Stark, C. 2019, Why we need 4-H volunteers, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno

Volunteers offer the nurturing, vision, commitment, skills, creativity, dedication and wisdom that can significantly impact the development of young people.

What do volunteers do?

A 4-H volunteer is many things - mentor, advisor, friend, teacher, referee, role model, pacesetter and much more. Most importantly, a 4-H leader genuinely cares about young people and wants to help them learn and grow.


  • Teach young people important skills
  • Help plan and conduct events
  • Work in partnership (adults and youth) to lead 4-H clubs, activities, and events
  • Supports and creates community service opportunities
  • Shares his or her knowledge and interests with young people
  • Chaperone camps, field trips, contests and leadership conferences
  • Recruit other volunteers
  • Develop and evaluate 4-H youth development programs
  • Contribute by promoting and supporting 4-H

Leadership in 4-H doesn't depend on the amount of knowledge you have about a project. It relies on your willingness to help youth learn. While a young member's project might be photography, horses or sewing, the leader's project is always the YOUTH. Leadership is the ability to get along with people; to tackle a job and see it through. 4-H volunteers are valued partners and the key to the success of a member's learning, experience and continuing interest in 4-H.

Types of volunteers

4-H volunteer leaders are both youth and adults. Whether working year-round or for a short period of time, there are many ways to get involved with a group of youth.

  • A 4-H club team, general or organizational leader provides overall leadership to the club, oversees the group structure and operation, while serving as the club's contact with Extension employees and the 4-H Council. They coordinate members, parents and other leaders. 4-H club leaders act as individuals, a team or a group of people, each of whom fill specific roles and responsibilities. The team can also be a youth-adult partnership.
  • A project leader teaches members in a specific project area, such as rabbits, computers or fashion review.
  • An activity leader helps members plan and conduct group activities such as community service, recreation, fundraising or drama.
  • A resource leader serves as a resource to leaders or members in a specific project or activity area.
  • A teen, junior or youth leader is an older 4-H member who develops leadership skills by teaching other 4-H members. Teen leaders gain experience teaching, working with others and taking on responsibilities under the guidance of an adult volunteer.
  • An Afterschool or school enrichment volunteer teaches 4-H curriculum, such as gardening, science or arts and crafts, to an Afterschool group or school class(es).
  • A short-term volunteer teaches a special interest program, such as babysitting, first aid or flower arranging, and/or assists a 4-H group with a special project.
  • A chaperone leads a group of youth at 4-H Camp, or state and national leadership conferences or contests.
  • 4-H Council is a leader organization that supports their county 4-H program through one or more of the following ways:
    • provide opportunity for volunteers to receive feedback on questions, problems, etc.
    • conduct programs and activities for youth
    • offer in-service training on youth development
    • raise funds and manage a budget to support 4-H youth development work
    • coordinate county-level recognition
    • represent 4-H youth development to the community
    • provide opportunities for youth and volunteers
    • help decide program direction and policy
    • increase awareness about 4-H opportunities on local, county, area, state and national levels

Other opportunities

4-H volunteers can serve on camp planning committees and leaders' councils, teach workshops, raise funds, recruit new members or volunteers, judge at fairs and contests or organize events. 4-H is flexible and can be suited to a variety of lifestyles.

Volunteer's 4-H Pledge

  • I pledge my Head to give youth the information I can, to help them see things clearly and to make wise decisions.
  • I pledge my Heart to encourage and support youth no matter whether they have successes or disappointments.
  • I pledge my Hands to help youth groups; if I cannot be a leader, I can help in many equally important ways.
  • I pledge my Health to keep youth strong and well for a better world through 4-H, for youth groups, our community, our country and our world.

Find out more about becoming a volunteer by contacting your county Extension office.

How to become a 4-H volunteer

Volunteering is a privilege. All you need is the time and interest to help kids explore and chart positive futures. No previous experience in 4-H is necessary to be a volunteer. Kids need positive, committed adult role models in their lives. Share your skills, knowledge, and talents while having fun with kids and make a difference in their lives. For more information, contact the 4-H Youth Development staff member at your county Extension office.

