Summer 1985 // Volume 23 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA3

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Keeping 4-H Volunteer Leaders

Abstract
Why some stay and some don't.


Keith L. Smith
Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education
Leader, Personnel Development, Cooperative Extension Service
The Ohio State University - Columbus

Nancy M. Bigler
County Extension Agent, 4-H and Home Economics
Wallowa County, Enterprise
Oregon State University


One of the many strengths of a successful 4-H program is the staff of volunteer 4-H Club leaders involved. Volunteer leaders donate their time and personal resources to the Extension program as they contribute to the educational experiences of both adults and youth. The Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) identified volunteer leaders as the key to success of 4-H in Century 111.1 Gilliland stated that the greatest challenge to Extension agents is retaining the volunteers they recruit.2 The turnover rate of 4-H Club leaders affects the 4-H members, the local 4-H Club, and the county 4-H program. The 4-H organization needs volunteers who are committed to their voluntary participation in the system.

In 1979, Ohio had 20,770 volunteer 4-H Club leaders, and 5,837 were first-year leaders.3 Of these first-year leaders, only 57% (3,324) completed a second year as a 4-H Club leader. In 1981, only 29/a (1,675) of the leaders who volunteered for the first time in 1979 remained for a third year with the 4-H program. The high turnover rate of 4-H Club leaders in Ohio prompted this study.

More specifically, the purpose of our study was to determine the difference between and the perception of continuing volunteer 4-H Club leaders and discontinuing leaders in terms of selected variables (years served as a volunteer leader, sex, educational level, employment status, age, income, geographical location, number of family members, and number of family members who had participated in 4-H). We also studied their motivation for volunteering, the method by which they were recruited to the 4-H organization, the orientation program, the continual training program, and recognition received.

The Study

The study was conducted in 27 randomly selected counties in Ohio. Volunteer 4-H Club leaders in these counties were placed into 1 of 2 groups: continuing or discontinuing leaders. Continuing volunteer leaders were those who at the time of the study had completed at least 1 year as a 4-H Club leader. Discontinuing leaders were those who had terminated their participation as a volunteer 4-H leader after the 1981 4-H Club year.

To establish content validity, a panel of experts reviewed the questionaire in a pilot test. It had a high reliability coefficient.

From separate lists, the names of 813 continuing and 194 discontinuing volunteers were randomly selected. A total of 69% of the continuing volunteers returned usable instruments, while 60% of the discontinuing volunteers' instruments were returned. Responses were given numerical values and the t-test and chi-square analyses were used to test for differences between the groups.

Results

Respondents

Over 70% of the volunteers in the study were female. These data were similar to the actual composition of male and female volunteers in the entire Ohio 4-H program.4 More than 90% of the volunteers in both groups were high school graduates or above. The mean age of the continuing volunteers was 39 years, while the discontinuing volunteers had a mean age of 37 years. The continuing volunteers had more children in their families and more participation in 4-H than the discontinuing volunteers. The highest percentage of both the continuing (39%) and discontinuing (28%) volunteers lived on farms. The continuing volunteer participants reported more years served as a leader than the discontinuing leaders. ,

No significant difference existed between the continuing and discontinuing volunteers on the following variables: sex, education, and age. Therefore, these variables were eliminated as possible intervening variables.

However, the following variables couldn't be eliminated because a significant difference existed between the two groups: geographical location, number of children in family, number of children in family who had participated in 4-H, and number of years served as a volunteer 4-H leader. These results are similar to those found by Hass5 and Fizer.6

Variables

A nine-point (1 = strongly disagree to 9 = strongly agree) Likert-type scale was used to determine if there was a significant difference between continuing and discontinuing volunteers on the following variables: motivation for volunteering, perception of the orientation program, perception of the continual training program, and recognition received.

As far as the perception of the importance of these variables, both groups rated orientation, continual training, and recognition as high priority items.

Motivation. Eleven possible motivating forces for becoming a 4-H leader were identified. The statement, "I volunteered to become a 4-H Club leader because another 4-H Club leader asked me to volunteer," was ranked by both groups as the strongest motivating force to become leaders.

