“The Right Tools at the Right Time”: Improving Volunteer Education and Support

Alison J. White, Rebecca Sero, Lauren Hrncirik Scanga, Melissa M. Cummins, Joy R. Lile, Natalie Kinion Stott, Jennifer Leach


Success of the 4-H Youth Development (4-H) program relies heavily on the recruitment and retention of volunteers who implement 4-H programs. 4-H volunteers—in turn—rely on program professionals to continually improve the education and support systems they need to succeed. In this study, the researchers used a mixed-methods survey based on the 4-H Volunteer Research and Knowledge Competency (VRKC) taxonomy across the Washington State 4-H program to uncover (a) what education volunteers want for themselves and their county program, (b) what challenges they face in their role, and (c) what they need to succeed. The results of this study indicate that program professionals may improve volunteer education and support systems by focusing on 4 essential volunteer needs: (a) supportive teams, (b) engaged youth and families, (c) facilitation skills in experiential education and positive youth development, and (d) effective program administration, communication, and information systems. While this study focuses on 4-H, the results and implications may be relevant to other youth development programs that are charged with educating and supporting adult volunteers.



4-H; VRKC; volunteer education; volunteer needs; volunteer support

Full Text:



Accountemps. (2013). Survey: Human resources managers cite lack of communication as main source of low employee morale [Press release]. http://rh-us.mediaroom.com/2013-10-22-Survey-Human-Resources-Managers-Cite-Lack-of-Communication-as-Main-Source of-Low-Employee-Morale

Arnold, M. E., & Dolenc, B. (2008). Oregon 4-H volunteer study: Satisfaction, access to technology, and volunteer development deeds. Corvallis, OR: 4-H Youth Development Education, Oregon State University. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Arnold, M. E., Dolenc, B. J., & Rennekamp, R. A. (2009). An assessment of 4-H volunteer experience: Implications for building positive youth development capacity. Journal of Extension, 47(5), 71-81. https://joe.org/joe/2009october/a7.php

Arnold, M. E., Gifford, L. N., Deen, M. K. Y., & Edwards, J. W. (2014). YA4-H youth advocates for health: Building successful youth-adult partnerships. Oregon State University Public Health Extension. https://jyd.pitt.edu/ojs/jyd/article/view/440/424

Astroth, K. A. (1985). The challenge of retaining 4-H members. Journal of Extension, 23, 14-15. https://www.joe.org/joe/1985fall/sa4.php

Boezeman, E. J., & Ellemers, N. (2008). Pride and respect in volunteers’ organizational commitment. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 159-172. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.415

Bolton, E. B. (1992). Volunteers and Extension. University of Florida Extension, Article FCS9072.

Borden, L. M., Perkins, D. F., & Hawkey, K. (2014). 4-H Youth Development: The past, the present, and the future. Journal of Extension, 52(4) https://joe.org/joe/2014august/comm1.php

Bortree, D. S. (2011). Communicating with volunteers and staff. In T.D. Connors (Ed.), The volunteer management handbook: Leadership strategies for success (2nd ed., pp. 273-285). John Wiley and Sons.

Cassill, H., Culp, K., III, Hettmansperger, J., Stillwell, M., & Sublett, A. (2012). Volunteer middle managers: Human resources that extend programmatic outreach. Journal of Extension, 50(5), 5TOT6. https://www.joe.org/joe/2012april/pdf/JOE_v50_2iw1.pdf

Corbin, J. M., & Strauss, A. L. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). SAGE.

Cresswell, J. W., & Plano, C. V. L. (2010).Designing and conducting mixed methods research. SAGE.

Culp, K., III. (2013). Volunteer position descriptions: Tools for generating members, volunteers, and leaders in Extension. Journal of Extension, 51(1), Article 1TOT8. https://www.joe.org/joe/2013february/tt8.php

Culp, K., III, & Bullock, L. R. (2017). 4-H Volunteer Continuing Education Academy. Journal of Extension, 55(4) https://joe.org/joe/2017august/pdf/JOE_v55_4iw4.pdf

Culp, K., III, McKee, R., & Nestor, P. (2006). Volunteer research and knowledge competency: Taxonomy for 4-H youth development. National 4-H Headquarters. https://4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/VRKC.pdf

