An Extension Leadership Council (ELC) is a key ingredient for success in developing, implementing, and evaluating Extension programs that serve the local community. This publication offers practical guidelines and resources for successfully engaging a local ELC. Contents include council responsibilities, criteria for membership, a sample position description, focus topics for regular meetings, and a template for meeting agendas.
Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) enables people to improve their lives through an educational process that uses scientific knowledge focused on issues and needs.1 This mission cannot be fulfilled without connections and relationships within local communities. VCE’s most valuable connections to local communities are representative groups known as Extension Leadership Councils. Although each local ELC may take a unique approach to its form and overall structure, all local ELCs have a common mission: to advance and promote Virginia Cooperative Extension’s programs and presence in the local community. The ELCs’ primary areas of focus include relationship building, Extension advocacy, and program advisement and support. ELC involvement in these activities ensures that Extension’s efforts remain relevant to the community.
ELCs are a valuable resource for connecting Extension agents and programs with stakeholders and organizations throughout the local community. Even when agents are long-time residents, their personal relationships and connections may not include all demographic groups within the community. While the local ELC is representative of the overall community, each ELC member serves as a key connection with a subgroup of that community. Without this connection, the involvement and support for local Extension programs would be limited to the communication networks already established by local agents, making local ELCs particularly important for agents who are new to a community. The local ELC can play a key role in getting community leaders and key stakeholders “on board” by introducing them to agents.
The relationships held by ELC members are essential for marketing Extension and advocating for the resources needed to sustain and improve Extension programs. Extension agents are certainly important proponents of Extension programming. However, an agent’s role as an employee presents a potential bias that may be difficult for some potential supporters to overlook. In fact, VCE employees are prohibited from engaging in political activities that create a conflict of interest. For this reason, volunteer members of ELCs are better suited for advocacy.2 While this advocacy can focus on local gifts and grants, the vast majority of Extension resources are from citizens’ tax dollars (local, state, and federal). Accordingly, ELC members often have the greatest impact through their relationships with elected officials.3 ELC members can be reliable sources of information relative to community needs and what Extension is doing to address them.
The VCE programming process includes: situation analysis, program design and implementation, and program evaluation and reporting. This approach to education relies on the collective efforts of Extension educators, ELCs, and other program volunteers. The VCE Programming Model places stakeholders at the center of the entire process, and ELCs provide the means for ensuring stakeholder involvement.4 The representative nature of ELCs makes them ideal for facilitating community input, soliciting volunteer involvement, and guiding program improvement.
The local ELC is a true collaboration between Extension employees and volunteers. While agents bring subject-matter expertise, the volunteer members keep Extension programming focused on the purpose and context – serving the needs of the local community.5 As we consider the tasks necessary for developing a strong ELC membership, it may be helpful to consider the GEMS Model of Volunteer Administration.6 The model includes four broad stages of development: Generate, Educate, Mobilize, and Sustain.
When generating membership in the local ELC, we should focus on two key characteristics of a successful ELC: it is representative of the community and committed to the mission of VCE. The ELC should reflect the people and interests of the local community.7 In order to ensure that ELC membership represents the diversity within the local community, it may be helpful to develop a community profile and then identify targets for membership from different community groups. A previously completed situation analysis for the Extension unit may serve as a guide.8 Appendix A: Extension Leadership Council Candidate Worksheet may be helpful in the selection process. The task of generating commitment begins with the invitations to individual board members. Some ELCs find that term limits can help improve commitment because term limits reassure council nominees that they are not volunteering for a lifetime commitment.
Volunteer ELC members should participate in an orientation on Extension – its role, mission, and programs.9 All ELC members should receive a position description that describes their role within the ELC, including specific expectations for participation and involvement. An example position description and statement of commitment is provided in Appendix B: Extension Leadership Council Member Sample Position Description and Commitment. Beyond orientation, ELC members commit to continued education and professional development. One way to accomplish this is by regularly setting aside meeting time for informative presentations and professional development.
The best way to mobilize ELC members is to empower them for action. This can be done by developing an action plan for the year, taking into consideration the ELC’s role in the Extension programming process.10 Many local ELCs have found it helpful to select an annual event that the council is fully involved in planning and implementing. Examples include a community education event, legislative breakfast, volunteer recognition banquet, etc. When ELC members take ownership of these events, they often feel more engaged than when their involvement is limited to voting and discussion at meetings.
