February 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB5

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Motivating Adult Volunteer 4-H Leaders

The purpose of this study was to determine factors motivating tenured 4-H volunteers to begin and continue volunteer service to 4-H and to identify potential negative motivators influencing them to discontinue their service to 4-H. Data were collected from 279 volunteers at a state-wide recognition banquet via a 4-page, 35-item questionnaire. Motives for beginning and continuing volunteer service to 4-H were similar and focused on an affiliation with either 4-H or 4-H members. Physical inability (or death) and unfulfilled affiliation motives were identified as most likely to cause discontinuation of service.

Ken Culp, III
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Volunteerism
Ohio State University Extension
Columbus, Ohio
Internet address: culp.29@osu.edu

Vicki J. Schwartz
Assistant Professor and Chair
Ohio State University Extension
Washington County
Marietta, Ohio
Internet address: schwartz.4@osu.edu


The relationship between volunteers and the organizations they serve is dictated by two elements: volunteer motivations and organizational needs. The point of contact between these two elements is the actual volunteer experience, which should satisfy the needs of both the volunteers and the organization which they serve (Balenger, Sedlacek & Guenzler, 1989). Nearly every volunteer administration model, including L-O-O-P (Penrod, 1991), the 4-H Leadership Development Model (Kwarteng, Smith & Miller, 1988) and GEMS (Culp, Castillo, Deppe & Wells, 1997) includes motivation as a key component.

Extension agents serving in the role of volunteer administrators must continually meet their volunteers' motivational needs. Atkinson and Feather (1966) and McClelland (1955, 1962) identified three categories of motivation: achievement, affiliation, and power. Atkinson and Birch (1978) defined these three categories as follows. Achievement motives are those which influence individuals to take pride in accomplishments and have a desire to achieve excellence. Affiliation motives influence people to be most concerned about their relationships with other people or groups. Power motives drive a desire for control and influence. Maehr and Braskamp (1986) determined that achievement, affiliation, and power motives were important determinants of performance and success in work and volunteering.

Henderson (1981) found most 4-H volunteers to be motivated by affiliation. However, Extension agents typically devote their greatest efforts to providing public recognition, an achievement motive. The question remains "Are 4-H volunteers primarily motivated to serve 4-H members and the 4-H Program by receiving public recognition at an annual recognition banquet?"

The purposes of this study, utilizing tenured 4-H volunteers who attended the state recognition banquet, were:

What factors motivate individuals who ultimately become tenured volunteers to begin volunteering for 4-H? Are people who attend state-wide recognition programs motivated to continue volunteer service by receiving formal, public and extrinsic forms of recognition? Is lack of or improper volunteer recognition a negative motivator causing discontinuation of service?


The population for this study was defined as all people attending the state 4-H Volunteer Recognition Banquet in 1996. Attending were 279 volunteers, whose tenure ranged from 5 to 55 years. The profile of this group was as follows: 82.2% female, 97.9% white; 84.4% married; 41.5% rural, non-farm residence, 36.6% on-farm residence; mean age of 50.1 years; 2.4 children, with 1.4 children currently living at home; 13.8 years of education; employed 24.1 hours per week outside of the home; 43.4% reported that their employers encouraged them to volunteer; income levels were reported as follows: 29.1% - less than $20,000, 26.6% - $20 to $30,000, 15.1% - $30 to $40,000 and 15.6% - 40 to 50,5000. They had served an average of 18.7 years as a 4-H volunteer, and provided 12.6 hours of service per month as a 4-H volunteer.

Data were collected during the luncheon via a 4-page, 35-item questionnaire using Likert-type scales (5 = very important, 1 = very unimportant), rank-ordering and frequency counts. The response rate was 72.04% (n = 201). No attempt at follow-up was made. Validity was established by expert panel. Reliability was established by testing the instrument with 211 Ohio 4-H volunteers. Mean Cronbach alphas were as follows: initiation (.69), continuation (.75) and discontinuation (.72). Descriptive statistics were utilized.


Tenured 4-H volunteers who attend state recognition banquets are not motivated to begin or continue their service to 4-H in order to receive individual recognition. Rather, tenured 4-H volunteers were motivated to begin their volunteer service due to an affiliation with either the 4-H organization or 4-H members. Likert responses to individual items are listed in Table 1.

