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To attract minority members, start by recruiting minority volunteers

By Joshua Rice

In Minnesota 4-H we've recently been doing a lot of thinking about recruiting first-generation participants -- those whose parents were never involved in 4-H. One question that tends to float to the top of the discussion is how to attract and engage minority populations. This led me to ponder, what are some innovative strategies that could attract first-generation minority youth into 4-H?

While 4-H staff play a large role in the experiences of youth, the volunteers within communities that we serve are on the front lines. Volunteers are at the club meetings, activity days, and are on a first-name basis with the 4-H youth. They serve as club leaders, mentors and role models. Minority volunteers who work with underserved youth could potentially be easier for youth to relate to.  All of these thoughts developed into another question: Does a lack of minority volunteers correlate to a lack of minority 4-H members?

Back in 1992, Cano and Bankston explored factors affecting the participation of ethnic minority youth in Ohio 4-H programs and found that barriers such as lack of minority adult role models, ineffective advertising, and lack of parent involvement impeded the proportionate representation of ethnic minority youth in Ohio 4-H Youth Development Programs. A 2014 study found that low participation in 4-H by non-white youth in New York may have resulted in part from 99% of volunteer leaders/volunteers being white.

While all avenues of attracting minority youth into 4-H programs should be pursued, I believe we should focus on attracting minority volunteers. If respected community members become 4-H volunteers, there could in turn be an increase in the enrollment of 4-H members within those communities.

In a 2001 article, Hobbs identified some steps to take:
  • Personally extend invitations to volunteers through visits or phone calls. Don't wait for people to come to you.
  • Supplement personal invitations with bilingual print information (flyers, posters, newspaper articles). Always present information as an invitation, rather than an announcement.
  • Hold meetings in locations where people will be comfortable. If it's a school or church, choose one that's familiar and comfortable for them. Don't assume, for instance, that everyone in your target group is Catholic.
  • Offer food, door prizes and possibly music as a part of meetings. Make the meeting an event for families.
  • Consider the daily schedule of potential volunteers when setting meeting times. No one time will meet everyone's needs, but awareness of where and when they work will help you find the best times.
  • Accommodate language preferences. When attracting a new volunteer demographic, ensure that the information is in their native language.
  • Explain how the organization and the work of volunteers will benefit their families and their community. Show them how their talents and skills will be applied and how they will make a difference.
  • Emphasize the organization's long-term commitment to the community.
  • Initially recruit for short-term assignments. Try asking an individual directly to carry out a task, rather than casting a wide net and waiting for someone to step forward.

Trying to determine which strategy would be better to attract minority youth into 4-H programs is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? While both strategies have pros and cons, I believe that attracting volunteers first could be more successful. You can use volunteers from new audiences to generate excitement and interest within their community because they have relationships and trust with community members.

-- Joshua Rice, assistant Extension professor and Extension specialist, science of agriculture

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