Changes to Wisconsin Master Gardener Program

To our valued volunteers:

Keeping you informed about the program is a priority. We want you to feel like you understand the “why’s, how’s and what’s” of changes to the program.

We want you to know that your voices were the driving force behind these new changes. We also exist in an evolving world and need to look to the future to keep the program strong.

This page is an important one to read. It will highlight many of the improvements we’ve been working on to support a program that is modern, meaningful and measurable- for you and for future volunteers across the state. We will update this page as information becomes available.

Why all this change right now? The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have provided a unique opportunity to begin many initiatives that have been cooking for awhile. For existing volunteers, the majority of your experience with the program will likely remain similar. And, if change is to occur with the program, we feel it is best at this time while everything else is being disrupted.

Strategic Priorities

In 2019, we identified five strategic priorities for the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program. The first three priorities were identified through input from volunteers. The last two priorities relate to Extension’s recent reorganization and merger with UW-Madison. Points under each heading explain some of the things we are currently working on.

Decrease confusion

  • We will clearly define the scope of the volunteer position within Extension and the Master Gardener Program.
  • We will create an onboarding process for all new and existing volunteers.
  • We will update policy and procedures.
  • We will adopt uniform policy and procedures across all counties.
  • We will introduce memorandums of understanding to define relationships with associations and the partner organizations hosting many approved projects.

Increase diversity

  • We will incorporate Universal Design for Learning to better accommodate a variety of participants and learning preferences.
  • We will create multiple pathways for individuals to access horticultural content related to the program.
  • We will create more flexibility with membership requirements.
  • We will learn more about what people want and need to successfully participate in our programs.

Improve programs and projects

  • We will incorporate an orientation to Extension and the Master Gardener Program as part of the volunteer onboarding process.
  • We will better align programs and projects with identified community needs and Extension educational themes.
  • We will introduce memorandums of understanding to define relationships with associations and the partner organizations hosting many approved projects.
  • We will adopt aspects of Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum.

A guaranteed and viable curriculum (GVC) ensures that all students have an equal opportunity to learn. Each student will have access to an effective or highly effective teacher, and access to the same content, knowledge and skills in each section or class.

Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Practice, Marzano, 2003

Address staffing and resources

  • We will adapt to current and future staffing levels.
  • We will adapt for the use of the Online Reporting System.
  • We will use campus based resources for program support and development.

Address policies and procedures

  • We will address issues related to risk management.
  • We will incorporate best volunteer development practices.

Current Efforts

Introduction to Canvas, Our Online Classroom

All individuals completing enrollment by March 31, 2021, are eligible to receive a UW-Madison netID to access Canvas. Initial invitations were emailed in April 2021. Individuals may request a resend of the invitation. Read more at Introducing Canvas, Our Online Classroom.

Update June 2021: Project Approval Guidelines & Memorandums of Understanding with Associations

Previous plans to implement Project Approval Guidelines and Memorandums of Understanding with Associations have been paused as of June 2021 as we gather more information. Please see the Pause on New Volunteer Projects announcement for more information.

Completed Efforts


We will operate on a calendar year, starting January 1, 2021.

The deadline for completing all volunteer requirements will move from October 1 to December 31. That includes any hours you report for 2020 (you get three extra months).

Annual enrollment for returning volunteers and the new onboarding for new volunteers will occur January 1 through March 31, each year.

Foundations in Horticulture (Online)

Foundations in Horticulture (FIH) will provide an online alternative for individuals preparing for Master Gardener Program volunteer certification.

Volunteer Onboarding

A new onboarding program will address the requirements of:

  • Orientation to Extension, the Master Gardener Program, and the scope of being a volunteer.
  • Enrollment into the program, including Criminal Background Check, Mandated Reporter Training, and completing the required Conditions of Service.
  • Completing the exam with a score of 70% or better.

This will be available in late 2020. All new volunteers must complete the orientation, enrollment, and exam. All existing volunteers will get access to orientation and enrollment. More information is available in the Frequently Asked Questions document for program coordinators.

Purpose, Values, Vision

Purpose, Values, and Vision were developed to guide our activities related to the program.

Online Reporting System

Volunteers enter their hours directly into the online reporting system. Data can be correlated to themes, locations, audiences, and specific projects.

Exempt Status

The Exempt Status was introduced to provide flexibility with the program requirements. Individuals could report less than 24 hours of volunteerism and less than 10 hours of continuing education and remain a volunteer.

Flipped Classroom

We introduced the flipped classroom concept for training to introduce hands-on activities and online learning to participants, while providing uniformity in the program content and maintain flexibility for educators.