Follow these steps

All 4-H Youth Development Volunteers who work with youth are required to complete the Nevada 4-H Youth Development Screening and Orientation requirements before participating as a sanctioned 4-H volunteer. These include:

  • Contact the 4-H Youth Development staff member at your county Extension office.
  • Meet for a face-to-face interview with 4-H staff
  • Apply for a fingerprint background check for arrest and conviction records. (The results of the screening may take up to six months. A volunteer cannot work independently with 4-H youth until Extension has received the results. Since the wait can be lengthy, potential volunteers are encouraged to work with another sanctioned 4-H volunteer leader.)
  • Complete, sign and return the 4-H volunteer documents and review general policies and procedures
  • Include three references from non-related individuals who know you well (Extension offices will mail out forms to references listed on the volunteer application)
  • Participate in volunteer orientation program. The first step is to complete Basic 4-H Volunteer E-Learning Training. (Some counties may require additional training).

Opportunities & Events

Volunteer recognition

National 4-H Hall of Fame Award

The National 4-H Hall of Fame honors 4-H volunteers, supporters, staff and pioneers who made major contributions to 4-H at local, state and national levels. People who have been previously nominated but not selected must be resubmitted. People currently employed by 4-H or Extension, or who have administrative responsibility over 4-H or Extension within the land-grant university or federal extension system will not be considered until retired or deceased for a minimum of three years prior to the date of nomination.

4-H Ag Volunteer Leader of the Year Award

The 4-H Volunteer Leader of the Year Award is sponsored by the Nevada Agriculture Foundation. The purpose of this award is to find an outstanding leader who has taken on the role of improving an agriculture related program within 4-H. The Nevada Agriculture Foundation awards $1000 to a leader who will use the money to strengthen their agriculture-based program.

4-H Salute to Excellence Volunteer Recognition Award

Volunteers are, undeniably, the "heart and soul" of 4-H, and in an age when time is at a premium, Salute to Excellence serves as an opportunity to acknowledge our volunteers' unwavering dedication to the 4-H Youth Development movement.

Each year, state 4-H programs are invited to nominate two outstanding individual volunteers, one in each of two categories. The Lifetime Volunteer Award is given to an individual who has spent 10 or more years volunteering for 4-H. The Volunteer of the Year Award is given to an individual who has volunteered for 4-H less than 10 years. Recipients of the 4-H Salute to Excellence Volunteer Recognition Awards are chosen from nominees submitted by state 4-H offices.

Each region will have its own Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer and Volunteer of the Year. The eight regional winners become nominees for the national award, and one volunteer from each category will be named the national winner.

Recipients will be presented with a monetary award (to be donated to a local 4-H program of the recipient's choosing). National awardees will also have their name engraved on the Salute to Excellence Perpetual Plaque located at the National 4-H Conference Center.

For more information regarding the 4-H Salute to Excellence Volunteer Recognition Award or nomination forms, please visit 4-H Council online.

Special Opportunities

4-H Chaperones

4-H Chaperones are responsible for the health and safety of 4-H youth development participants at overnight events, activities, trips and camps. Adults selected as chaperones should enjoy young people, exhibit mature judgment and action, and enhance the educational value of the activities. Chaperones must meet the same screening, fingerprinting and training requirements as 4-H volunteers. Some chaperone positions require additional training. Chaperones must follow Extension's code of conduct while traveling to and from the event and throughout the duration of the event.


Adult chaperones should exhibit the following skills or characteristics:

  • Positive role model, demonstrating ethical and healthy lifestyle choices
  • Maturity and/or an appropriate age (preferably at least 19 years old)
  • Ability to exercise authority without being authoritarian or overbearing
  • Willingness and ability to assume responsibility
  • Understanding of purpose and goals of the activity or event
  • Understanding of the activity or event's potential relationship to community, county, area, state and national activities


Chaperones are delegated full responsibility to make decisions to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all participants. Chaperones:

  • Provide 24-hour supervision of their charges
  • Encourage and model ethical and responsible behavior
  • Follow the same rules established for youth (i.e. night curfew should be observed by all; alcohol, tobacco and other drug use is prohibited, etc.)
  • Provide positive learning experiences
  • Carry out event or activity rules
  • Properly handle an accident or serious incident
  • Use positive discipline - disciplinary action never includes striking a child or using verbally-abusive language
  • Work closely with 4-H staff personnel in charge of the event and with other chaperones to solve problems
  • Communicate problems or concerns to appropriate staff in a timely manner, so appropriate individuals can be involved in decision making
  • Involve the individual, youth or adult whose behavior is in question in discussions to clarify circumstances and achieve solutions to problems
  • Decide an appropriate time to leave events or activities (i.e. bad weather, driving conditions, etc.)
  • Follow Extension policies for sleeping arrangements
  • Understand and follow emergency procedures
  • Understand the procedures and paperwork necessary for dealing with an accident or incident and complete if necessary