Sustaining high-quality involvement in the local ELC requires regular evaluation and recognition. Appendix C: The ELC Responsibility Report worksheet may be helpful in the process. When ELC members complete this worksheet annually, it reminds them of the purpose and role of an ELC. Beyond this tool, many ELCs find it helpful to adopt bylaws that outline clear expectations for the council. The bylaws might set term limits on ELC membership, which in turn promotes sustainability through the fresh ideas and energy offered by new ELC members.
The structure for ELC activities and involvement generally comes from regular meetings. For this reason, purpose-driven meeting agendas are often a key to success. An example of a structured meeting agenda worksheet is offered in Appendix D: Template for a Purpose-Driven Agenda. When distributed in advance of the meeting, the agenda helps participants prepare for and stay focused on the topics at hand. ELCs that meet quarterly might identify the following focus topics and guiding questions for each meeting:
1. Community Needs Assessment
2. Program Review and Planning
3. Program Promotion
The questions presented with each focus topic may be difficult to answer in a single meeting, especially if ELC members are not prepared for the discussion. Some professional development and work between meetings may be required. However, volunteers often appreciate these added expectations because it makes them feel valued and more engaged in the process.
ELC coordinators have a variety of resources available to assist with programming. Helpful online resources include:
Please take advantage of these resources and share your findings with others!
|Tip: Suggested Timeline|
|Based on the VCE Programming Cycle Timeline, the best months for holding each meeting may be as follows:|
|1. Community Needs Assessment||August|
|2. Program Review and Planning||November|
|3. Program Promotion||February|
This worksheet will help the nominating committee evaluate potential ELC members.
|Name of candidate:|
|Geographic region represented:|
|Primary community interest represented:|
|Does the candidate believe in the mission and vision of Extension?|
|Does the candidate see the community in a broad perspective?|
|Is the candidate a long-time community resident (at least five years)?|
|Is the candidate interested in multiple areas of Extension education?|
|Is the candidate considered a leader in the community?|
|Is the candidate a good fit for the Extension Leadership Council?|
|What strengths do you think the candidate can bring to the Extension Leadership Council? |
|Other comments about the candidate: |
The purpose of the Extension Leadership Council is to advance and promote Virginia Cooperative Extension’s programs and presence in the local community. Benefits of serving on the council include:
As a member, I will serve a term of two years and be involved in the following functions:
In addition, I am willing to (check all that apply to you):
|Attend meetings regularly.|
|Provide oral and written reports on progress toward goals in program areas I represent.|
|Deliver presentations on behalf of Extension at community group meetings.|
|Serve as a volunteer for a major educational program.|
|Provide leadership for a major educational program.|
|Organize a community group to explore solutions for community issues.|
|Write reports, publicity releases, meeting notices, etc.|
|Assist in securing resources for Extension programs.|
|Teach technical subject matter (list program area):|
|Recruit volunteers (list program area):|
|In order to do the above, I will need the following:|
|Signature of person making nomination||Signature of nominee|
The Extension Leadership Council should complete this self-assessment annually to ensure that it is meeting its responsibilities.
Report date: ______________
Total number of ELC members: ________
Total number of ELC meetings held during the past 12 months: ________
Average number of ELC members attending each meeting: ________
|Responsibility||Level of Performance (1 = low; 5 = high)||Explanation of Rating|
|Relationship building: Connect Extension agents and programs with stakeholders and organizations throughout the local community||1 2 3 4 5|
|Extension advocacy: Market Extension and advocate for the necessary resources to sustain and improve Extension programs||1 2 3 4 5|
|Program support and advisement: Participate in the VCE programming process, including situation analysis, program design and implementation, and program evaluation and reporting||1 2 3 4 5|
|Other:||1 2 3 4 5|
|Other:||1 2 3 4 5|
Note: The ELC chair or unit coordinator may summarize yearly accomplishments on a separate sheet.
Use this worksheet to prepare agendas that will ensure meeting objectives are met.
|Date of meeting:|
|Start and end time of meeting:|
|Location of meeting:|
|What to bring:|
|Guiding questions: |
|What we need to accomplish: |
|1. Call to order|
|2. Introduction of members and guests|
|3. Approval of minutes from previous meeting|
|5. Reports and/or professional development activity|
|6. Unfinished business (if any)|
|7. Discussion and response to guiding questions (above)|
|8. New business|
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Interim Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
March 25, 2010