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Using Virtual Communities to Support Volunteer Retention

Research shows that volunteers who have strong relationships with program staff and with other volunteers are more likely to continue volunteering in their role. However, with reduced resources and cultural shifts that make face-to-face activities harder to sustain, it can be difficult to maintain the same level of relatedness previously afforded to Extension volunteer programs. The advent of Web 2.0 tools offers staff an opportunity to support volunteers in new ways using technology. This session will describe a research study that examined the ways in which an online community housed in eXtension supported volunteer relationships. We will explore the benefit to contributing to the community through conversation and participating more passively through reading the conversations of others. Participants will learn about characteristics of volunteers who flourished in this environment as well as critical components necessary for a virtual community to be successful.

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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and membership funding. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, please visit extension.org. You can view the terms of useat extension.org/terms.

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