August 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT1

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Washington State University On-line Volunteer Management Certification Program

The on-line Volunteer Management Certificate Program (VMCP) is a non-credit course delivered through the Internet <> designed to: 1) offer a quality, professional development training course on volunteer management, delivered to individuals working in the field anytime, anywhere, particularly to those in rural communities with minimum access to training opportunities.
2) develop quality distance delivery of educational programs through the technology of the Internet.
3) promote and enhance the profession of volunteer management as a field of expertise.
4) bring recognition to Cooperative Extension as a leader in the emerging field of volunteer management.

Lauri E. B. Sherfey
Area Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development
Washington State University
Pasco, Washington
Internet address:

Janet Hiller
4-H Youth Development Specialist
Washington State University
Pullman, Washington
Internet address:

Nancy Macduff
Macduff/Bunt Associates
Walla Walla, Washington
Internet address:

Nancy Mack
Program Development Specialist
WSU Conferences and Professional Programs
Pullman, Washington
Internet address:


The Volunteer Management Certification Program (VMCP) was developed for a broad audience of adult professionals who do not need or want college credit courses, but want a credible program to enhance their job skills and professional development in working with volunteers. Cooperative Extension has a long history of successful volunteer management. In fact, we are probably the granddaddy of experience in most communities across the United States. Cooperative Extension has always realized the value of fostering, mentoring, and supporting professional development for faculty and staff. This has produced a workforce of professionals able to effectively mobilize and increase human capital.

However, the resource of human capital and the ability to increase it is just now being recognized and valued by many corporations, non-profits, and government, public, and private entities. Over 100 million Americans report some type of volunteer activity each year. As the "baby-boomer" generation nears retirement, a wide variety of organizations' need for highly skilled volunteer managers will see a dramatic increase. With this emerging issue, the mission and expertise of Cooperative Extension continues to be relevant for communities in the next century.

Needs Assessment

An extensive survey of 336 individuals employed in 248 different organizations that utilized volunteers was compiled to assess the need and marketability of an on-line volunteer management course. The organization representatives of public agencies, schools, and non-profits were located in 74 different communities in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.

Survey results revealed affirmation of need for and interest in distance learning format. Survey participants indicated that volunteer management training was rare and generally unattainable because of travel, time off from work, and cost. The survey also confirmed students' desire for some sort of certification; however, the option for credit vs. noncredit was an even split. The vast majority had no prior experience with distance learning format, but did have access to technology at their place of work.

The survey participants indicated they would be interested in putting in 3-4 hours per week. They were primarily motivated to:
1) improve depth of knowledge or skills in fundamentals of volunteer management,
2) learn new skills and knowledge, and
3) remain competitive in the job market.

It was also evident that this clientele wanted a course at low cost because they were unsure if their employers would pay for it.

The survey results guided the course's design and development. It began with a $4,000 development budget and a partnership with Conferences and Professional Programs (CAPP) of Washington State University (WSU) to recoup operations costs from student fees. Prior to final launch, the course was beta tested by 24 volunteers selected from the cyberVMP listserve. The course registered its first students in August, 1998.


VMCP is the product of a collaboration of on- and off-campus Cooperative Extension faculty, a private consultant, and WSU's CAPP. Current enrollees are from all over the U.S., Canada, Germany, Barbados, India, and Guam.

VMCP has a free Web site <> with resources for volunteer managers. It includes a self-test to determine proficiency and skills. The self-assessment is also designed to help the students determine if the VMCP program can help them enhance their professional skills. From this site, CAPP handles student registration, records, marketing, and overall project management.

VMCP consists of four units with five modules in each unit. Unit One provides information on Recruiting Volunteers; Unit Two on Training Volunteers; Unit Three on the Management and Supervision of Volunteers; and Unit Four on the Evaluation and Recognition of Volunteers. Students must complete a unit in 6 months and have a maximum of 2 years to complete the program.

Technological Innovation

VMCP is unique in its use of the Internet. Students use the Web to learn about the program and assess their own skills. Once enrolled, they complete exercises as part of each module that can be shared with other students working on the same module. Assignments at the end of the module are submitted via the Internet to a faculty member for critique. This makes a minimum of 20 faculty comments in the course of the program (this is almost one per month). There are no requirements to attend class; instead, students visit on-line chat rooms, working at their own pace and on their own schedules.

The planning team was alerted to the need for strong technological support by the needs assessment survey done before the program was launched. Many students have low-end computers and are often inexperienced with the Internet. VMCP students use a Web-based learning platform called the "Classroom Management System." It was designed to provide clear and consistent content presentation, student interaction, on-line testing, and management data for instructors.

There is technical support for each student who hits the "HELP" button. The CMS program instantly recognizes the student's computer features and modem speed, and detects technical problems automatically. A staff member then provides technical support, answering questions about hardware, software, and how to send an attached document. Students thus have a person who can help them over the mechanical hurdles of on-line, as well as the intellectual ones. CAPP has a toll-free phone number for non-technical questions. Frequently Asked Questions are posted to the site to help the students and avoid redundant phone calls and emails.

Pedagogical Innovation

VMCP is not an on-line book, but rather an innovative adult learning model. Each module is designed with two or three paragraphs of content, followed by interactive exercises related directly to the type of work done by each student. Students can move around within a module, talk with other students, and communicate with faculty. To increase interactivity, the faculty sponsor monitored chat rooms on topics pertinent to student work on a regular schedule.

Feedback and Outcomes

At the end of each module, the students (volunteer managers) use the lessons learned in their own programs to complete assignments tied to their employment situations. An early assignment requires the students to share their plans with their supervisors and revise them based on those discussions. One student reported her supervisor was so impressed with the plan and assignment that she is budgeting to help this student complete her baccalaureate.

At the end of each unit, the learners take a post-test that is tied to the pre-test. The results are shared with faculty to determine learner progress and if revisions in a module are needed. The learners receive their results as well. There is an evaluation related to each individual's experience with the course, faculty, and technical support.

Students receive a WSU certificate of completion when the VMCP is completed. This attractive document is designed to enhance the volunteer managers' sense of accomplishment and to alert others to their skill development. There are currently 60 students enrolled, including one recent graduate. The following is a testimonial VMCP graduate Beth Buchanan wrote to a prospective student inquiring about the course.

Impact Testimonial

"Hello--I am a recent proud graduate of the WSU VMCP course you are interested in. Without question, if you work with volunteers you will benefit from this course. The instructors are outstanding, the course work excellent, and it is highly enjoyable to boot!

I'm not sure what specifically you are looking for out of this course, but I can tell you that in my experience all four units contributed greatly to what I do every day--volunteer management for 4 different programs. The 'How to Train and Evaluate' parts were especially valuable because they not only helped me in my volunteer manager roll but also helped me in my collateral duties training coworkers in several different areas (primarily technological).

The course work takes you through, from A to Z, on how to be a better recruiter, trainer, manager, and most importantly how to keep those volunteers through appropriate, focused recognition.

I like the Internet aspect because it allowed me to move at my pace at times that worked for me--if I could only do course work from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., I did!

The instructors are outstanding--the feedback is constructive, to the point and very valuable.

I think what I like the best of all was that at each stage of the process I was able to incorporate at least one part, if not all parts, of the assignment into my daily work. It got to be a standing joke between my supervisor and myself--'So, what does your VMCP homework have that we can use to answer this problem?' We still refer to my notebook, which has become an invaluable resource!

Good luck to you!

Beth Buchanan"