Leadership Events

Western Regional Leaders' Forum

Western Regional Leaders' Forum (WRLF) is an annual event hosted by one of the 13 Western states. Adult and youth 4-H leaders from the Western states gather to:

  • Learn about new skills and ideas to implement in their 4-H clubs and groups back home
  • meet other 4-H leaders and staff from around the West
  • re-energize, get motivated and share enthusiasm about 4-H youth development
  • participate in workshops, tours and special events
  • recognize outstanding leaders for their efforts
  • find out what's new in current 4-H projects and trends in youth development
  • have fun with other 4-H leaders

To find out more about the next Western Regional Leaders' Forum, visit University of Idaho 4-H.

4-H Congressional Caucus

Encourage your congressional representatives to participate in the 4-H Congressional Caucus. U.S. Congress representatives can learn more about what states are doing for our nation's young people through 4-H youth development. If your club or older members are looking for a citizenship project, encourage them to send letters or emails to their congressional representatives asking them to join the 4-H Congressional Caucus. Find sample letters and other information at: (link to Resources page, Volunteers section, Opportunities and Events sub-section)

4-H Expansion and Review Committees

4-H Expansion and Review Committees expand opportunities to all youth to participate in 4-H youth development programs. This committee can assist the county and/or area in setting priorities to meet the needs and issues of youth and families in communities throughout Nevada. One-third of the committee should be youth, and the committee should be representative of the county population.

Responsibilities of the 4-H Expansion and Review Committee include:

  • Strengthen the 4-H program to more adequately serve youth who have not had full access to the 4-H program
  • Help insure a balanced 4-H program that provides equal access and opportunity for all youth to participate regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, age, creed, veteran status, physical or mental disability, pregnancy, marital status or sexual orientation
  • Help local Extension offices identify underserved groups
  • Compare 4-H youth development participant data with census and school enrollment data
  • Determine 4-H program needs and goals
  • Assess programs offered and their appeal to underserved youth
  • Suggest programs and marketing strategies that will attract under-represented youth
  • Assist in carrying out action plans
  • Make recommendations on 4-H program, policy and procedures to Extension and local 4-H Council

Frequently Asked Questions

How is 4-H unique?

  • Adults work with young people in a home or community-based setting
  • Youth and adults select the focus of their club's activities
  • Volunteers decide on their level of involvement based on their skills and time availability
  • Programs connect youth and their families to their communities
  • Young people can find their own special talents, build confidence and gain life skills
  • Programs are research-based and supported by the state (University), county and federal partners

Who can be a 4-H volunteer?

Any adult with an interest in working with youth is welcome to volunteer. You don't need to be an "expert." You simply need enthusiasm and a desire to work with young people.

What qualifications do I need to have to be a volunteer?

  • Commitment to young people and a desire to help them develop skills
  • Time to prepare and attend meetings
  • Ability to relate to and work in partnership with youth
  • Recognition that all young people have unique talents and abilities
  • Flexibility
  • Understand the focus of 4-H is providing youth with opportunities to develop life skills. It's not just about competition and winning at the fair.
  • Willingness to follow Extension policies and procedures
  • Openness to new ideas
  • Genuine interest in youth and adults from diverse backgrounds

How much time is involved in being a leader?

The amount of time you spend will depend upon the projects and/or club you are leading. You can expect to spend 1-2 hours of preparation time for every 1 hour of club or project activity. Leaders' meetings or other training may be held for 1-2 hours each month.

What support is available to 4-H leaders?

Volunteers receive support from Extension 4-H staff. Training and literature is provided to help volunteers work with young people and lead project activities. Your county may have a leaders' council, a group of youth and adult leaders that meet regularly. Experienced leaders often attend these meetings and are willing to support you.

What is expected of me?

In addition to completing the application, forms, screening and orientation process, the Code of Conduct and the volunteer job description must be signed. You are expected to provide a safe learning environment, meet regularly as a club or project group to help youth develop skills and be a positive, committed adult role model.

How many meetings will I need to attend?

You should attend all of the club meetings and project meetings (if you are the project leader). Some clubs hold monthly business meetings with additional service projects or other activities and project meetings during the month. Any time a group of youth meets for a 4-H activity, a trained, certified leader must attend to provide support and supervision. Leaders also attend leaders' council meetings. Some counties hold council meetings each month, every other month or quarterly. You will also be expected to participate in additional training. You will receive a newsletter or flier about additional training opportunities. Ask your county 4-H staff person for specific details on meetings and trainings in your county.

