Singletary, L., Smith, M., and Evans, W. 2004, Volunteer Leaders Gain Important Skills from 4-H Training and Experiences, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-04-31


In most states, adult volunteers do the majority of direct teaching of 4-H youth. 4-H program administrators across the U.S. have trained approximately 650,000 adult volunteers who are responsible for leading 4-H projects in their respective communities.

4-H volunteers participate in different aspects of the 4-H program, giving their time and expertise without monetary compensation. They organize, initiate, sustain and sometimes develop various 4-H projects. Volunteers also recruit and help 4-H members showcase their projects at local, state and national competitions. Participation may include fund-raising, serving as an officer on a decision-making council for the community/county club or serving as a chaperone during 4-H camp and 4-H events that require travel. It has been estimated that the value of the 4-H volunteer leader’s time, travel costs and materials is eight times that of funding received from combined government sources.

4-H volunteers typically receive “leader training” prior to assuming their program responsibilities. In Nevada, management and implementation of 4-H is done at the county level, where leader training varies in content and requirements.

In 2003, a survey was conducted to assess skill levels of volunteer leaders to teach and provide positive developmental environments for 4-H youth. The survey also measured how well volunteer 4-H leaders are trained to work with youth. Since each county in Nevada develops, implements and evaluates leader trainings individually, this impact measure seems important and informative. Additionally, questions were developed to represent a much larger set of items that serve as critical indicators of quality youth development programs as determined by the National Academies Committee on Community-Level Programs for Youth.

Assessment Methods

In 2003, all adult 4-H volunteer leaders were mailed the survey. This survey approach was adopted as a way to measure the opinions of adults involved with 4-H youth development.

Approximately 3,000 individuals received a one-page questionnaire (front-back) with instructions, and a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. Also included was a cover letter that explained the purpose of the survey, ensuring confidentiality of participants, and thanking them for their participation.

Results of the Assessment

Of the total (3,071) survey recipients, 576 returned completed questionnaires resulting in a 19 percent response rate. Descriptive statistics and other analyses were used to examine the data.

Adult Skills to Work with Youth

Volunteers and parents rated their skills to work with 4-H youth relatively high with most scores averaging 4 or higher on a 5 point scale. Table 1 shows the averages of respondent scores for the 18 skills included on the survey. Volunteers and parents who rated themselves as “1” on the survey equated to “I need a lot of improvement on this”. Volunteers and parents who rated themselves as “5” on the survey equated to “I am very good at this”.

Statistical tests (t-tests) were conducted to determine differences between volunteers and parents in rating their skills to work with youth.1 The results are statistically significant for 11 of the 18 skills rated. This indicates that volunteers for the most part rated their skills to work with youth higher than did 4-H parents.

Table 1. Volunteer and parent ranked scores of skills to work with 4-H youth
How good do you think you are at … 1= “I need a lot of improvement at this” 5= “I am very good at this” Volunteer score Parentscore
making sure that the facility where we have 4-H is safe 4.41 (1) ** 4.07 (3)
listening to youth 4.34 (2) 4.25 (1)
ensuring that youth act appropriately in the 4-H program 4.31 (3) 4.21 (2)
helping youth to feel they are an important part of the 4-H program 4.29 (4) ** 4.05 (4)
Letting youth know I have high expectations of them 4.27 (5) ** 4.05 (4)
helping youth to feel like they belong to a part of a special group 4.26 (6) ** 4.05 (4)
making sure I’m easy to approach if a youth has a problem 4.24 (7) ** 4.01 (6)
making sure youth are occupied during 4-H meetings & activities 4.19 (8) ** 3.67 (12)
keeping youth from bullying each other 4.11 (9) 4.02 (5)
providing youth with age-appropriate learning activities 4.09 (10)** 3.70 (10)
encouraging youth to take on leadership roles 4.08 (11)** 3.85 (10)
understanding a “youth” point of view 4.08 (11) 4.06 (7)
conducting activities with youth that are challenging to them 4.03 (12)** 3.67 (12)
relating well to youth from different cultures/backgrounds 4.02 (13) 3.92 (8)
managing conflict between youth 3.92 (14) 3.81 (9)
providing activities that are designed to help youth learn life skills such as healthy lifestyles, goal setting and decision making 3.91 (15)** 3.69 (11)
keeping youth from hurting each other's feelings 3.85 (16) 3.89 (9)
providing activities designed to help youth learn social skills such as communication and relationship building 3.84 (17)** 3.58 (13)
** Statistically significant differences between volunteer and parent scores (p > .001).


Parents of 4-H members provide the largest pool of potential 4-H volunteer leaders. Many parents become involved as 4-H volunteers informally when their children join 4-H by helping with events and helping other members. Over time, their involvement may increase so that they choose to become official leaders participating in all facets of 4-H, including leader training and project leadership. However, parents who do not volunteer for this official role do not receive the same training and experience as the volunteers surveyed in this study. We conducted this study to determine if leader training and leader experience makes a difference in the perceived skill levels of the two groups.

The results indicate that volunteers tend to rate their skills to work with youth significantly higher than parents of 4-H members. This finding is important to volunteer leaders and to 4-H professionals who recruit, screen, and train volunteer leaders. Using the parent skill scores as a baseline, 4-H professionals can identify areas to concentrate leadertraining efforts. For example, parents rated weakest their skill to “provide activities designed to help youth learn social skills such as communication and relationship building.”

Conversely, while volunteer leaders also rated this skill low, they still rated themselves comparatively higher than did parents. This suggests that leader training and leader experiences may help to strengthen this skill.

In addition, the results indicate that volunteer leaders gain important skills and experience through their official involvement in 4-H. It is hoped that this information may help 4-H professionals in recruiting and training parents to serve as volunteer leaders for Nevada 4-H programs.


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