Start a 4-H Club

Image of youth in 4-H activity


How to Recruit 4-H Members, and How Many Should We Have?

First of all, how many members? 4-H clubs should have at least five youth from 3 or more families. Some suggest that 6 to 10 members per adult leader is an optimum number. Some clubs have as many as 70 youth. It depends on the ages of the members in your club and how many volunteers - including parents - are there to make sure members are in a safe, fun, educational, caring environment.

Recruiting members is seldom hard to do. Start with a contact to your county Extension staff. They usually have names of people who want to join a club in your area. Your county Extension staff may have a recruiting program or other ideas for recruiting new club members. You can always write newspaper articles, recruit at schools or church, or just talk up the club to parents and children you know.

Because 4-H receives federal and state funds, we must be certain our programs are made available to all people equally without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, genetic information, pregnancy, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or status as a US Veteran. Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs. Inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies may be directed to Ross Wilburn, Diversity Officer, 2150 Beardshear Hall, 515 Morrill Road, Ames, Iowa 50011, 515-294-1482,

Don't hesitate to recruit  other adults to help with club management as co-leaders, assistant leaders, or project leaders. Interested parents, 4-H alumni, or friends are often willing to help. This gives the leader much needed assistance and also provides continuity for club meetings in case of the leader's absence. To provide a safe environment for youth enrolled in 4-H, a child protection policy is in place. Your extension staff will know what type of helpers may need to complete the child protection process.

How Can I Enroll My Members?

Your county office of ISU Extension will share with your the necessary process for enrolling youth and adults in 4-H. Iowa uses a computer-based enrollment system, which means the forms must be filled out completely and accurately. All 4-H members and volunteers must re-enroll every year. It's a good idea to enroll as soon as possible so you and your members remain on the mailing list to receive notices of all events and activities. There is a deadline for livestock project enrollment and some counties also have a deadline for other project enrollments. In additiona, there are multiple deadlines throughout the year for participation in county and state fair and other activities. Your county Extension office will make sure you learn about all these deadlines during your orientation and training and with updates throughout the year.

What Type of Club We Choose?

4-H clubs are groups of youth and adults who meet on a regular basis, chartered by the county Extension office. Leadership is jointly provided by youth and adults where there is a planned educational program, and the club meets at least 6 hours in any given year and plans to continue meeting from one year to the next. The target audience is 4th through 12th grade.

4-H clubs are expected to:

  • build youth and adult partnerships,
  • set annual club goals and evaluate progress toward those goals,
  • plan an educational, experientially based program,
  • be involved in community service activities, and
  • keep records of their activities.

Community Club is a program initiated and facilitated by youth and adult volunteers in the context of a community (i.e. neighborhood, township, city). These types of clubs aim to engage youth and adults in both individual and group activities that foster learning and development in a variety of subject matter areas (i.e. food and nutrition, wildlife, beef, visual arts, etc.).

Project Club is a program focused more deeply on specific subject matter (i.e. shooting sports, horse, and photography). Project clubs can operate within any school or community setting or as part of any of the other club types. Meeting schedules may vary within a short-term or yearlong schedule.

Afterschool Club is a program offered to youth following the school day. Afterschool clubs are often divided by age groups. Afterschool clubs aim to complement the learning and development that occurs during the school day and to extend learning during non-school hours. They are often a part of a broader after-school initiative and may have a wide variety of partners and resources that support the program operation. This club type is often facilitated by paid staff and /or volunteers. The schedule complements the school calendar.

Site-based Club is designed to reach underserved youth in the communities where they live with year long programming. This could be a public housing site or neighborhood with a community center that can serve as the hosting location. Clubs can be divided out by ages as well. When doing this consider social, intellectual, emotional and physical growth, as well as the interest of the members.

What is all of this about Projects?

A part of 4-H is learning life skills through specific content. A listing of all projects youth can select are included in a publication called Pick Your Adventure and information about specific projects are available as Hot Sheets. Each project Hot Sheet has information for Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of knowledge, ideas for communication, citizenship, and leadership activities that relate to the project, exhibit ideas, resources, and other opportunities that relate to that specific project area. All this available free as a download. Find links here
Additional materials are available at your county Extension office's project library or through 4-H National Council.Check the back of each Hot Sheet for additional 4-H Resources you can order.

Are There Dues for 4-H Members?

4-H club members are charged a program development fee, usually between $30 and $40 per member. The exact amount is determined by the County Extension Council. Sometimes the club raises money to pay for the fees, sometimes County Extension Councils allocate money to pay the fees from their budget or county endowments. It varies from county to county. In addition, some clubs may decide to pay for local club program costs by assessing a small fee per member or by working together on a fundraising project. Special events such as camps and county fairs may also have registration or entry fees connected to them. There are scholarships available through county 4-H Foundations or the State 4-H Foundation to assist with this fee if needed. No child will be denied access to the 4-H program because of cost.

What About Insurance?

4-H leaders automatically have liability insurance coverage through their county Extension council. County Extension offices and clubs are required to carry accident insurance. Check with your county Extension office about insurance coverage. Additional insurance is also required for special activities or events on a per-day basis.

For Risk Management training to insure you and your 4-H members are always in a safe environment, check out the information and  online Risk Management training at /4h/Volunteers/risk.htm

Where Will Our Club Meet?

Where your club meets will probably be determined by the number of members. Meeting places could be public school buildings, churches, fairgrounds, etc. Most schools, communities, and other groups are willing to let their facilities be used for 4-H activities.

How Often Will Our Club Meet?

There are several possibilities in choosing a day and time for club meetings, such as:

  • once a week, after school (this works well for elementary age members)
  • once every 2 weeks, after school or on a weeknight
  • once a month, on a weeknight
  • once a month, on a Saturday or Sunday (sometimes this works best for clubs with members of a wide age span)
  • other variations, limited only by the needs of your club members

It is required that a 4-H club be involved in at least six hours of educational programming during the year, more if desired or needed. This provides continuity for the club as well as time for development and accomplishment of individual and club goals. Some projects can be taught on a short-term or seasonal basis. Members can enroll at any time during the year. Some clubs start at the beginning of the school year but may plan to meet later for a shorter period of time, perhaps for a 3- or 6-month time period.

4-H adult volunteers will:

  • Complete a volunteer application,background screening, and reference check as required by volunteer role description. Your county Extension office will tell you what screening is required and provide you with appropriate forms.
  • Foster and promote the four needs of youth, essential elements, and four outcomes as described in the 4-H Equation. 
  • Promote positive youth development environments for youth that emphasize youth strengths.
  • Complete required training each year for general/organizational and project volunteers, Clover Kids volunteers, and assistants in these role.
  • Provide appropriate supervision of activities/meetings/field trips, etc.
  • Develop working relationships with a variety of community partners.

Action Steps

  1. Watch the Orientation videos to learn more about 4-H and volunteer roles.
  2. Read the New Leader Letters to learn how to start a 4-H club.
  3. Meet with your county Extension office to learn about volunteer screening, orientation, new volunteer training, 4-H Online regestration, and other important infomation specific to your county.
  4. With the other 4-H volunteers, develop your
    member recruitment plan.
  5. Meet with members, parents, and other
    volunteers to discuss where the club will
    meet and how often.
  6. Attend scheduled volunteer training(s), as
  7. Have FUN! You are now a 4-H Caring Adult and valued member of the 4-H Family!

Share |