August 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB8

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Who Is Volunteering for the Maine 4-H Program?

The study reported here was designed to identify the people who are most likely to volunteer for the Maine 4-H Youth Development program and determine how they became involved and why they continue to provide service to the organization. Volunteer demographics can then be used to shape marketing and volunteer recruitment efforts, ultimately enlarging a currently dwindling volunteer base for the Maine 4-H program. Although demographic profiles of 4-H volunteers haven't changed much in 50 years, Extension staff should use this information to put new focus on recruitment, retention, and recognition.

Jennifer Lobley
4-H Youth Development Extension Educator
University of Maine
Orono, Maine

Literature Review

Volunteer leaders have been central to the success of the 4-H program since its inception (Wessel & Wessel, 1982). Yet recruiting and keeping volunteers can be very challenging. To deal with the shortage of volunteers in youth development programs, efforts could be made to recruit more men, adults over age 65, and retired adults (Rouse & Clawson, 1992). Even though 4-H programs rely heavily on volunteer leaders, little research has explored the nature of a volunteer's experience as a 4-H leader (White & Arnold, 2003), and little research has been conducted focusing on the demographics of 4-H volunteers (Culp, 2005).

Becoming familiar with social background characteristics and their relationship to volunteer participation provides information on who is most likely to volunteer (Rohs, 1986). A need exists for more information about volunteers so that better strategies can be developed for helping volunteers reach their personal goals and the goals of the organization (Henderson, 1980). One of the unique characteristics of 4-H is the level of family involvement. 4-H is perhaps one option in today's culture that provides a way to bring the families of volunteers closer around the focal point of the 4-H program (Henderson, 1980).


The study reported here was designed to identify characteristics of people who are volunteering for the Maine 4-H youth development program and determine how they become involved and why they continue to provide service to the organization. By creating a profile of current volunteers in the state of Maine, we can then use volunteer demographics to shape marketing and volunteer recruitment efforts, ultimately enlarging a currently dwindling volunteer base for the Maine 4-H program. Interestingly, the study revealed that the profile of the typical 4-H volunteer has changed very little over the past 50 years.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of the study was to gather data from current volunteers, in order to improve recruitment efforts and thus enhance program quality.

The objectives were to:

  • Develop a demographic profile of the typical Maine 4-H volunteer.

  • Determine what role past experience with 4-H plays in becoming a 4-H volunteer.

  • Determine how current volunteers became involved with the program.

  • Determine why current volunteers continue to be involved with the program.


The population for the study included 2004-2005 enrolled 4-H adult volunteers. Each of the 16 University of Maine Cooperative Extension county offices in Maine submitted their mailing list for currently enrolled volunteers. The sample comprised 592 individuals. Each study participant was mailed a survey consisting of 22 questions, 20 of which collected quantitative data and two of which collected qualitative data. In an effort to boost the response rate, a postage-paid postcard was also included. Participants were encouraged to return the postcard separately after completing their survey, so their name could be entered into a drawing for a gift certificate.

Follow up postcards were mailed out 4 weeks later to non-respondents. A third and final mailing that included another copy of the survey was mailed out 3 weeks later to any individuals who still had not responded. The final response rate was 72%.


The Survey Data

The following questions from the survey revealed these data about Maine 4-H volunteers.

  • Who volunteers?

    • 85% are females between the ages of 36 and 45.

    • 80% are married.

    • 60% have two to three children.

    • 71% have an education beyond a high school degree.

    • 52% have a household income of $40,000 or greater, as compared to the median Maine household income of $39,212 (U.S. Census Bureau 2000).

    • 90% have lived in Maine for more than 10 years.

    • nearly 80% give up to 10 hours per week to the program.

    • 40% hold more than one additional leadership role in the community.
  • Is there a history of 4-H in the family?

    • 44% of the individuals surveyed were members of 4-H as youths.

    • 13.2% of current volunteers had mothers who were in 4-H as youths.

    • 12.2% had fathers who were in the program as youths.

    • 21% of volunteers had mothers who were 4-H volunteers.

    • 12% of volunteers had fathers who were 4-H volunteers.

    • 18% of those surveyed (75) had at least one parent who participated in 4-H as a youth and as an adult volunteer.

    • 11% of respondents were members of 4-H as youth and had at least one parent who participated as a youth and as an adult volunteer.
  • How did current volunteers become involved as 4-H leaders?

    • 48% of the currently enrolled 4-H volunteers self-initiated their involvement.

    • 20.8% were personally invited to join.

    • 15% were asked to get involved by a family member.
  • Why did current volunteers become involved?