What activities and events will I need to attend?

Your county 4-H staff person will be able to tell you which 4-H events you will need to attend. Of course, you are invited to attend any county event. The events you attend will depend on whether you have club members participating or if you have agreed to provide leadership.

How will I recruit club members?

4-H is open to all youth and strives to recruit young people from all backgrounds. The 4-H staff member in your county can help you create fliers to reach young people. Don't just rely on running an article in the newspaper; not everyone buys or reads the paper. Contact neighborhood businesses that cater to specific audiences (such as a Latino market or video rental store) and ask if they know of parents and youth you can talk to about joining your club. Write an article to put in a newsletter for parents of special needs children or foster parents. The key to recruiting youth and other potential adult leaders is to build relationships. It takes time!

Do I have to know a lot about a subject to be a leader?

No. Your county 4-H staff person will help you find resources to lead a project or organize a club. Other volunteer leaders will mentor and share information with you. Also, you can attend training to become more comfortable and knowledgeable in specific areas.

Where can I get information on projects?

Contact your 4-H staff person and browse through national 4-H curriculum on-line.

How much will it cost me?

You will probably have out-of-pocket expenses. Leaders are encouraged to work in partnership with club members to determine activities and their related costs. The actual dollar amount will vary depending upon the projects you are leading. Many of the expenses may be deductible on your income taxes.

How are club expenses handled?

There are a couple of ways to handle expenses. One way is to ask each 4-H member to provide funds to offset costs. (Care should be taken to make sure all youth can participate regardless of their financial situation.) Another way is to have the club or group conduct a fundraiser to earn money for activities. Involve the youth in making this decision by voting on what they want to do and how they will pay for it. A 4-H member should be elected as treasurer to work in partnership with you or another 4-H leader to create a budget and manage club funds. Make sure that you and the club are following Extension 4-H financial guidelines by contacting your 4-H staff person.

Do I need insurance?

All authorized volunteers are covered by Extension liability and workers' compensation insurance when conducting their duties as a sanctioned 4-H volunteer. University counsel will represent a 4-H volunteer as long as the volunteer acted in good faith and did not purposefully create a risky situation. Accident insurance is available at a minimal cost and is recommended for all 4-H clubs. Contact your Extension 4-H staff person for insurance and risk management details.

How long will the fingerprint background check take?

It only takes a few minutes to have your fingerprints taken, but it can take up to six months for the results to be sent back to the Extension office. Sometimes the process is faster and only takes 1-2 months. In the meantime, you can shadow another club leader to learn as much as you can about 4-H.

What does the fingerprint background check screen for?

The fingerprint background check screens for all arrests and convictions. Extension wants to do all it can to ensure that youth who participate in the 4-H program are treated with respect and dignity and provided with a safe and caring learning environment by positive adult role models.

Do I have to have children to be a 4-H leader?

Being a parent is not a requirement to 4-H leadership. 4-H leaders need to enjoy spending time with youth and be willing to help them learn and develop.

What are the benefits of volunteering for 4-H?

  • Guiding youth in hands-on learning experiences that build skills and confidence
  • Accomplishing more within 4-H than you might be able to do on your own
  • Meeting new people and networking
  • Working together with young people on important issues
  • Helping building strong families and communities in your area
  • Learning from youth and discovering something new about yourself and others
  • Having fun with kids while you share your talents, skills and knowledge
  • Increasing your interpersonal, parenting and professional skills
  • Being a local representative for quality 4-H programs based on Extension teaching and research
  • Knowing you are a positive, committed adult role model in the lives of young people
  • Helping the University reach out to Nevadans to increase knowledge and improve support for Nevada youth, families and communities
  • Gaining satisfaction seeing a young person learn a new skill, accomplish something difficult and grow because of a 4-H experience

What is Risk Management?

All activities come with some risk. Being aware of potential risks and minimizing the risks by planning for the expected and the unexpected is risk management. 4-H leaders and staff focus on strategies to ensure a safe, healthy and fun experience for all members and leaders.

Why is Risk Management Important?

The safety of all 4-H youth and adults can be at stake during various activities. When risks are managed, the likelihood of injuries or mishaps is reduced. Focusing on safety and prevention is a key educational component of 4-H.

Each event requires the Assumption of Risk form to be filled out by everybody attending/participating in the event.

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