The 4-H club is the foundation of the 4-H experience. For many, their first exposure to 4-H is through a club meeting. If that 4-H club meeting is not of high quality, that first exposure may likely be their last experience. Of further importance, previous research (Lerner, Lerner, & Phelps, 2008) found that club involvement provides youth with more opportunity for quality programming than participation in single 4-H events alone.
Therefore, if you want to “grow 4-H’ you must have high quality, functioning clubs. This starts with well-trained, well-supported volunteers. This means time spent with those volunteers through continued training, through varied means. It means:
- In-person volunteer onboarding. The Florida 4-H Volunteer Training Series is a great place to start. Be careful not to overwhelm new volunteers, and rather determine a system whereby volunteers are trained continuously over time.
- In-person, side-by-side coaching, through multiple meetings as a new volunteer is starting. That coaching may be done by the agent, program assistant, or seasoned 4-H volunteer. I typically expected to be present at the first three meetings of a new club as an agent. The first I would coordinate the meeting (to model the behavior I wanted to see), the second I would co-coordinate, and third I would watch the club leader and then give feedback after the meeting.
- A support group of some sort. Beyond your individual coaching and training, volunteers benefit from a network of other volunteers. It is through this, they will grow and develop beyond what you offer. Whether this means regular (quarterly, bi-monthly, monthly) volunteer leader trainings/meetings, assigning volunteer mentors, or even virtually through a social media site or message board, volunteers need some way to connect with other volunteers.
- Regular distance training for volunteers. Either through online videos, newsletters, or a blog, develop some system of training volunteers that goes beyond just updates on upcoming events and activities. Consider marking off a week out of your year to develop all of these tools for the following year, and then disseminate on a regular and as-needed basis.
- Club visits. It is imperative that all clubs see you (or your designee- great middle management volunteer opportunity!) at least once a year. At this time you can use a tool such as: 4-H Club Meeting Checklist or How Lively is Your 4-H Club. The results of these checklists are a needs assessment tool, and allow you to determine where your volunteers need the most training.
- Club officers are an important component of well-run club meetings. Have all the officers in your county been trained? Check out the resources at: Florida 4-H Officer and Leadership Development Tools
Do you have all of these in place currently? If not, as you think on how you might grow your 4-H program, how do these fit in? Take some time now to determine your next steps in making sure you meet your volunteers in each of these ways. Remember, potential 4-H members will only grow our 4-H programs if they stay past their initial club meeting! Make sure its a good one!