Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Jayla Fry, Extension Program Specialist- Horticultural Sciences. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Stacey Dewald, Graduate Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Michelle Payne, Extension Program Specialist I, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
County Extension educators have been training master volunteers in Texas for decades. Most County Extension educator do an excellent job in training volunteers. However, when it comes to utilizing these volunteers to actually deliver programs many County Educators struggle. There are several reasons this may be the case such as;
Master volunteers receive specific and detailed education in a content area that prepares them for directed and often specialized volunteer opportunities on behalf of Extension (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Extension training and support for volunteers can be complicated (Strauss & Rager, 2017). In prior studies, researchers have explored volunteer motivations and attractors (Wilson & Newman, 2011; Wolford, Cox, & Culp, 2001), strategies for assessing the need for programs (Savanick & Blair, 2005), and ways to connect volunteers to communities (Bennett, 2012). Research has reported that regardless of volunteer’s motivation to serve, a volunteer may have difficulty identifying and/or getting involved in rewarding volunteer opportunities (Sheier, 1981). The volunteer also is likely to face challenges in service, ranging from following procedures such as registrations and background checks to burnout (Coles, 1993). In spite of research addressing the volunteer experience, there has been no model that effectively prescribes a full life cycle for Extension master volunteers (Strauss & Rager, 2017). County Extension educators could use such a model as a basis for expanding programming beyond preparatory training to efforts that would support and inspire master volunteers throughout their involvement in a program (Strauss & Rager, 2017).
The master volunteer life cycle model discussed in this article describes the ideal scenario of what happens across three phases of a volunteer’s experience in a focused master volunteer program (Strauss & Rager, 2017). These researchers created the model to provide County Extension Educators with a tool for improving ongoing programming so that it prepares, retains, and motivates volunteers across the span of their experiences with the master volunteer program. Development of the model was developed through these researchers experience with more than 2,000 Minnesota Master Naturalist Program volunteers, supported with a literature review, and refined through extensive peer feedback from leaders of similar volunteer programs across the country (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Many master volunteer programs are focused heavily on the initial education component of the program and only slightly, if at all, on factors that contribute to the success or failure of the participants’ volunteer experiences (Strauss & Rager, 2017). With this model, the researchers attempted to evaluate the program from a micro view on the volunteers’ preparation and focus on larger outputs and outcomes of the program, putting each aspect of the total experience in the context of the whole (Strauss & Rager, 2017). An effective, comprehensive master volunteer program includes the components that are depicted in Figure 1 and explained in detail in the paragraphs following the figure (Strauss & Rager, 2017).
Prospective volunteers enter a master volunteer program with a variety of personal motivations. Some motivations are intrinsic, such as the drive to make a difference (Pink, 2009); other motivations are extrinsic, such as the goal of earning a title or certification (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953). When County Extension Educators recruit for a program, they can appeal to these motivations when encouraging potential master volunteers to join the program by taking a course (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Participants take in-depth educational course in which they experience active hands-on learning, exposure to content experts, network building with compatible peers, and in some cases a capstone service project (Strauss & Rager, 2017). After completing the course, some participants choose to exit the program and discontinue participation; others seek to identify a match for their volunteering skills and interests (Strauss & Rager, 2017). In some cases, volunteers approach Extension Educators with a service project in mind. In other cases, Extension Educators aggressively advertise their volunteer needs for any master volunteer to fill (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Note that in Figure 1 the arrow between “Match” and “Volunteer” includes a partial dotted line (Strauss & Rager, 2017). This dotted line represents the idea that the Extension program prepares a volunteer for service and assists to connect the volunteer with community needs but that the volunteer must recognize his or her own capabilities, confidence, and competence (or, self-efficacy, as described by Bandura in 1990) and take the initiative to begin a volunteer role (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Extension Educators can assist volunteers gain confidence in recognizing where their skills correlate with community needs (Strauss & Rager, 2017).
