How much time do organisations spend agonising over their ‘straplines’? And how much of an impact does a strapline really have? The strapline for Charity Mentors Oxfordshire is ‘clarify, explore, plan’. These 3 words, and the order in which they appear, sum up our approach to mentoring and the time spent by us agonising over them helped us to establish what our approach to mentoring is all about.


The order of the words was more contentious than our choice of words. Surely you need to ‘explore’ with a mentee, before you can ‘clarify’? And once you’ve clarified, you can plan. Shouldn’t it be ‘explore, clarify, plan’?

The answer to that is no! A CEO/manager or chair is probably exploring options, mulling over challenges and juggling with various issues on a constant basis. The day-to-day demands of running a charity often leave little head-space for getting a clear picture of where the organisation should be heading, what you want to achieve in the long run and what the priorities should be. Many of our potential mentees approach us with a ‘funding issue’. But that needs to be unpacked. It’s like a business saying, “we don’t have enough customers”. What’s behind that? And what are the most important factors contributing to the lack of customers (or the lack of funding)? What is within your control? What is not? Achieving clarity from the beginning is vital. It is where a mentor (particularly because they are an ‘outsider’) can be really useful and stop you going around in circles.

It was really helpful to step back and get independent support to reflect and plan. My mentor used his mentoring skills to help clarify my thinking, and his previous experience of being a CEO as well as chair of trustees was very helpful. He helped me see the necessity of prioritising to reduce/avoid being overwhelmed and I am now being much more boundaried in my approach to the work.

Oxford City Farm


It’s only when the scope of a mentoring project has been properly identified, that you can start to think about the options. These might involve ideas for solving a problem, although mentoring isn’t only helpful in solving problems. Many of our mentees use our help to develop opportunities, to grow and to think about effectiveness. There is usually no shortage of ideas but, in a world of scarce resources, the issue is where the focus should be. So, exploring the various options with a mentor helps to narrow things down on a rational basis. Again, the presence of an ‘outsider’ can be helpful in so many ways. They can question long-held assumptions that might be redundant, they can challenge prejudices, trigger new approaches, encourage you to call-on support from other stakeholders, to use your existing resources more effectively and also help you to hold on to what is working.

Working with a mentor allows time to reflect on where you are, what needs to be affirmed and what needs changing. The mentoring was very informal and yet very effective. Each time we met we found fresh ways to explore and tackling issues as well as keeping hold of the original aim. I appreciated the listening ear and the way in which my mentor asked the right questions and allowed me to think aloud.

Blackbird Leys Adventure Playground


‘Plan’ is about putting it all together. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a written plan. It’s the ‘getting it done’ part. Sometimes, our mentors work with an organisation that has already developed a plan, but something is blocking the execution. It might be that the plan is unrealistic, or not properly understood or believed in. It might be that the ‘day-to-day’ keeps getting in the way, in which case, a mentor might be able to help ‘unblock’ whatever the problem is and help you to hold you and your organisation to account. A regular meeting with a mentor can be a great way of setting the clock ticking and moving things forward.

Our mentor helped us develop a clear plan and focus on the areas that were important in a coherent way. We now know what we need to achieve and how we may do this. Before we had ideas but nobody to bring them all together and highlight the priorities for our vision.

Red Kite Family Centre

Mentoring the Charity Mentors Oxfordshire way

Our strapline ‘Clarify, Explore, Plan’ not only helps us explain our approach to mentoring, but the exercise to come up with one stimulated discussion between us about what we are trying to do.
Does your organisation have a strapline? If so, how does it help you achieve your aims? If you don’t have one, why not? Let us know in the comment box below:


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Celebrating 150 projects at our Charity Mentors breakfast in July, we hear from 3 previous mentees on why they engaged a Charity Mentor, how the experience went and what advice they would give to a future mentee. Find out if there were any surprises…John May interviews previous mentees: Jill Edge, Manager at The Sunshine Centre, John Hulett, Chair of the Red Kite Family Centre and Susie Besant, Chief Executive Officer, One-Eighty.

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In each issue, we will introduce you to one of our Mentors by telling you a bit about their experience and giving you their answers to 3 questions, to include their own ‘top time-saving tip’.

Annette Mountford

Annette Mountford

Annette was originally a health visitor. Her work in mainly deprived areas led her to recognise the huge challenges all parents face in raising children especially if their own childhood had been deprived. In the Nurturing Programme she found a wonderful way for all parents to turn their history around and discover new skills, hope and happiness.
Chief Executive of Family Links from 1997 – 2015. She introduced the ‘Nurturing Programme’ (promoting emotional literacy & mental health) to the UK in 1992 and led the Family Links team in adapting the programme for parent groups in the UK and for schools, for prison, for Muslim parents and for parents of teenagers. Annette developed a national training programme for practitioners working with parents and children in education, health and the community. She has written an ante-natal Nurturing Programme which is now being rolled out nationally. Annette received an MBE for her work in 2002.

1. What do you feel is your most rewarding achievement?
Having had the opportunity to work alongside hundreds of parents whose own childhoods had been harsh and see them find new skills, hope and happiness through the Nurturing Programme as individuals and as parents. And then to have been able to extend it to other professionals so that thousands of parents can benefit.

2. What do you like to do outside of work?
One of the joys of being retired is having time to see friends. I combine them with walking, art galleries, the ballet, book club and pub food. Another big pleasure is my family. And being Cornish I love to make scones and jam (with produce from the allotment) and dish them up with Cornish cream.

3. As a busy person what’s your ‘top time-saving tip’ ?

I flag any email I need to return to, to save me the effort of remembering it, and to prevent things slipping through the net.