Spring 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB1

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Volunteer Management System Training

Agents both with and without training realized a great return on the investment in time spent starting a systematic approach to managing volunteers.

Dale A. Leidheiser
Extension Specialist, 4-H/Youth
Cooperative Extension
Colorado State University-Fort Collins

The first phase of implementing a volunteer management system for Colorado State Cooperative Extension involved training agents, 4-H volunteers, and support staff in volunteer management concepts. The day-long training included components on volunteer research, legal implications, volunteer position descriptions, applications, commitment forms, references, interviews, and performance reviews for volunteers.

The training reached 52 agents and 51 other individuals (volunteers, support staff, youth) representing 49 of 58 county programs. Training took place in seven locations around the state for easy access to staff and volunteers.

There were 89 usable evaluations from the training sessions. The composite score for all groups' understanding of volunteer management concepts before the training was 2.5 on a five-point scale (see Table 1). The 4.3 score of understanding volunteer management concepts following training indicates knowledge gain. The commitment to using volunteer management system components rated 3.8.

Agents had the highest understanding both before and after training and also had the highest commitment to using parts of the system. Support staff had the lowest understanding before and after training. Their commitment was equal to that of the volunteers.

Individuals at most locations thought the system would be most applicable in urban settings. Commitment to using system components were stronger in locations where there was more urban representation. Commitment ranged from a high of 4.5 by agents in one location to a low of 3.0 by volunteers in another training site.

What are the implications? Agents may have to work harder at "selling" volunteer management system concepts to support staff and volunteers. Support staff in particular may feel that an additional workload is being dumped on them and may need additional support and training to make it work effectively. Volunteers may need training to better understand the implications and benefits of a volunteer management system.

Widespread support exists for implementing components of the system. Successful implementation of the system will occur best with open communications among volunteers, support staff, and agents working together to benefit youth. Barriers to implementing the system include a variety of comments that underscore their need for open dialogue:

  • Not enough time.
  • Fear by leaders of changing system.
  • Fear of termination.
  • Apathy of leaders and objection to paperwork and formality.
  • Agents' unwillingness to make it work.
  • Attitudes.

Balancing some of the barriers are the benefits individuals perceive to implementing a system:

  • Enhance communication between volunteers and Extension.
  • Help volunteers understand their roles.
  • Make a stronger program.
  • Better use of leader/agent skills.
  • Increase prestige of leaders.
  • Improve retention of 4-Hers and leaders.

Thirty-three percent (n=17) of the original 52 agents that participated in the training responded to a six-month, follow-up survey as well as six agents that didn't attend.

Agents spent an average of 22 hours over the past year to start up a system. Over half (53%) stated that volunteers are doing things now that they used to do, averaging 10.6 hours per month on those tasks. Every hour an agent invested in starting a system averaged a return of almost 5.8 hours of volunteer time on tasks previously done by the agent. That represents an average cost (based on total dollar support/FTE) to the organization of $743.96 to start the system, and a benefit of $4,301.47 per year from volunteer efforts. This is a 578% return on the investment.

Of the 23 usable follow-up evaluations, only two (8.6%) indicated they didn't plan to use a volunteer management system. Agents already using volunteer management concepts began to implement additional components. Eighty-five percent of the agents that hadn't used any parts of the system indicated they planned to in the future. Agents both with and without training realized a great return on the investment in time spent starting a systematic approach to managing volunteers.

Table 1. Participants understanding and commitment to volunteer management system.
Support staff
Before After Before After Before After BeforeAfter
Understanding 2.8 4.4 2.0 3.9 2.2 4.1 2.5 4.3