June 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB2

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Impact of a Community Leadership Program on the Volunteer Leader

As issues in communities become more polarized, community volunteers can take responsibility for leading their communities through these issues. Taking responsibility for community leadership requires a set of group process and leadership skills. Findings from a survey of 56 FCL volunteers from an urban/rural region of Oregon showed an increase in leadership skills, confidence level, and hours of community participation. Findings suggested that training plus practicing new skills result in greater impact. A post-pre survey served as an easy credible method to measure behavior change and program impact.

Ann C. Schauber
Extension Diversity Leader
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon
Internet Address: ann.schauber@oregonstate.edu

Alan R. Kirk
Extension Family Community Leadership Volunteer
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon
Internet Address: alankirk@peoplepc.com

In A House Divided: Six Belief Systems Struggling for America's Soul, author Mark Gerzon describes how polarized beliefs around community issues keep citizens from coming together to find ways to mutually address their community problems (Gerzon, 1996). Gerzon suggests that we must address this struggle: "Democracy is a process, not a productŠ We must all take responsibility for leadership. No knight on a white horse will save America; but we and our neighbors can" (Gerzon, 1996). To do so, however, requires a set of community leadership skills.

Oregon State University Extension seeks to address this need through the Family Community Leadership (FCL) Program. This master volunteer program recruits, trains, and supports adults in becoming effective community leaders. An FCL volunteer is an adult who receives an initial 24 hours of community leadership training, participates in ongoing training as a member of a team, and practices these new skills through a minimum of 200 volunteer hours of community involvement. Community leadership skills taught in the FCL training program include:

  • Group process skills;
  • Facilitation and meeting management skills;
  • Communication, diversity, and conflict management skills; and
  • Teaching and presentation skills.

The FCL Program is not new to Extension. It began in 1982 as a Kellogg Foundation-funded pilot to involve women in local public policy decision-making. Thus, many of the first participants were Extension Home Study Group members (Bolton, 1991). In Oregon, the FCL Program has evolved from these roots to become a strong local leadership development program, attracting a broad cross-section of community adults to learn about the process of community leadership.

How much of an impact has the Oregon FCL Program had on building community leadership skills? An evaluation of the impact of the FCL Program on the volunteers in an urban/rural tri-county region of Western Oregon provided some answers to this question. In 1998 FCL volunteers in Marion, Polk, and Yamhill Counties responded to a post-pre survey questionnaire about the impact of the FCL Program on them and their community involvement.


The goal of the Marion, Polk, and Yamhill Counties FCL Program is to build the capacity of communities through increasing leadership and group process skills among citizens. More specifically the program objectives are:

  • To recruit, train, and support a group of twelve new adult volunteers annually.
  • To involve the volunteers in a tri-county team whose purposes are:
    1. to provide support and ongoing training for volunteers, and
    2. to respond to requests from the community for leadership training and facilitation.

As a master volunteer program, FCL trains community volunteers who, in turn, conduct training sessions on leadership skills or provide facilitation for a variety of community groups to enhance the groups' effectiveness. The types of community groups that request training include volunteer grass-roots citizen groups, such as school parent/teacher organizations and Habitat for Humanity, as well as agency staff such as Head Start teachers and city department heads. FCL volunteers usually facilitate a problem-solving or action-planning process, or conduct training in various topics related to group process.

Thus, there are two target audiences in the FCL Program: 1) the adult volunteer who is interested in developing leadership and group process skills, and 2) community groups who can benefit from the facilitation and training by FCL volunteers. While an examination of the community-wide impacts of FCL would be of interest, the study reported here focused on the program impacts for the volunteers themselves.

From 1993 to 1995, one Extension agent devoted 40% of her time to the program. During this period, the program grew from 14 active volunteers to 50. In 1997, the tri-county FCL team members responded to 112 requests for training and facilitation from 50 different community groups, involving 1,518 community members. The volunteers worked in teams and sometimes worked with a group more than once.

Study Methods

A post-pre method of self-report evaluation was used as a means of documenting behavior change, because it was fairly easy to develop, use, and analyze, and this method has been found to give credible results. The post-pre method features a retrospective pretest after an educational intervention as a means of minimizing a response-shift bias. The respondent answers the evaluation questions with the same frame of reference for both the pre and post questions (Rockwell & Kohn, 1989). For this study a post-pre survey questionnaire was designed to address the following questions.

  1. In regard to the FCL volunteer, how has the program affected the following attributes:
    • level of community involvement?
    • facilitation skills and their confidence level in regard to facilitation?
    • presentation and training skills?
    • level of knowledge about group process and decision making?
  2. What do the volunteers do differently as a result of participating in the FCL Program?
  3. What do the volunteers see as the greatest impact of the FCL Program on them?

The post-pre evaluation is a reliable method used to assess knowledge-based behavior change after the intervention, which in this study was a combination of training and practice in the community. A separate volunteer database provided information on how long the volunteer respondent had been in the program and how many volunteer hours they had reported to the FCL Program. This database was cross-referenced with the survey responses to help analyze the data from the perspective of how active the volunteers were.

A sample of convenience, the population was comprised of 64 volunteers who had participated in FCL over the 5-year period from 1993 to 1998. Of these, two had died, and six had moved out of the program with no further contact, leaving 56. The survey questionnaire was mailed with a stamped return envelope to all of these volunteers. A tea bag was enclosed with the survey as an incentive to take a break and have a cup of tea while filling out the survey. Two weeks later, a reminder letter was sent to those who had not yet returned their questionnaire. A total of 30 questionnaires were returned, for a return rate of 54%.


