Build It and They Will Come; Make Them Feel They Belong and They Will Stay.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Oh how true that is, especially in the case of 4-H programs. If you think about it, we promise the world in 4-H. We promise to help develop young people into caring and contributing citizens and future leaders. We promise to help families make positive change in their own lives and in their communities. We promise, and deliver, on a lot…IF families commit to long-term engagement with 4-H.

That long-term engagement begins with the first encounter, and it begins with families feeling a sense of BELONGING in the 4-H program.

For some 4-H’ers and families, that first encounter might be their first club meeting. For others that may mean a county kick-off event or a visit to the county office. Whatever that first encounter is with 4-H, it must be a great one.

Some Thoughts:

  •  Sometimes your first impression is virtual or in print. What does your website and marketing materials say about you?  Does your 1990s clipart really reflect your program?
  • Have assigned greeters. Whether they be youth members or adult volunteers, assign people to be on the lookout for new “guests” to welcome and direct them.
  • While you do want to be welcoming to new 4-H’ers and families- don’t single them out. Just because they seem to be hanging in the back, doesn’t mean they aren’t taking it all in.
  • When directing people- SHOW them where to go, don’t just tell them.
  • Ask questions and learn more about your guests. Don’t just try to sell them your 4-H program. Find out how you can be a benefit in their lives by actively listening to their stories.
  • Nametags. For you, for guests, for everyone! Sticky nametags are fine.
  • SIGNAGE matters! Just because you think it’s obvious where to go, doesn’t mean it is so. You really can’t overdo the signage!
  • What vibe does your event have? A lot of empty chairs? Remove them! A lot of dead silence? Time to pump in the music.
  • Remember not everyone is familiar with 4-H. EXPLAIN what you mean. What is a project book? What is a “county event” or a “council”? Don’t assume people understand or will ask. They may not.
  • Plan a follow up for any guests that come to an event. A quick email thanking them for their presence, acknowledging that you were glad to meet them, and inviting them to the next event can go a long way.
  • Smile! Learn and use people’s names!
  • There’s a reason we plan recreation in 4-H club meetings! Besides the fact that it’s fun, it helps all members feel they BELONG to the group. Don’t neglect the importance of including recreation or other opportunity for socialization in other 4-H programs such as kick-offs, leader trainings, etc.

How do you welcome new 4-H families to your programs? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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