Extension Master Gardener volunteer programs have been in existence in the United States since 1972, in Canada since 1985, and in South Korea since 2011 (Wonsuk and Durham, 2015). There are active programs in 49 states (Massachusetts does not have an EMG program). Recruitment, training, and management of potential and returning volunteers have changed minimally since the program’s inception (Gibby et al., 2008).
Originally, EMG programs targeted urban areas, where call volume exceeded extension staff capacity to respond. Over the years, the EMG program has spread into less densely populated suburban and rural areas. It remains to be determined if demographic characteristics of the volunteers change with the population density of the host county.
In most cases, leadership for EMG programs is provided by a local EMG coordinator, usually an extension agent or program support staff, at the county level. Local coordinators usually are supported by a state EMG coordinator who provides the statewide direction and leadership. National direction comes from a voluntary Extension Master Gardener National Committee (2016), comprising state and local coordinators from across the United States who serve for a designated term.
In 2006, the EMG National Committee established six programmatic regions in the United States: Northeast (West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine), North Central (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana), Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii), Southwest (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico), South Central (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee), and Southeast (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia) (Fig. 1). The programmatic regions were created to facilitate cooperation, communication, and collaboration among EMG programs nationwide (Langellotto et al., 2015). Demographic similarities or differences, if any, among EMG volunteers, coordinators, and programs within extension programmatic regions are currently unknown.
Understanding the composition of the EMG volunteer base is important for long-term growth and development of the program. Knowledge of volunteer demographics can influence recruitment and training approaches. It can suggest who will be drawn to the program and how training can be effectively delivered. It also has implications for volunteer placement, such as the ability to fill gender-specific roles and volunteer availability for service opportunities. Meyer (2007) suggests that demographic data are critical elements for determining any possible impact or effect of EMG volunteers on a national level.
State-based EMG studies show that EMG programs have historically appealed to an older demographic of 50+ years (Boyer et al., 2002; Kirsch and VanDerZanden, 2002; Relf and McDaniel, 1994; Rohs and Westerfield, 1996; Ruppert et al., 1997; Schrock et al., 2000; Strong and Harder, 2010; Takle et al., 2016; Wilson and Newman, 2011). At inception, the EMG program was targeted at nonworking individuals who had the necessary time for program commitments. In the 1970s, this included individuals who were not in the workforce as well as retirees.
Early studies reported most of the EMG volunteers in the 0–5 years of service bracket (Boyer et al., 2002; Kirsch and VanDerZanden, 2002; Relf and McDaniel, 1994; Schrock et al., 2000). With the increasing longevity of the program, volunteers may serve longer, reflecting continued long-term commitment to the program.
Whereas numerous individual state-level studies of EMG volunteers have been performed, few national studies have been attempted. Thirteen years ago, McAleer (2005) published a report of EMG programs including total current EMG volunteers, number of volunteers trained, annual volunteer hours, and contacts, as well as issues and challenges related to coordinating and managing programs. McAleer derived data from a survey sent via postal mail to 48 state coordinators, of which 42 returned the survey. No data were directly collected from local coordinators or EMG volunteers.
In 2009, an abbreviated second national EMG report was compiled from 42 states and the District of Columbia (Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, 2009). This report estimated the current number of volunteers and hours reported, indicating that 79% of volunteer hours were connected with metropolitan counties and 21% of volunteer hours were connected with rural counties (as defined by the Office of Management and Budget). No data were directly collected from local coordinators or EMG volunteers.
National reports monitoring similar program metrics were also compiled for 2014 and 2016, using online surveys sent to state coordinators by representatives of the Extension Master Gardener National Committee (2015, 2017). Similar to previous data collection methods, responses were sought from individuals working closely with the program when a state was without a state coordinator. No data were directly collected from local coordinators or EMG volunteers.
The first national study that collected information directly from local coordinators and EMG volunteers was focused on the use of social media for EMG programming purposes. Vines et al. (2016) distributed a Qualtrics (Provo, UT) survey to EMG coordinators through the eXtension listserv with encouragement to also distribute to EMG volunteers in their states. Responses were obtained from 111 state and local coordinators (respective counts not published) and 1275 EMG volunteers in 22 states (Vines et al., 2016). This study was unique in its inclusion of local coordinators and EMG volunteers. Although it captured demographic data about program coordinators, state and local coordinator responses were not differentiated. Information collected from EMG volunteers focused primarily on social media use. Vines et al. (2016) reported that state coordinators provided effective survey distribution and participation.
Generational differences are an important consideration for volunteer programs. Described as differences in behavior from one generation to the next that are attributed to differences in values and attitudes (Parry and Urwin, 2011; Rotolo and Wilson, 2004; Strauss and Howe, 1991; Zemke et al., 2000), generational experiences may affect the inclination to serve vs. the need to work, as well as other factors affecting volunteerism, such as affinity for particular tasks, ability to fill specific roles, willingness or ability to work after dark, or adoption of technology (Rotolo and Wilson, 2004).
This is the first study to explore generational difference among EMG volunteers. The EMG program was originally designed to appeal to the Traditionalist generation (born between 1925 and 1942) when the program was developed in the 1970s. In the present study, generational groups are defined as Traditionalists (born between 1925 and 1942), Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1960), Generation X (born between 1961 and 1981), and Generation Y (born between 1982 and 2000) (Parry and Urwin, 2011; Rotolo and Wilson, 2004; Strauss and Howe, 1991; Zemke et al., 2000). It remains to be determined if today’s EMG program appeals to all generations.
Two state studies have reported that the EMG volunteers are predominantly white, older, female, educated, and affluent—a remarkably homogeneous group (Schrock et al., 2000; Strong and Harder, 2010), but the demographics of the volunteers has not been assessed nationwide. Ensuring the diversity of EMG programs has been a persistent challenge (Eichberger et al., 2014). Typical trends in volunteering include more women than men [volunteering seen as a woman’s role (Rotolo and Wilson, 2004)], high education levels associated with volunteers (Rotolo and Wilson, 2004; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016), and a predominance of whites (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016).
Of further challenge to the EMG program is the well-documented preference of volunteers for episodic, or short-term, volunteer opportunities (Blair et al., 2003; Corporation for National and Community Service, 2016; Graff, 2001). Finding individuals to fulfill the considerable volunteer commitment consistent with the EMG volunteer experience may become increasingly difficult if potential volunteers have a preference for short-term engagements. The EMG program requires a willingness and ability to meet a significant time commitment for training and ongoing projects that span years, if not decades. Commitment to the program is reflected in the number of years an individual has been actively volunteering and meeting program requirements (volunteer service) and the number of volunteer service hours reported in 2015 (the previous complete program and reporting cycle).
The present study of EMG volunteers and coordinators allows in-depth analysis of national, regional, state, and local demographics. The results will help identify trends and influences that may shape the direction of future program priorities.
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