4-H advisory groups: Who votes?

Exploring advantages and disadvantages to different voting models that can be employed by 4-H advisory groups.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development utilizes member/volunteer directed 4-H advisory groups to guide county 4-H programmatic direction, give leadership to new programs and assist in recruiting new members. Advisory group bylaws provide guidance about the purpose of the organization, its membership, who votes, how often the group meets and more. In structuring or reconsidering the existing structure of 4-H advisory groups, many groups grapple to decide if voting should be restricted to representatives or if voting should be open to anyone that attends the meeting. Consider these pros and cons.

When an elected representative is chosen to select their club or a designated species area, the expectation is that the same member attends advisory group meetings on an ongoing basis. In this model, there is a higher degree of consistency in meeting attendance, which can move conversations to closure faster. There is more opportunity for relationship building since the meeting attendees are generally the same from one meeting to the next. This can increase trust among the membership.

This model, however, decreases the individuals that feel responsible for the success of the group. Because the broader membership has essentially delegated the duties of the advisory group to a pre-selected group, the broader membership has less reason to be engaged.

When any member, volunteer or parent can attend advisory group meetings and vote, it generally increases the number of people in the room for a meeting. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage: An advantage when more faces are needed around the table to conduct business, and a disadvantage when decisions may be easier made with a smaller group. This model generally keeps the broader membership in the communication loop to understand the purpose, goals and projects of the association.

While it’s rarely expected in this model that every single member attend every meeting, it does distribute the ownership of the progress of the association to more people. The old saying, “When it’s everyone job, it’s no one’s job,” does apply here. While one would expect the officers of the advisory group would be responsible for keeping agenda items moving, it can be difficult to maintain progress with a continuously rotating group of voting members.

In times of controversy, the “everyone votes” model can be dangerous. Without too much effort, a person attempting to drive a personal agenda can recruit friends to attend and can easily work to sway the outcome of the vote by recruiting people to vote on their behalf to attend.

Michigan 4-H advisory groups employ both of these models in a number of different ways across the state. Refer to Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Advisory Group Toolkit for sample bylaws for Michigan 4-H advisory groups, and review the next article in this series, “Different voting models in action,” which examines these models in practice.

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