The Journal of Extension -

October 2010 // Volume 48 // Number 5 // Tools of the Trade // v48-5tt6

Volunteer Middle Managers: Human Resources that Extend Programmatic Outreach

Extension professionals must be able to give volunteers programmatic ownership and the resources and education they need to complete their tasks. However, resources are limited, especially in economic downtimes, making it even more necessary to look at creative ways to bridge the gap between what programs and services can and should be delivered. A middle manager program was developed as a tool to more effectively involve volunteer leaders and assist Extension professionals. Eight position descriptions and corresponding planning aids were developed, in addition to an agent strategy to aid Extension professionals in implementing the middle manager program.

Heather Cassill
4-H Youth Development Agent, Clark County
Winchester, Kentucky

Ken Culp, III
Sr. Specialist for Volunteerism
Department of 4-H Youth Development
Lexington, Kentucky

Jay Hettmansperger
Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent, Garrard County
Lancaster, Kentucky

Marla Stillwell
4-H Youth Development Agent, Hardin County
Elizabethtown, Kentucky

Amanda Sublett
4-H Youth Development Agent, Taylor County
University of Kentucky
Washington, Kentucky

University of Kentucky


Volunteers have been essential to the success of the 4-H program since its inception (Wessel & Wessel, 1982). The number of programs available to youth in 4-H Youth Development programs is exponential, therefore creating a vast range of knowledge that one person cannot possibly possess alone. This creates a system that relies on volunteer involvement for effective program delivery. The balance between Extension professionals and volunteers is necessary and often complex.

Programs are strongest when the partnership between Extension professionals and volunteers is balanced and shared by both (Snider, 1985). Extension professionals must be able to give volunteers programmatic ownership and the resources and education that they need to complete their tasks. However, resources such as time and money are limited, especially in economic downtimes, making it even more necessary to look at creative ways to bridge the gap between what programs and services can be delivered and what programs should be delivered.

Schwertz (1978) suggested the use of volunteer middle managers to achieve the mission of the Extension program. She suggests involving key leaders to serve as middle managers to take on specific program area responsibilities, therefore becoming the expert or educational resource for a small group of volunteers, much like the higher Extension hierarchy seen in many Extension programs. Schwertz emphasizes securing and selecting middle managers and compares working with middle managers to working with salaried staff.

For some Extension professionals, working with volunteers can be a daunting, difficult, or challenging task. Involving volunteers is difficult for the new Extension professional or anyone who has difficulty delegating tasks. Kemptom (1980) describes a good manager as an enabler of human resources. Kemptom believes the supervision process needs both a volunteer who receives responsibility and an Extension professional who must be willing to delegate responsibility to the volunteer. Schwertz suggests that the Extension professional delegate the task that she or he likes to do the best because this is the job that the Extension professional would be best at supervising as she or he feels the most comfortable with this area.

In response to this idea and to provide tools for working with middle managers for the new and experienced Extension professional, the members of the University of Kentucky Volunteer Administration Academy created eight volunteer position descriptions, corresponding planning aids, and an agent-supervision strategy to aid in the development and implementation of a middle manager in their county programs.

Position Descriptions

Seven of the positions were developed by assessing the current use of seven core curriculum areas found in the Kentucky 4-H Program. These curricula include: Animal Sciences, Communications, Family and Consumer Sciences, Health, Leadership, Natural Resources and Science, Engineering & Technology. An eighth position was created for School Enrichment because of its prevalence and importance in the statewide program. Each of these middle manager positions was given the title of Coordinator. Position descriptions included the following components: position title, time required, location, general purpose, specific guidelines, qualifications, benefits, salary, and signatures of supervisor and volunteer (Culp, 2008). A complete collection of volunteer position descriptions is located in the GEMS Toolbox and can be found at <>.

Planning Aids

To develop the middle manager program, it is important to have tools to help the volunteer coordinator and the Extension professional further develop the role and responsibilities of each. Volunteer Planning Aids (Culp, Bentley, Conway, Kelley, Mays, & Turley, in press) were developed for the volunteer middle manager as well as an Agent Supervision Strategy for the Extension professional. The planning aids were developed from the ideas of previous classes of Volunteer Administration Academy members, are located in the GEMS Toolbox, and can be found at <>.

Planning aids were developed with a monthly timeline and checklist for an entire program year. Planning aids for the Volunteer Middle Manager include the following items and topics:

  • Stressing communication and planning between Extension professional and volunteer coordinator

  • Recruiting new volunteer leaders

  • Leader orientation

  • Leader evaluation

  • Program evaluation

  • Monthly lesson materials and education

  • Member recruitment

  • Promotion of county, district and state activities, contests, events

  • Communication of deadlines and registrations

  • Help leaders schedule events, coordinating with other county, district and state events

Agent Supervision Strategy

The Agent Supervision Strategy is a planning aid designed to follow the 4-H Program Year (in this case, from August to September). Each month details the activities that are scheduled for the year in each of the core areas and school enrichment opportunities. August and September follow the GEMS model (Culp, Deppe, Castillo, & Wells, 1998) as the Extension professional must identify, recruit, and orient new middle managers. Each month begins with a meeting with the agent and the middle manager to organize lessons and materials needed by the volunteers in their core area. The important programs and activities at the county, district, and state levels are outlined as to when promotional and registration materials must be forwarded to the middle managers and volunteer leaders for up-coming events and activities.

Time is often limited, informational tools are spread everywhere, and Extension professionals are oftentimes running from one event to the other. This strategy establishes one place to take a quick look as to what is coming up next, ensuring that everyone is on the same page, and enables Extension professionals to check off accomplishes as they are achieved. The collection of agent-supervision strategies is located in the GEMS Toolbox and may be accessed at <>.


The implementation of a middle manager program allows the Extension professional to delegate responsibilities to qualified individuals in order to use human and financial resources in the best way possible. Through the implementation of middle managers (who serve as volunteer coordinators), stronger partnerships between volunteer leaders, volunteer middle managers, and Extension professionals can be made by allowing volunteer leaders to lead. Resources are increased to give the volunteer the tools they need to serve to the best of their ability.

Middle managers have the ability to educate and spend valuable time in the program by dividing the program into core content areas and school enrichment activities. Volunteer middle mangers enable the Extension professional to accomplish more than he or she thought possible, thereby saving time and human and financial resources. The result is a stronger program and more engaged youth in 4-H programs, projects, and activities.


Culp, III, K. (2008). CLD 775-002. Volunteer Administration Academy. Department of Community Leadership Development. College of Agriculture, University of Kentucky. Class lecture delivered on October 20, 2008, at Lake Cumberland State Park, Jamestown, KY.

Culp, III, K., Bentley, S., Conway, C., Kelley, D., Mays, M., & Turley, J. (2009). Planning aids: Tools to ensure volunteer and event success. Journal of Extension, [On-line] 47(4) Article 4TOT2. Available at:

Culp, III, K., Deppe, C. A., Castillo, J. X., & Wells, B. J. (1998). The GEMS model of volunteer administration. The Journal of Volunteer Administration. 16(4) 36-41.

Kempton, R. L. (1980). Concepts in volunteer management. Journal of Extension. [On-line], 80(5). Available at:

Schwertz, C. (1978). Volunteers as middle managers. Journal of Extension. [On-line], 16(6). Available at:

Snider, A. S. (1985). The dynamic tension: Professionals and volunteers. Journal of Extension. [On-line]. 23(3) Article 3FEA2. Available at:

Wessel, T., & Wessel, M. (1982). 4-H: An American idea 1900 - 1980. Washington, D.C.: National 4-H Council