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4-H program development using the Tarnside Curve of Involvement

By Michael Compton

Growing the 4-H program in local communities can be a challenge. To connect 4-H to targeted audiences, a program approach that focuses on growth using a continual process can be very beneficial. Luckily there is a model to help do so!

Tarnside Consulting developed its Tarnside Curve of Involvement for fund development. It can also be applied to program and volunteer development and partnership building. It's a simple six-stage process that is easy to follow and implement.

When I worked as a 4-H program coordinator in a local office, I used this model and had great success. Here are some examples of how I applied the model and its six stages.


Awareness means creating ways for others to learn what 4-H is. I worked with local 4-H clubs and we went to events where there were large numbers of people. We went to sporting events, parent-teacher conferences and other local community events. We set up information booths, held prize drawings and brought youth to tell the story of what they do in 4-H.


Once people are aware that 4-H exists, the next step is to spark their interest to learn more about our offerings. I met with local science teachers and invited them to our STEM camps to see how 4-H benefits their students. Once they witnessed our hands-on approach to learning, they wanted to be involved and recruited parents to help! This led to the next step, engagement.


This is when the magic happens! It's when we spark youth interest with an inquiry-based, hands-on learning experience. Once adults and youth came to our STEM camps, it not only created excitement about STEM, it allowed us to introduce them to other project areas 4-H had to offer.


Commitment is when people give their time and energy to something. Once youth and adults experienced our camps, I needed to get them involved in the program on a regular basis. We created new project clubs for youth focused on things like robotics, engineering or photography. This brought more youth to 4-H and increased our numbers of adult volunteers.


Once we have people committed to 4-H, they see the value in the program as “theirs”. They take pride in being a part of 4-H, share their experiences with and recruit others. I worked with youth to recruit their friends and classmates. I asked adult volunteers to reach out to other adults and they did! County 4-H enrollment increased, as did attendance at STEM programs.

Taking personal responsibility

In the final stage, we help youth and adults become a part of the visioning and decision making process for the program. To get youth who were passionate about STEM to this stage, I worked with them to create the framework for a rocket STEM camp. They shared their activity ideas and decided what they wanted others to learn. It was an amazing example of how 4-H can provide an empowering experience for youth!

Could you use the Tarnside Curve model in your work? What do you see as the greatest benefit?

-- Michael Compton, Extension educator

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