K. G. McCormick, UF/IFAS Extension, Seminole County, Sanford, FL
Situation: Master Gardener Volunteers require a substantial amount of time to train. Volunteer retention is a large concern once they are trained. Volunteers leaving the program after a single year cite a lack of connection with other volunteers, projects, and/or time as their reason for leaving. Volunteers are also reluctant to take on leadership roles within the program due to perceived lack of knowledge/skill. Their perceptions have left projects floundering in the past. These issues can be a heavy weight on a program. A plan was developed to increase retention and confidence of Seminole County Master Gardener (SCMG) Volunteers.
Methods: A multi-faceted approach was developed to tackle both issues within the Program. 1. Experienced and enthusiastic SCMG volunteers were assigned to new trainees as Mentors to help with introductions, additional training, and provide a human connection to the program. 2. Trainees were required to select a project within the SCMG program to work on before they finished training. 3. A monthly Plant Clinic Meeting was developed to offer additional training for SCMG volunteers in order to increase confidence.
Results: 26 of 27 (96%) new SCMG trainees are actively involved in volunteer projects since graduating from training, compared to 14 of 22 (63%) who volunteered in the same time period in the previous year’s class. New trainees have also had the confidence to take on leadership roles within several projects. Pre- and Post-tests of Plant Clinic Meeting attendees have shown an average knowledge increase of 46%.
Conclusion: Attempts to cultivate confidence in SCMG’s have worked after utilizing Mentors and projects for trainees, and plant clinic training for all volunteers. Further cultivation of SCMG’s by encouraging volunteer connections between yearly training classes, as well as encouraging attendance at special training classes is planned to aid in continued retention and confidence building.