — to volunteer at SCORE.
The group now seeks working and retired professionals with a diversity of backgrounds and skills. Entrepreneurs who’ve had expertise running, growing and managing different types of small businesses are especially desired.
Holek told me that many SCORE chapters actively recruit female volunteers, since an increasing number of its clients are woman-owned businesses. And SCORE craves volunteers who speak different languages, especially Spanish.
4 Types of SCORE Volunteering Opportunities
Here are the four main types of SCORE volunteering opportunities:
1. Business mentors. These volunteers offer confidential mentoring sessions to help clients get their enterprises off the ground.
Some mentors, like Holek, meet with clients in-person — at libraries, coffee shops or co-working spaces, wherever is convenient. Others coach by phone, video conferencing or email.
“Sometimes my clients need just one session and they’re off and running,” said Holek. “In other cases, we meet over a period of weeks or even months.”
Initially, Holek was concerned that her corporate experience would be of limited value, since most SCORE clients are solopreneurs with tight budgets. But SCORE’s onboarding and training process, held over a few months, helped ease the way.
“I learned a lot from the initial training, as well as by attending ongoing SCORE workshops,” said Holek. “All the business mentors are assigned a co-mentor during their provisional period and that helped me get more comfortable as well. And there is an extensive, and outstanding, online library of training materials that I frequently consult. I’ve been amazed at how much I continually learn.”
Holek especially values the opportunity to co-mentor with SCORE volunteers who share different skills and perspectives with her clients.
2. Workshop presenters. If you enjoy teaching, you can volunteer to deliver a SCORE workshop or facilitate a roundtable discussion on a topic of interest to aspiring or established business owners.
For example, a trademark attorney might teach a workshop on trademark applications or an insurance broker could lead a discussion on small business insurance options.
“Being part of the SCORE team gives me a chance to give back.”
3. Subject matter experts. These volunteers collaborate with mentors to provide advice in their specific area of expertise, such as finance, public relations or marketing.
For example, Larry Ackerman, founder of The Identity Circle, a consulting firm in Westport, Conn., has co-mentored as a branding expert at his SCORE office since 2017. He has also presented workshops on branding.
“Being part of the SCORE team gives me a chance to give back,” Ackerman said. “Very few, if any, small businesses can afford the branding advice that large organizations pay for. I enjoy bringing that expertise to these small companies to help them succeed.”
4. Support roles. SCORE chapters also depend on volunteers to help with administrative and office tasks, including email marketing, social media and data analytics. In addition, they need volunteers to lead or assist in fundraising, marketing and business outreach.
If you’re interested in applying to be a SCORE volunteer, you can fill out the Volunteer Application on the SCORE site. After it’s processed, you’ll be asked to come in to your local SCORE office for an interview. If both parties agree there is a good fit, you’ll then complete the training and onboarding process.