June 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA2
Extension Agents' Perceptions Of Volunteer Management
The purpose of the study was to determine 4-H agents' perceptions of the importance of and their perceived competence with selected volunteer management competencies. Ohio State University Extension 4-H Youth Development agents identified all nine of the selected competencies as either somewhat or very important and perceived themselves to be somewhat competent with all competencies. The competencies and their respective competency builders can be utilized as a framework for staff development, staff selection, and academic course development.
Engaging volunteers as active partners of Ohio State University (OSU) Extension is integral to its mission of helping people improve their lives through an educational process using scientific knowledge focused on identified issues and needs (OSU Extension, 1991, p. 2). Volunteers are identified as a part of the organizational vision by stating that Extension educators recruit, and develop volunteers to multiply Extension's efforts. The Ohio 4-H Youth Development strategic plan identifies volunteerism as fundamental to achieving its mission and fulfilling its vision.
During 1996, more than 31,000 volunteers contributed time, energies, and/or talents toward planning, implementing, and evaluating Ohio 4-H Youth Development programs. Adults and youth served as community and project club advisors, middle managers/key leaders, school enrichment volunteers, special emphasis volunteers, and committee members. County Extension 4-H Youth Development agents, supported by district and state program and administrative units, are responsible for effectively involving and managing volunteers.
Positive perceptions of OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents toward the importance of and their mastery of volunteer management competencies are critical to enhanced skills and abilities as volunteer managers. Ultimately, OSU Extension agents who are highly skilled in volunteer management will be more likely to have greater positive youth and community impact as a result of volunteer-delivered 4-H Youth Development programs.
The purpose of this descriptive-correlational study was to determine OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents' perceptions of the importance of and their perceived competence with selected volunteer management competencies.
The study used a census to collect data from the population of the 100 Extension agents, 4-H Youth Development, who were employed by Ohio State University Extension on October 1, 1996.
The researchers developed a study questionnaire consisting of three parts. Section I gathered information from respondents related to their perceptions regarding the importance of (on a four-point scale of not important, little importance, somewhat important, and very important) and their competence with (on a four-point scale of not competent, little competence, somewhat competent, and very competent) selected volunteer management competencies. The competencies were identifying 4-H volunteer opportunities, and recruiting, selecting, orienting, training, utilizing, supervising, recognizing, and evaluating 4-H volunteers
Section II gathered data about personal and professional characteristics of the respondents. Section III gathered data on respondents' participation in volunteerism-related professional development opportunities during the past 24 months.
The researchers established face and content validity through two panels of experts. Reliability was established utilizing the test-re-test method. Internal consistency was established by calculating Cronbach's alphas of the selected volunteer management constructs and analyzed from the first step of test-retest ranging between .76 and .92. Reliability coefficients of the selected volunteer management competencies ranged between .64 and .80; participation in volunteer-related professional development opportunities ranged between .68 and .90. Nunnally (1967, p. 226) states ".50 to .60 reliability may suffice in early stages of research in a domain when determining its dimensions."
Collection and analysis
Eighty-four percent of the agents responded to the initial survey questionnaire. A second questionnaire was sent to those not responding after three weeks; an additional 13% responded. After an additional two weeks a third mailing was done and resulted in an additional 1%. The overall study response rate was 98%. No further follow-up was done with the two individuals not completing the questionnaire.
Data were coded and analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). Hierarchical and stepwise linear regression analysis was used to measure the proportion of variance in agents' perception of the importance of and their competence with the selected volunteer management competencies that could be explained by the personal and professional characteristics and participation in professional development opportunities.
The assumptions for multiple regression were checked by examining the residuals. This was done by the overall plot, normal probability, and comparison against dependent variables and each significant independent variable. In examining the overall plot, residuals resembled observations from a normal distribution with a mean of zero; plotting the normal probability of the residuals resulted in residuals falling approximately on a straight line. The plotting of residuals of the predicted dependent variables against each significant independent variable satisfied the overall impression of a horizontal band of residuals.
Findings and Discussion
Perceptions regarding the importance of selected volunteer management competencies
OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents identified all nine of the volunteer management competencies as either somewhat important or very important. Respondents identified three competencies as very important. These were utilizing, supervising, and recognizing 4-H volunteers. Competencies identified as somewhat important were identifying 4-H volunteer opportunities, and recruiting, selecting, orienting, training, and evaluating 4-H volunteers.
The researchers suggest some overall issues that may affect agent perceptions of the importance of the respective components of an effective volunteer management system.
First, local communities and clientele often evaluate the success or failure of OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents on criteria such as accomplishments of 4-H members, a smoothly run event/activity, a successful livestock sale, a large dairy show, and so on, rather than on a successful volunteer management system that supports programming initiatives and activities for 4 -H members. Local pressures on 4-H agents may cause them to carry -out responsibilities in a way most acceptable to those working closest with them (local volunteers).
