Maxine Hunter, UF/IFAS Extension Marion County Residential Horticulture Agent. Ocala, FL.
Situation: Extension education provides a valuable public service by positively impacting complex social needs and issues within communities through educational programming. Extension volunteers can greatly expand the reach of these programs, however maintaining a successful volunteer workforce takes time and strong leadership. Transparency is frequently spoken of in leadership training, however the application in volunteer management is not always straight forward.
Methods: There are three main components to transparency: openness, participation, and integrity. One study completed by Houser, et al. suggests that when leaders are transparent they are more likely to maintain consistency between their words and decisions which builds trust in participants. The benefits of incorporating transparency include significantly improving morale, accountability, cooperation, and equality. For the Florida Master Gardener program, bringing transparency into county level volunteer programs breaks down cliques which assists new members in getting established within the group. Transparency is essential to the health and resiliency of the volunteer organization and inclusion amongst members. By leading the volunteers in an open mannerism, the leader may achieve goals by gaining dedicated followers who are willing to be flexible to match program needs.
Traditions are difficult to break, and modifications may be challenging for some to accept but by utilizing early adopters and supporting positive changes, leaders can be more effective when they are open and include volunteers in multiple aspects of the decision making process. To assist with this, volunteers were included in a SWOTS (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and solutions) analysis which is input into goal development and a strategic plan.
Results: Instilling transparency into this program has shown significant positive changes in volunteer perceptions and attitudes after two years.
Conclusion: Transparency instills values that are appreciated by volunteers and it helps with acceptance of change processes because individuals feel included with open policies and open committee meetings.