Culp, K., III, McKee, R. K., & Nestor, P. (2007). Identifying volunteer core competencies: Regional differences. Journal of Extension, 45(6), Article 6FEA3. https://www.joe.org/joe/2007december/a3.php

Culp, K., III, & Pleskac, S. (2016). VRKC taxonomy: Overview. https://4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/VRKC-Overview-Lesson-Plan.pdf

Culp, K., III, & Schwartz, V. J. (1998). Recognizing adult volunteer 4-H leaders. Journal of Extension, 36(2). https://www.joe.org/joe/1998april/rb3.php

Culp, K., III, & Schwartz, V. J. (1999). Motivating adult volunteer 4-H leaders. Journal of Extension, 37(1). https://www.joe.org/joe/1999february/rb5.php

Culp, K., III, Tichenor, M., Doyle, J., Steward, L., & Hunter, K. (2010). Incorporating volunteer mentors to strengthen extension programs. Journal of Extension, 48(4). https://joe.org/joe/2010august/tt10.php

Davis, J. & Dishon, K. (2017). Unique Approach to creating and implementing a social media strategic plan. Journal of Extension, 55(4), Article 4IAW1. https://www.joe.org/joe/2017august/iw1.php

Defore, A. B., Fuhrman, N. E., Peake, J. B., & Duncan, D. W. (2011). Factors influencing 4-H club enrollment and retention in Georgia. Journal of Youth Development, 6(2), 58-71. https://jyd.pitt.edu/ojs/jyd/article/view/188/174

Fox, J., Hebert, L., Martin, K., & Bairnsfather, D. (2009). An examination of the benefits, preferred training delivery modes, and preferred topics of 4-H youth development volunteers. Journal of Extension, 47(1), 1RIB2. https://joe.org/joe/2009february/rb2.php

Freidig, A. (2019). Asynchronous volunteer engagement in online continuing education using virtual communities. Journal of Extension, 57(3), 3TOT9. https://www.joe.org/joe/2019june/tt9.php

Fritz, S., Barbuto, J. E., Marx, D., Etling, A., & Burrow, S. (2000). Motivation and recognition preferences of 4-H volunteers. Faculty Publications: Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication Department. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=aglecfacpub

Fritz, S., Karmazin, D., Barbuto, J., Jr. & Burrow, S. (2003). Urban and rural 4-H adult volunteer leaders preferred forms of recognition and motivation. Journal of Extension, 41(3), 3RIB1. http://www.joe.org/joe/2003june/rb1.php

Garcia, A. S., Dev, D., McGinnis, C. M., Thomas, T., & The Learning Child Team. (2018). Impact of an extension social media tool kit on audience engagement. Journal of Extension, 56(2), 2RIB1. https://joe.org/joe/2018april/rb1.php

Hager, M. A., & Brudney, J. L. (2004). Volunteer management practices and retention of volunteers. The Urban Institute. http://webarchive.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411005_VolunteerManagement.pdf

Henderson, K. (1981). Motivating the adult 4-H volunteer. Journal of Extension, 19, 19-27.

Knowles, M. S., Swanson, R. A., & Holten, E. F., III. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.). Elsevier Science and Technology Books.

Lewis, K. M., Ewers, T., Miller, J. C., Bird, M., Borba, J., Hill, R. D., Rea-Keywood, J., Shelstad, N., & Trzesniewski, K. (2018). Addressing retention in youth programs: A survey for understanding families' experiences. Journal of Extension, 56(3). https://joe.org/joe/2018june/tt3.php

Merriam, S. B. (2008). Adult learning theory for the twenty‐first century. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2008(119), 93–98. https://doi.org/10.1002/ace.309

Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult learning: Bridging theory and practice. Jossey-Bass.

Miles, M., Huberman, M., & Saldaña, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. (3rd ed.) SAGE.