The core program outcome of any master volunteer program is that participant volunteerism supports the mission of the master volunteer program and the mission of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Volunteer tasks might be episodic or long term and may include activities such as conducting educational programs or staffing information booths (Strauss & Rager, 2017). County Extension Educators support volunteers by the following (Strauss & Rager, 2017):
These researcher reported that volunteers are more likely to sustain their volunteer service when they feel connected to the organization for which they are volunteering and to content experts (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Many volunteers find a community of others with whom they share interests and specialized volunteer roles (Strauss & Rager, 2017). After the initial preparation course, volunteers benefit from more focused training that orients them to the goals and culture of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and provides specific guidance related to the job they will be performing. The researchers also reported that advanced training often is beneficial to and desired by master volunteers for both continuing their educations and strengthening their social connections (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Such in-depth training allows these individuals the opportunity to learn more about a desired topic, moving that person toward self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). Culp and Schwartz (1998) reported that volunteer recognition communicates appreciation for the work contributed by volunteers and should be suited to the culture of the master volunteer program and preferences of the volunteer.
In the assessing phase County Extension Educators should evaluate whether a volunteer’s work continues to meet the needs of the program and at the same time encourage participants to reflect on their personal volunteer service (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Volunteers who are meeting these mutual needs may continue in their chosen volunteer roles (Strauss & Rager, 2017). In some cases, volunteers look for new roles to learn new skills or to connect with new people (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Some volunteers take a break from volunteering due to changing personal circumstances and re-engage with the program at a later time (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Some participants volunteer for a while and then exit, or drop, from the program to pursue other interests (Strauss & Rager, 2017). Throughout all phases of the volunteer cycle, County Extension Educators should solicit feedback from volunteers and apply this input toward improving the program (Strauss & Rager, 2017). County Extension Educators should conduct formal evaluations to determine both the effectiveness of the program and the volunteers.
The processes of developing and managing Extension volunteer programs typically involves considerable attention to the initial volunteer education component (Strauss & Rager, 2017). The model presented by these researchers puts the educational component in the context of the larger program and places appropriate emphasis on the program’s most important outcome: the volunteer service (Strauss & Rager, 2017). County Extension Educators can use this model to guide program improvement by refocusing attention on the factors that contribute to successful volunteer experiences. County Extension Educators can allocate time, resources and energy to the full master volunteer life cycle providing appropriate attention to each phase of the cycle (recruiting, volunteering, and assessing). This systematic approach to training and managing master volunteers will result in more successful volunteer experiences and sustain their volunteer service to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Bandura, A. (1990). Perceived self-efficacy in the exercise of personal agency [Electronic Version]. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2, 128–163.
Bennett, P. J. (2012). Building partnerships: Connecting communities, master gardener volunteers, industry, and Extension through tree surveys. Journal of Extension, 50(3), Article 3IAW5. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2012june/iw5.php
Coles, R. (1993). The call of service: A witness to idealism. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Culp, K., & Schwartz, V. (1998). Recognizing adult volunteer 4-H leaders. Journal of Extension, 36(2), Article 2RIB3. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/1998april/rb3.php
Feather, B. (1990). Volunteers as master teachers. Journal of Extension, 28(3), Article 3FEA9. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/1990fall/a9.php
Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and human personality. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
McClelland, D. A., Atkinson, J. W., Clark, R. A., & Lowell, E. L. (1953). The achievement motive. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration. (2010). Volunteer impact leadership training series. Maplewood, MN: Author. Adapted from Stallings, B. (2006). Training staff to succeed with volunteers: The 55 minute in-service series. Pleasanton, CA: Building Better Skills.
Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Savanick, M. A., & Blair, R. B. (2005). Assessing the need for master naturalist programs. Journal of Extension, 43(3), Article 3FEA7. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2005june/a7.php
Sheier, I. (1981). The new people approach handbook. Boulder, CO: Yellowfire Press.
Strauss, A. & Rager, A. (2017). Master Volunteer Life Cycle: A Wide Angle Lens on the Volunteer Service. Journal of Extension, 55 (4), Article 4ToT7. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2017august/pdf/JOE_v55_4tt7.pdf
Wilson, J., & Newman, M. (2011). Reasons for volunteering as a Mississippi master gardener. Journal of Extension, 49(5), Article 5RIB1. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2011october/rb1.php
Wolford, M., Cox, K., & Culp, K. (2001). Effective motivators for master volunteer program development. Journal of Extension, 39(2), Article 2RIB4. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2001april/rb4.php