Two-thirds of those who returned the survey were either "very active" or "new" volunteers. A third of the returns were from "inactive" or "slightly active" volunteers. A "very active" volunteer was one who had been active in the team meetings and had been involved in more than three FCL community events within the last 6 months. A "new" volunteer was a person who had completed the State Training Institute within the last year. A "slightly active" volunteer was a person who had participated in no more than two events in the last 6 months and was marginally active on the team. An "inactive" volunteer was a person who had not participated in any FCL activities in the past year except for an occasional team meeting.

Of the 26 who did not return the survey, 4 were new volunteers who had not yet become involved in the community, 3 were very active volunteers, 10 were slightly active volunteers, and 10 were no longer active in the program. Thus, the data from the survey were biased toward more active or new volunteers (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Community Participation

Sixty percent of the respondents (18) reported an increase in community participation since becoming involved in the FCL Program. Thirty percent (9) showed the same level of participation before FCL and after. None showed a decrease in participation. Three respondents did not answer the question.

Among all respondents, the number of hours that they were involved in the community increased by an average of 7.2 hours per month, or 64%: they averaged 11.2 hours per month of volunteering in the community before joining FCL and 18.4 hours after joining FCL (Table 1).

Table 1
FCL Volunteer Community Participation Level

  Participant Only As a Leader Percent of Time as a Leader
Before FCL 11.2 hours/month 6.4 hours/month 57%
Now 18.4 hours/month 16.5 hours/month 90%


Not only were FCL volunteers more active in the community, they also reported an increase in taking on leadership roles in the community. Two-thirds (20) reported an increase in involvement in community leadership. Before their FCL training, volunteers reported an average of 6.4 hours per month in a community leadership role. Since FCL training, volunteers reported an involvement averaging 16.5 hours per month in a leadership capacity. This was an average increase of 10.1 hours per month, a 158% increase (Table 1).

When the average overall community participation was compared with the average participation in a leadership role, it showed that before the FCL training respondents averaged 57% of their time in a leadership role. After FCL training, respondents averaged 90% of their community volunteer time in a leadership role.

Facilitation Skills

In response to a self-assessment on facilitation skills before becoming involved in the FCL Program and after, all respondents perceived themselves as increasing in skills and confidence levels (Figure 2). On average, the volunteers moved from a self-rating of "elementary" facilitation skills to a high "intermediate" level of facilitation skills. Overall, new volunteers perceived less change than did the experienced volunteers.

Figure 2.

Likewise, confidence in facilitating a group moved from "elementary" to high "intermediate" (Figure 3). Again, the change from before FCL to after was greater with the experienced volunteers. It may be that the longer one is in the program, the greater the perceived increase in facilitation skills.

Figure 3.

Presentation and Training Skills

Respondents' ratings of their presentation skills increased from "elementary" to high "intermediate" (Figure 4). The greatest perceived change was among the experienced volunteers.

Figure 4.

When volunteers were asked to rate their training skills before the FCL training and since, their average rating moved from high "beginner" to "intermediate" (Figure 5). Effective meetings and problem-solving skills were listed as the training topics volunteers presented most frequently.

Figure 5.

Volunteers rated their knowledge of group process and decision-making techniques before FCL to be "elementary" and high "intermediate" after (Figure 6).

Figure 6.

Respondents were also asked what they did differently with groups as a result of their experience with FCL. There were five main concepts that emerged from the data about behavioral changes of the volunteers that resulted from their experience with FCL:

  1. Increased trust in group process through understanding stages of group development;
  2. Improved listening to hear what people are really saying;
  3. More awareness and consideration of the different styles and skill levels of group participants (including the ability to vary the process to include all styles);
  4. Realization of the importance of and use of the tools and techniques for effective meetings so as to involve all participants; and
  5. More preparedness for group meetings and events.

Volunteers were also asked to describe the greatest impact the FCL Program had on them. Five themes emerged:

  1. Learning that everyone has talents to be developed;
  2. Accepting people for who they are;
  3. Trusting in people's abilities to make great decisions and impact their communities;
  4. Confidence in speaking to a group; and
  5. Co-facilitating with some great people.


While Oregon's tri-county FCL Program cannot be seen as the "knight on a white horse" that unites communities, it can be concluded that this program makes a difference in the lives of those who volunteer as FCL trainers. Specifically this study found that:

  • Volunteers markedly increased their levels of community involvement and community leadership;
  • and Volunteers saw an improvement in their skills as a result of their training and experience in FCL.

The findings of the study reported here suggest that volunteers who complete training and stay involved to practice their new skills with support from Extension gain more from the educational experience than those who only complete the training. Furthermore, in a time when outcome evaluation is critical in the Extension Service, the post-pre method serves as a relatively easy and reliable method of determining behavior change among Extension program participants.

This type of information is critical for Extension leaders in determining the wise use of resources for the greatest program impact. Beyond the impacts the FCL Program has on volunteers, further study is needed on what impact it has on overall community leadership capacity.


Bolton, E. (1991). Developing local leaders: Results of a structured learning experience. Journal of the Community Development Society, 21 (1), 119-143.

Gerzon, M. (1996). A House Divided: Six Belief Systems Struggling for America's Soul. New York: Putnam.

Oregon State University Extension Service. (1998). Oregon Leadership State Training Manual. Corvallis: Author.

Rockwell, S.K., & Kohn H.(1989). Post-then-pre evaluation. Journal of Extension [On-line]. 27 (2), Available: http://www.joe.org/joe/1989summer/a5.html