Nestor, P., McKee, R. K., & Culp, K., III. (2006). Core competencies for 4-H volunteer leaders differentiated by occupation, level of education, and college major: Implications for leadership education. Journal of Leadership Education, 5(1), 61-77. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ee09/d7fc88d8a4044b27882df3233f7a513fa343.pdf

New Jersey 4-H. (2019). Parent involvement in 4-H. In New Jersey 4-H Leader Training Series. Rutgers. https://nj4h.rutgers.edu/volunteering/lts/2.2_Parent_Involvement.pdf

Nova Scotia Health Promotion and Protection. (2009). On being youth-centered: A guideline for individuals and organizations. Nova Scotia Health Promotion and Protection. https://novascotia.ca/dhw/healthy-development/documents/On-Being-youth-Centred-A-Guideline-for-Individuals-and-Organizations.pdf

Ota, C., DiCarlo, C. F., Burts, D. C., Laird, R., & Gioe, C. (2006). Training and the needs of adult learners. Journal of Extension, 44(9). https://joe.org/joe/2006december/tt5.php

Pellien, T., & Lyons, R. (2017). Tools for addressing the skills of a communication-challenged extension agent. Journal of Extension, 55(5). https://www.joe.org/joe/2017october/tt9.php

Radhakrishna, R., & Ewing, J. C. (2011). Relationships between 4-H volunteer leader competencies and skills youth learn in 4-H programs. Journal of Extension, 49(4). http://www.joe.org/joe/2011august/rb2.php

Reimer, H. A, Dorsch, K., Hober, L., Paskevich, D., & Chelladurai, P. (2004). Motivations of volunteers in youth-oriented programs. Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. http://sectorsource.ca/sites/default/files/resources/files/motivations_for_volunteering.pdf

Saitgalina, M. (2018). Modeling volunteer retention in professional membership associations through targeting specific motivations and satisfying certain aspects of volunteer experience. International Journal of Volunteer Administration, 23(1). https://digitalcommons.odu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1036&context=publicservice_pubs

Serafino, A. (2001). Linking motivation and commitment through learning activities in the volunteer sector. Journal of Volunteer Administration, 19(4), 15-20.

Shelstad, N. (2018). Fulfilling needs in county 4-H programs with volunteer facilitation coaches. Journal of Extension, 56(6). https://www.joe.org/joe/2018october/iw7.php

Sheptak, R. D., Jr., & Menaker, B. (2016). The frustration factor: Volunteer perspectives of frustration in a sport setting.” VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 27(2), 831–852. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-015-9635-6

Smith, M. H., Dasher, H. S., & Klingborg, D. J. (2005). A model for recruiting and training youth development volunteers in urban areas. Journal of Extension, 43(5). http://www.joe.org/joe/2005october/a6.shtml

Snider, A. (1985). The dynamic tension: Professionals and volunteers. Journal of Extension, 23(3). https://www.joe.org/joe/1985fall/sa2.php

Stillwell, M., Culp, K., III, & Hunter, K. (2010). Volunteer recognition program model: Providing volunteer recognition throughout the year. Journal of Extension, 48(3). https://joe.org/joe/2010june/tt2.php

Terry, B., Pracht, Dale., Forgarty, K., Pehlke, T., & Barnett, L. J. (2013). Similarities between volunteer behavior and consumer behavior: A study of volunteer retention. Journal of Extension, 51(6). https://joe.org/joe/2013december/rb2.php

Teuteberg, D., & Cummins, M. M. (2017). Using community assessments to improve 4-H youth development programming efforts. Journal of Extension, 55(4). https://www.joe.org/joe/2017august/iw1.php

UPS Foundation. (1998). Managing Volunteers. https://studylib.net/doc/11704642/managing-volunteers-united-parcel-service-a-report-from

Van Horn, B. E., Flanagan, C. A., & Thomson, J. S. (1999). Changes and challenges in 4-H. Journal of Extension, 37(1) https://www.joe.org/joe/1999february/comm1.php

Washington State University Extension. (2016). Welcome to 4-H: New member’s information (EM4487E). Washington State University Extension. https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/welcome-to-4h-new-members-information

White, A. J., & Scanga, L. H. (2019). Volunteer research and knowledge competency codebook: A tool for identifying volunteer needs. Journal of Extension, 57(1). https://www.joe.org/joe/2019february/tt3.php

White, A. J., & Teuteberg, D. (2015). Regionalization of the Washington State University Extension 4-H Youth Development program: Employee awareness, buy-in, and communication. Journal of Extension, 53(5). https://joe.org/joe/2015october/rb5.php

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2020.878

Copyright (c) 2020 Alison J.White, Rebecca Sero, Lauren Hrncirik Scanga, Melissa M. Cummins, Joy R. Lile, Natalie Kinion Stott, Jennifer Leach

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.