Secondly, some district directors, district 4-H Youth Development specialists, and county Extension chairs (all providing components of administrative and programmatic support to 4-H Youth Development agents) may not fully recognize a 4-H agent's innovative and effective volunteer management system or role as volunteer manager. These individuals bring a variety of experiences and expertise to the situation. Individuals who have not been 4-H agents may not fully recognize the contemporary volunteer management skills needed to manage and nurture an expanded county 4-H Youth Development program; therefore, not encouraging their development or enhancement. Furthermore, some may also conform to what local volunteers, clientele, and legislators believe is the role of OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents.
Thirdly, state 4-H faculty and administrative and professional staff may not emphasize a volunteer management system as a critical component of new and on-going programming efforts. Many programs currently conducted by agents could be implemented by volunteers if a volunteer implementation strategy would be included as an integral component of the program or activity. This could include: (a) volunteer job descriptions, (b) recruitment techniques, (c) program orientation and training materials, and (d) pre-developed program and volunteer evaluation forms.
Perceptions towards agents' current level of competence with selected volunteer management
Respondents indicated they were somewhat competent with each of the nine selected volunteer management competencies. However, they indicated that while three of the competencies were very important, six were only somewhat important. The researchers would argue that if OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents only believe the competencies to be somewhat important, then they are not likely to be motivated to become very competent in each area. The researchers suggest that a conceptual gap exists between agents' perceptions of the importance of and their competence with them. This gap provides critical insight into volunteer developing training needs for OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents.
Secondly, over the past ten years, volunteer management expertise may not have been consistently assessed as potential agents are interviewed and hired for 4-H positions. Hiring new agents involves the assistant director, district directors, district specialists, county agents, and county volunteers. Representatives of these groups have a wide variety of volunteer management experience that may lead to differing philosophies concerning the level of competence needed with management competencies.
Thirdly, the professional field of volunteer management/administration is a relatively young profession. Therefore, limited research and scholarly work exists regarding OSU Extension 4-H Youth Development agents as volunteer managers.
Relationships between agents' perception of the importance of and their competence with selected volunteer management competencies
There were numerous strong and substantial associations between the agents' perceptions towards the importance of the respective volunteer management competencies and their perceptions towards their level of competency with the competencies. The study findings indicate negligible-to-low associations (Davis, 1971) between the agents' perception of the importance of and competence with the respective nine volunteer management competencies.
The strong and substantial associations between agents' perceptions of the importance of selected volunteer management competencies and their perceptions of their ability with management competencies support the strength of the construct validity of the research topic (that is, individual competency builders identified for each specific volunteer management competency are substantially related to one another). Thus, the nine respective volunteer management competencies provide a valid and reliable conceptual framework to use in developing contemporary 4-H Youth Development agents volunteer management abilities.
Furthermore, the study findings support the use of the ISOTURE model of volunteer leadership development (identifying, selecting orienting, training, utilizing, recognizing, and evaluating volunteers), which is the basis of B.L.A.S.T., a current Ohio 4-H Youth Development curricula. The Ohio 4-H B.L.A.S.T. (Building Leadership and Skills Together) curriculum provides Extension agents with a valuable volunteer orientation and training tool. The B.L.A.S.T. curriculum is applicable to managing and supporting volunteers in conducting 4-H programs and should be utilized by both new and tenured 4-H Youth Development agents. The curriculum also provides a research base to investigate and develop new materials to support OSU Extension 4- H Youth Development agents; on-going efforts in managing and supporting volunteers.
Implications For Extension Professionals
The strongest Extension programs result from a balance of program ownership and responsibility between Extension professionals and key volunteers (Snider, 1985). It also suggests that the development of volunteers is an integral component of leadership development and that the professional Extension educator should serve as the facilitator of that development (Safrit, Smith, and Cutler, 1992). Ellis and Noyes (1990) believed that volunteers cannot fully and successfully contribute to an organization without visibility and management attention from the paid staff and the organization. According to Walker and Youg, "Volunteers contribute much, in areas such as hours, knowledge, skill, and teaching, but coordination and motivation and management are needed" (Walker and Young, 1989, p. 19). The direction of volunteerism in the next decade will be significantly affected by the ability of staff and volunteers to work together productively (Mausner, 1988).
Davis, J. A. (1971). Elementary survey analysis. Englewood, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Ellis, S. J., & Noyes, K. H. (1990). By the people: A history of Americans as volunteers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mausner, C. (1988). The underlying dynamics of staff- volunteer relationships. The Journal of Volunteer Administration, Summer, 5-9.
Nunnally, J. C. (1967). Psychometric theory. New York: Mcgraw-Hill.
Ohio State University Extension. (1991). Annual Report. Columbus: Ohio State University Extension.
Safrit, R. d., Smith, W., & Cutler, L. (1992). The Ohio 4-H B.L.A.S.T.! program. Columbus: Ohio State University Extension.
Snider, A. (1985). The dynamic tension: Professional and volunteers. Journal of Extension, Vol. 23, fall, 7-10.
Walker K. & Young C. (1989). Volunteer leadership development: Changing paradigms. (Eric Document Reproductionn Service No. 234-493)