    • 62% became volunteers for the sake of their own children.

    • 23% initiated involvement based on past experience.
  • Why do current volunteers stay?

    • 22% of volunteers stay with the program for the benefit of their own children or grandchildren.

    • 15% stay because they believe in the values connected to the 4-H program.

    • 10% believe in the philosophy of 4-H.

    • 10% stay involved because they love children and enjoy seeing growth in individual youth.

    • 5% cited reasons such as fun, family-oriented, and rewarding.

How Much Are Maine 4-H Volunteers Worth?

Based on figures released in March 2005 by the Independent Sector, a privately funded research institute, the value of volunteers working with youth service-related organizations can be calculated $17.55 hour. The net worth of volunteers supporting the Maine 4-H program in the 2004-2005 was more than $677,709. Actual worth could be as much as 25% higher, because the total number of hours was based on responses from 72% of enrolled volunteers who responded to the survey, and calculations were based on an average range of hours reported.

Table 1.
Number of Volunteer Hours/Month

Volunteer Hours Volunteers Percentage
0—5 hours/month 198 46.37
6—10 hours/month 144 33.72
11—20 hours/month 58 13.58
21—30 hours/month 16 3.75
31—50 hours/month 4 0.94
More than 50 hours 2 0.47
No Answer 5 1.17
Total: 427 100.00

How Does Maine Compare With National Volunteerism Trends?

Maine 4-H volunteers tend to be in line with national trends of volunteerism as compared with data from the United States Department of Labor (2005).

Table 2.
Comparison Between Maine 4-H Volunteers and National Volunteerism Trends

Characteristic National (2004) Maine 4 H Program (2005)
Age group with highest rate of volunteerism 35—44 36—45
Gender 25% of total male population
32% of total female population
Male: 15%

Female: 85%

Marital status Higher rate among married persons 80% married
Total annual hours 52 hours/year 79.7% averaged between 36 and 84 hours/year
Main organization Religious or educational/youth-service related In addition to 4-H:
Religious affiliation 83%
Scouts 60%
How volunteers became involved with main organization 40%: own initiative
42%: asked to join
48%: own initiative
20.8%: asked to join

Has the Typical Volunteer Profile Changed Over the Past 50 Years?

Data from the study reported here is remarkably similar to results reported by Clark and Skelton (1950), Banning (1970), Denmark (1971), Parrott (1977), and Culp (1996). 4-H volunteers appear to be similar across time and geographic locations. A small decrease in marital status over time can be noted, while perhaps the only major change between 1950 and 2005 is the decrease in the number of homemakers, which can be attributed to the current larger number of women in the workforce.

Table 3.
Comparison of Findings of 4-H Volunteer Demographic Variables

Demographic Variable Clark and Skelton
New York
42 States
Average Age No data 36—55: 65% 41 39.74 42.51 36—45: 42%
Gender F: 100% F: 100% F: 76.8% F: 100% F: 71.86% F: 85%
Marital Status M: 100% M: 100% M: 95.9% M: 96% M: 87.25% M: 80%
Education ave: 12+ HS: 86%
College: 20%
ave: 12.7 HS: 98.6%
College: 37.8%
ave: 13.93 HS: 85%
College: 38%
Occupation Homemaker


HM: 48.9%
Teacher: 28.8%
HM: 61.8% HM: 55%
Teacher: 26.3
HM: 19%
Prof: 22%
Serv: 21%
HM: 20%
Prof.: 18.7%
Income Above average No data 5—15K: 64% No data ave:
$40—59,999K: 30%
Years 4-H membership No data No data 1.6years: 36.4% 3.5years: 67.8% ave: 7.83 years 4-H members as youth: 44%
No children No data No data 2.8% 2.6% 2.4% 7.73%
Number of volunteer organizations involved with No data No data ave: 2.8 volunteered for at least one other organization 83.7% ave: 2.48 held leadership positions in other community organizations: 40%


What's It Worth?

The worth of our volunteers can be estimated by tracking the number of hours that they devote to the program. Putting a monetary value on volunteer time can be beneficial in a number of ways. State 4-H foundations can use the data to help solicit donors, and it could be used to leverage funds in grant applications. Estimated value of volunteers could be especially useful with stakeholders such as county commissioners, to leverage funds and demonstrate the value of 4-H youth development programs.

Building a Volunteer Base

Of particular interest is the percentage of current volunteers' association with religious organizations (83%) and scout programs (60%). Data suggests that recruitment efforts should be focused in these two areas, including investigating potential 4-H collaborations with scouting programs. In addition, nearly 50% of our volunteers self-initiated their involvement with the program. If this trend continues, in order to avoid missed opportunities Extension staff need to have volunteer materials readily available and easily accessible and should have a process in place that is user-friendly for potential new volunteers.

