In February, the National 4-H Council announced a landmark $50 million unrestricted gift from writer and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott that will help close the opportunity gap for America’s youth. It is the largest single gift in 4-H’s 120-year history.
Today, the council announced their first phase of investment of the historic gift. Over the next five years, $10 million will be allocated to strengthen the 4-H workforce and optimize 4-H youth programming.
This investment will accelerate 4-H’s ability to meet the needs of young people today and tomorrow, while providing the professional development and training required to deliver quality, relevant and impactful programming. The board will preserve the remainder of the gift for the long term to ensure that National 4-H Council can sustain programs and activities that have the greatest benefits for 4-H youth development in the future and to ensure the gift’s enduring impact.
Not everyone has been excited about Scott’s gift, even though 4-H is the largest youth organization in the United States and focuses primarily on positive youth development. After the announcement, several anti-agricultural activist groups spoke out against Scott’s donation. Since 4-H has a livestock component, the activists make allegations about animal welfare and greenhouse gas emissions.
The founder of one group, a coalition of youth activists named the Youth Climate Save said, “The organizers of Youth Climate Save, from all around the world, are speaking up against animal agriculture which is continuing to harm our planet. Our future is at stake.”
Meanwhile, many of the 4-H projects focus not only on building a healthy respect for livestock that feed the world, but also for improving and maintaining the environment. Projects such as the 4-H Wildlife and Fisheries, Soil and Soil Conservation, Stewardship, Energy for Farm, Home, and Transportation, Geology and Minerals, Range Management, and more provide hands-on learning experiences for participants.
The investments the National 4-H Council intend to make with the first phase of donation include:
Strengthen the 4-H Workforce:
- Develop volunteer and staff recruitment tools to assist Cooperative Extension in attracting and retaining top talent in paid and volunteer youth development roles.
- Expand the 4-H Positive Youth Development Academy — powered by Cooperative Extension research-based approaches — to build the capabilities of all 4-H educators and volunteers.
- Create a world-class leadership development program to ensure there is a long-term pipeline of diverse and capable 4-H leaders who are equipped to grow 4-H today and into the future.
- Commission an Applied Research Study — Cooperative Extension will continuously improve 4-H program quality by building on previous national research. Data will inform 4-H’s current and future approaches to positive youth development and will be translated into useful tools for local 4-H professionals.
Optimize 4-H Programming:
- Expand national in-person 4-H youth experiences to build their skills, explore careers and develop in-person connections.
- Launch Clover by 4-H to give young people a digital platform — powered by Cooperative Extension’s expertise and educational content — to access 4-H anytime and to complement their in-person experiences.
The National 4-H Council Board made its investment decisions based on an inclusive process undertaken over six months with extensive input from Cooperative Extension and land-grant university leaders. These investments will ensure that Cooperative Extension can expand its capabilities of providing 4-H programming to our youth in partnership with Council as we continue to build public-private partnerships, tell the 4-H story, and convene 4-H youth and adults in meaningful ways now and moving forward.
The pandemic has shown that America’s youth need more support than ever to be successful. Many are struggling in areas ranging from academics to mental well-being to developing social connections with others. In fact, 25 million young people do not have access to positive youth development opportunities, which can provide the tools needed to realize their full potential.