Table 1
4-H Volunteer Initiation Motives
Label Mean Rank Mean S.D. Freq N Rank
4-H is a good organization 1 4.76 0.46 115 1
I enjoy working with people 2 4.70 0.36 105 4t
I wanted to help people 3 4.58 0.58 105 4t
A family member was involved 4 4.37 0.96 113 2
To contribute to the community 5 4.35 0.61 104 6
To share skills and talents 6 4.34 0.68 107 3
I was previously involved/enrolled 7 4.22 0.98 95 7
Someone asked me 8 3.70 1.06 91 8
My family encouraged me 9 3.38 0.99 80 10
My friend was involved 10 3.28 1.01 78 11
No one else would do it 11 2.34 0.98 82 9
I had extra time 12 2.16 0.85 75 12
I wanted to develop job skills 13 1.99 0.74 70 15
Hoped it would lead to employment 14 1.57 0.63 72 13
My employer encouraged me 15 1.52 0.56 69 16
I wanted a volunteer stipend 16 1.52 0.62 71 14

Receiving any type of individual recognition were the lowest rated general categories of motives prompting continued service by these volunteers. Affiliation motives were the strongest motives prompting continued service to 4-H. Receiving recognition was the least meaningful motivator. Likert responses to individual items are listed in Table 2.

Table 2
4-H Volunteer Continuation of Service Motives
Label Mean Rank Mean S.D. Freq N Rank
Making a contribution to community 1 3.55 1.93 193 4t
Club recognized for accomplishments 2 3.54 1.99 193 4t
Individual 4-H member recognition 3 3.53 1.98 191 7
4-H members recognized together 4 3.14 2.03 192 6
Recognized for recruiting members 5 2.83 1.97 197 2t
Recognized for a program or idea 6 2.58 1.98 197 2t
Recognized for years of service 7 2.49 1.96 198 1

Recognition, or the lack of, was not found to be a negative motive causing volunteers to discontinue service. Rather, unfulfilled affiliation motives were the primary impetus for eventual discontinuation of the volunteers' service to 4-H. In this pool of tenured volunteers, the primary negative motivator identified was physical impairment or the volunteer's death! Likert responses to individual items are listed in Table 3.

Table 3
4-H Volunteer Discontinuation Motives
Label Mean Rank Mean S.D. Freq N Rank
Physical Impairment/Death 1 4.17 0.9 92 4
Feeling Unneeded 2 3.28 1.06 103 1
Program/philosophy change in 4-H 3 3.28 0.84 86 8
Lack of time 4 3.19 1.04 97 3
Family members no longer involved 5 3.16 1.11 102 2
Lack of appreciation from 4-H'ers 6 3.02 0.91 90 5
Conflicts with Extension Agent 7 2.85 0.86 87 7
Too big of a commitment 8 2.66 0.91 85 10
Conflicts with clients 9 2.64 0.77 83 11
Occupational change 10 2.59 0.90 80 13t
Lack of organizational recognition 11 2.57 0.89 88 6
Conflicts with other volunteers 12 2.55 0.82 86 8t
Occupational 13 2.51 0.88 76 15
Conflicts with 4-H'er's family 14 2.45 0.73 80 13t
Lack of training 15 2.25 0.83 81 12


Tenured volunteers are motivated to begin serving 4-H by affiliation motives. These include their belief that 4-H is a good organization; their desire to work with, help or contribute to 4-H members or their community; a family member's involvement; and the desire to share their own skills and talents.

4-H volunteers are motivated to continue service by the contribution they can make through 4-H to the community (an affiliation motive), by recognition given to their entire 4-H club (achievement through affiliation), and by observing their individual 4-H members receiving recognition (achievement through affiliation).

Specific motives prompting continued service include personal satisfaction received from working with others (an affiliation motive), and the belief that 4-H benefits the community (an affiliation motive).

Receiving individual recognition (an achievement motive) was one of the weakest motives identified.

Negative motives prompting discontinuation of volunteer service include the volunteer's physical impairment or death, feeling unneeded (an affiliation motive), and 4-H organizational, philosophical, or programmatic changes which the volunteer does not support (an affiliation motive).


In order to successfully recruit 4-H volunteers, Extension agents should focus on 4-H's positive name recognition; the volunteer's potential for personal interaction with 4-H members and other volunteers; and the opportunity to make a contribution to the community. These should be stressed while highlighting the specific skills and talents that the volunteer will utilize in this position. Finally, 4-H alumni whose children are 4-H members will be the most likely candidates to accept a volunteer position with the 4-H program.

Recognizing volunteers with their 4-H members or clubs, introducing 4-H volunteers with the 4-H members being recognized at 4-H member achievement programs, and highlighting community accomplishments of 4-H clubs will all fulfill volunteers' affiliation motives. Recognition programs which profile only the volunteer or recognize years of volunteer service will be less acceptable recognition activities.

Positioning volunteers in roles which provide them personal satisfaction and enjoyment will be a reward and a meaningful source of recognition in and of itself, and should also improve volunteer retention and enhance longevity.

Involving volunteers in all phases of 4-H program development, philosophical and organizational change should improve retention, as volunteers will support and understand the need for organizational and philosophical changes in the 4-H program. This should also benefit the volunteer by fostering their feelings of being needed.

Reinforcing the volunteer's role in the organization and the importance of the service which they provide should also assist the volunteer in feeling needed and appreciated.


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