Research shows that often individuals fail to volunteer for a particular organization simply because they were not asked. Of current Maine 4-H volunteers, 35.8% were personally asked to become involved in the program. If word of mouth is the best form of advertisement, perhaps we should be looking to our current 4-H leaders to help us expand our volunteer base. An incentive system for current volunteers to recruit additional volunteers could be designed and implemented to help expand the volunteer base in a fairly short amount of time.

One of the unique and historic characteristics of 4-H is that it is family oriented. Perhaps county staff can take an active role by examining their volunteer recognition activities and engage volunteers in conversation around how to encourage more family participation.

Certainly it makes sense that our volunteers stay involved with the program for the benefit of their children. Of concern is the fact that less than 5% stated they stayed involved because the program was fun, family oriented, and rewarding. If volunteers are not viewing 4-H as fun and we are not making them feel rewarded for their efforts, then perhaps these reasons are contributing to the dwindling of the 4-H volunteer base in Maine during the past few years.

Further Research

The initial findings of the project described here have led to more questions about volunteerism. Areas of future study may include deeper exploration with individual volunteers who self-initiated their involvement. Such qualitative research in this area could provide rich and valuable data, allowing the researcher to look for themes that could include the type of experience volunteers had as a youth in 4-H, the type of project they were involved in, the impact of their 4-H leader, and how many years they were actively involved as a 4-H member. For those volunteers who became involved in the program as a volunteer but were not 4-H members as youth, a set of questions looking at why they chose 4-H and what their experience with Extension was like when they initiated interest could prove to be valuable as well. In addition, interviews with 4-H alumni who are not currently involved as volunteers with the program could provide insight into how to bridge the gap between youth membership and adult volunteer participation.


Over the past 50 years, the profile of the typical 4-H volunteer has changed very little. With 84% of current volunteers becoming involved with the program through self-initiation or direct invitation, Extension staff should focus their efforts on retention--including fun leadership development opportunities and strong recognition programs--and create incentives for current 4-H leaders to recruit additional volunteers. Finally, with almost a quarter of the current volunteer base acknowledging that they stay for the benefit of their children and grandchildren, there will be volunteers on the brink of deciding whether or not to exit the program when their children and grandchildren graduate. Attention should be given to exploring new roles for these seasoned but valuable volunteers, so that they can continue to share their gifts and the Maine 4-H program can continue to benefit from all they have to offer.


Banning, J. W. (1970). Recruiting and training 4-H leaders--What studies show. Washington DC: Cooperative Extension Service, USDA and State Land Grant Universities Cooperating, 1970.

Clark, R. C., Jr.,& Skelton, W. (1950). The 4-H club leader. New York State College of Agriculture bulletin 94. Ithaca: Cornell University.

Culp, K.; McKee, R. K., & Nestor, P. (2005). Demographic differences of 4-H volunteers, agents and state volunteerism specialists: Implications for Volunteer Administration. Journal of Extension [on-line], 43(4) Article 4FEA2. Available at:

Culp, K. (1996). Identifying continuing adult 4-H volunteers: How do they differ from non-continuers? How have they evolved over time? Journal of Agricultural Education. 37(4), 44-51.

Denmark, K. L. (1971). Factors affecting the identification, recruiting and training of volunteer 4-H leaders in Texas. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Texas A & M University, College Station.

Henderson, K. A. (1981). Motivating the adult 4H volunteer. Journal of Extension, [On-line],19(1). Available at:

Parrott, M. A. (1977). Motivation, personal and social characteristics of 4-H leaders. Unpublished M.S. thesis. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.

Rohs, F. R. (1986). Social background, personality, and attitudinal factors influencing the decision to volunteer and level of involvements among adult 4-H leaders. Journal of Voluntary Action Resources. 15(1), 87-89.

Rouse, S., & Clawson, B. (1992). Motives and incentives of older adult volunteers. Journal of Extension [On-line], 30(3). Available at:

United States Census Bureau, (2000). Retrieved September 24, 2007 from:

United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics, (2005). Volunteering in the United States, 2005 Retrieved September 24, 2007 from:

Wessel, T., & Wessel, M. (1982). 4-H: An American idea 1900-1980. Washington D.C.: National 4-H Council.

White, D. J., & Arnold, M. E. (2003). Why they come, why they go, and why they stay: Factors affecting volunteerism in 4-H programs. Journal of Extension [on-line], 41(4). Available at: