Are Volunteers Competent in Positive Youth Development? Perceptions From Three Stakeholder Groups

Dustin Homan, Hannah K. Epley, Kirk L. Bloir


Some youth organizations entrust adult volunteers with delivering programs and forging relationships with youth clientele. As a result, volunteers should be competent in certain knowledge, skills, and abilities that catalyze positive youth development processes to occur. This research expands upon the results of an initial study designed to address shortcomings of a volunteer competency framework. Our objective for this study was to assess and compare the discrepancies between importance and ability-to-perform ratings of adult volunteers across 6 competency areas from the Volunteer Research Knowledge Competency Taxonomy. Over 10,000 youth professionals, adult volunteers, and families of youth members responded to an online survey. Respondents rated the importance of, and volunteers’ performance in the 6 competency areas; they also provided input about the modalities they preferred for delivering training and resources. Performance means varied across the 3 groups: Volunteers’ overall performance means were the highest, followed by families, and then professionals. Mean weighted discrepancy scores were calculated to compare the importance and performance rankings across respondent groups. Based on the scores, future volunteer trainings and resources should be prioritized around the competency areas of organization, positive youth development, program management, and communication. Volunteers also preferred more self-directed approaches for future trainings. Results from this study suggest that the volunteer competency taxonomy is still a valid framework and affirms other youth worker competency frameworks. The results also help establish a baseline of data that can be used to see if future training interventions and resources are perceived as effective.


volunteer management; competency; performance; training

Full Text:



Albright, M. B., & Ferrari, T. M. (2010). “Push” and "pull” a qualitative study of factors that contribute to older youth leaving the 4-H program. Journal of Youth Development, 5(3), 55–74.

Astroth, K. A., Garza, P., & Taylor, B. (2004). Getting down to business: Defining competencies for entry-level youth workers. New Directions for Youth Development, 104, 25-37.

Benson, P. L. (2007). Developmental assets: An overview of theory, research, and practice. In R. Silbereisen & R. Lerner (Eds.), Approaches to Positive Youth Development (pp. 33–58). SAGE.

Borich, G. D. (1980). A needs assessment model for conducting follow-up studies. Journal of Teacher Education, 31(3), 39-42.

Culp, K., McKee, R. K., & Nestor, P. (2007). Identifying volunteer core competencies: Regional differences. Journal of Extension, 45(6).

Dillman, D. A. (2000). Mail and internet surveys. John Wiley & Sons.

Eccles, J. & Gootman, J. (Eds.). (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. National Academy Press.

Fisher, R. J. (1993). Social desirability bias and the validity of indirect questioning. Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 303-315.

Fogarty, K., Terry, B., Pracht, D., & Jordan, J. (2009). Organizational supports and youth life skill development: Adult volunteers as mentors, managers and “mediators.” Journal of Youth Development, 4(4).

-H National Headquarters. (2017). Growing together: 4-H professional, research, knowledge and competencies 2017.

Guerra, N. G., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2008). Linking the prevention of problem behaviors and positive youth development: Core competencies for positive youth development and risk prevention. In N. G. Guerra & C. P. Bradshaw (Eds.), Core competencies to prevent problem behaviors and promote positive youth development. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 122, 1–17.

Hein, W., White, T., & Williams, J. (2016). Successful use of Extension and online training modules in mandatory biennial volunteer recertification. Journal of Youth Development, 11(3).

Hobbs, S. (2012). The latest approach to volunteer recruitment. In T. D. Connors (Ed.), The volunteer management handbook: Leadership strategies for success (pp. 203-225). John Wiley & Sons.

Homan, D. M., Bloir, K. L., & Epley, H. K. (2017). Evaluating volunteer competencies to achieve organizational goals. International Journal of Volunteer Administration, 32(2), 35–49.

Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., & Colleagues. (2013). The positive development of youth: Comprehensive findings from the 4-H study of positive youth development. National 4-H Council.

Miller, L. E., & Smith, K. L. (1983). Handling nonresponse issues. Journal of Extension, 21(5).

National AfterSchool Association. (2011). Core knowledge and competencies for afterschool and youth development professionals.

National 4-H Council. (n.d.-a). Volunteer research knowledge and competency lesson plans. Author.!vrkc-model-lesson-plans

National 4-H Council. (n.d.-b). Volunteer research knowledge and competency taxonomy for 4-H youth development. Author.

Padgett, D. K. (2008). Qualitative methods in social work research–second edition. SAGE.

Radhakrishna, R., & Doamekpor, P. (2008). Strategies for generalizing findings in survey research. Journal of Extension, 46(2).

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).

Shippmann, J. S., Ash, R. A., Battista, M., Carr, L., Eyde, L. D., Hesketh, B., Kehoe, J., Pearlman, K., Prien, E. P., & Sanchez, J. I. (2000). The practice of competency modeling. Personnel Psychology, 53, 703-740.

Singletary, L., Smith, M., & Evans, W. P. (2006). Self-perceived 4-H leader competencies and their relation to the skills youth learn through 4-H youth development programs. Journal of Extension, 44(4).

Smith, C., Akiva, T., Arrieux, D., & Jones, M. M. (2006). Improving quality at the point of service. In D.A. Blyth & J.A. Walker (Eds.), Rethinking programs for youth in the middle years. New Directions for Student Leadership, 112, 93-108.

Yohalem, N. (2003). Adults who make a difference: Identifying the skills and characteristics of successful youth workers. Community youth development: Programs, policies, and practices, 358-372.


Copyright (c) 2020 Dustin Homan, Hannah K. Epley, Kirk L. Bloir

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