Orientation. Participants were asked whether they'd attended an orientation program for 4-H Club leaders before or during their first year as a 4-H Club leader. Thirty-eight percent of the continuing volunteers and 32% of the discontinuing volunteers had participated in an orientation program. No significant difference existed between the groups in terms of their participation in an orientation program for the purpose of introducing them to the 4-H organization and giving them a chance to learn their role and duties in the 4-H Club. Participants in both groups agreed that an orientation program is necessary and those who participated agreed that the time they spent at the orientation program was time well-spen (see Table 1).

Participation. Twenty-nine percent of the continuing volunteers indicated they'd participated in some type of continual training, whereas only 19% of the discontinuing volunteers participate in a continual training program-a significant difference. Both groups agreed that a continual training program was necessary to give the volunteer a chance to discuss programs, provide information on 4-H projects, meet other new and experienced 4-H Club leaders, and continually help the leader learn more about the 4-H program. The volunteers who participated in a continual training program conveyed their perception of the program by responding to items addressing the quality of the program.

Recognition. To determine if a significant difference existed between the continuing and discontinuing volunteers in their perception of the recognition they received, seven methods of recognizing volunteers were identified. Participants responded to each statement as to their extent of agreement or disagreement that they received the identified recognition. Continuing volunteers consistently rated this area higher than discontinuing volunteers, although not significantly. Members of both groups agreed that a volunteer 4-H Club leader should receive recognition and that they'd received adequate recognition.

Conclusions

This study showed continuing and discontinuing volunteer 4-H Club leaders are significantly differen in their geographical location, number of children in family, and number of children in family who had participated in 4-H. These variables may affect the volunteer's decision to continue serving as a 4-H Club leader, a fact for agents to be aware of in the recruiting and retention process.

Because the continuing volunteers expressed the fact that they'd received more tangible recognition and had greater attendance at recognition programs/dinners than the discontinuing volunteers, the volunteer program administrators should increase their efforts to present volunteers with all types of recognition.

Although no significant difference existed between the amount of orientation received between groups, an effort should be made to increase the number of leaders who attend the orientation program. Both groups agreed that an orientation program was necessary, yet less than 40% of the volunteers in both groups received any type of orientation to the 4-H program.

Evidence from this study indicated that a significantly greater number of continuing volunteers participated in a continual training program. Because of this difference, and the volunteers' expressed desire to have continual training, an effort should be directed toward increasing the amount of volunteer leader continual training available.

Table 1. Participants' perceptions of orientation and continual training.
 
4-H leader orientation   Continuing
volunteers
Discontinuing
volunteers

 

1. New 4-H leaders need to participate in an orientation program   7.00a 7.17b
2. Helped me to understand the activities and events in a typical 4-H year   7.00 7.11
3. Made me feel a valuable part of the 4-H organization   6.84 7.11
4. Was time well-spent   7.17 7.40
 
4-H leader continual training program

     
1. The 4-H Club leader needs continual training throughout the year   6.66 6.80
2. Provided added knowledge about the philosophy, objective, and scope of the 4-H program   6.63 6.90
3. Gave me the opportunity to meet other new and experienced 4-H Club leaders   6.99 7.24
4. Gave me a chance to discuss problems with the county Extension agent/or other 4-H Club leaders   7.14 6.85
5. Provided me with subject-matter information on 4-H projects   7.37 7.80
6. Was time well-spent   4.42 7.30
 
a 1 = strongly disagree; 9 = strongly agree.
b No significant differences found between continuing and discontinuing.

Footnotes

  1. Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, "4-H in Century III" (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, 1976).

  2. Robert Gilliland, Recruiting and Retaining 4-H Leaders-A Guide for Extension Agents (Las Cruces: New Mexico State University, 1977).

  3. Charles W. Lifer, Ohio 4-H Statistical Results, 1980-1981 (Columbus: The Ohio State University, Cooperative Extension Service, December, 1981).

  4. Charles W. Lifer, Ohio 4-H Statistical Results, 1980-1982 (Columbus: The Ohio State University, Cooperative Extension Service, December, 1982).

  5. Glen Hass, "Holding Onto 4-H Leaders," Journal of Extension, XVII (March/April, 1979), 10-13.

  6. M. Fizer, "Volunteerism" (Unpublished paper, The Ohio State University, Columbus, 1971).