I’m the Troop Committee Chair for a brand new troop, and it’s been a rocky start. Here’s how things could have been done better.
I find it very odd that BSA seems to provide very little guidance on how to start new units. Isn’t one of the most important jobs of the Scout Executive to work to start new Scouting units? And yet the formal guidance on how to do so is almost nonexistent. There’s some in the Unit Performance Guide, and that’s all I’ve found, except an outdated document called “New Unit Organization Process."
The principal factor in starting a new Scouting unit is doing things in the proper order. Here it is (if you already have some of these elements in place, obviously you can skip those steps):
A note: I’ve made this guide fairly detailed, to spell out everything someone new to Scouting might need to know. Don’t be fooled by its length; this process isn’t that complicated!
Another note: I’ve used masculine pronouns for clarity and ease of reading, but (except where noted), both men and women are eligible and welcome in any Scouter role.
A final note: There are people available to help you with this! Contact your local Scouting District (to find your District, contact your local Council) to get assistance. The District Executive, District Commissioner, and New-Unit Organizer (if your District has one) will all be happy to provide you with resources and more detailed information than is available here.
Decide what kind of unit you want to start.
BSA has five different kinds of units: Cub Scouting, Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts), Venturing, Sea Scouting, and Exploring, each serving different populations. If you’re not sure which kind would be best, consult Scouting Programs for details on each.
If you wish to start a Cub Scout pack, you must decide whether it will be an all-boy pack, an all-girl pack, or a mixed, “family” pack, with both girl and boy dens.
If you wish to start a Scouts BSA troop, you must decide whether it will be a girl troop or a boy troop. Since girl troops are the newest addition to the BSA, the terminology in this guide will reflect Scouts BSA troops, but, aside from that, the procedure is mostly the same for all kinds of units. Again, for specifics, explore your unit type at Scouting Programs.
Find a chartering organization.
A chartered organization is the community organization that “owns” the Scout troop. It provides leadership, meeting facilities, and other resources to the troop.
Obviously nothing can happen without finding a chartering organization first. This wasn’t skipped in my unit’s case, but I could see someone trying to round up sufficient Scouts prior to finding (or establishing) a chartering organization. Of course, if the reason you’re trying to start a new unit is that you already have five eligible youth who want to join Scouting but have no unit to join, fine, but normally, recruiting youth members is one of the last steps.
Detailed guidelines on how to accomplish this step are included in the Unit Performance Guide and the New-Unit Organizer Training.
Appoint a Chartered Organization Representative.
The Chartered Organization Representative is the “head of the Scouting department” for the chartered organization. He is a member of that organization, appointed by its head (or is the head of the organization himself). It’s not necessary that he be experienced in Scouting.
This is the key figure in this whole process. I’ve seen Scouting units where the COR is purely a nominal position; the Scouters themselves do all the actual work (not that a COR isn’t a Scouter, but you know what I mean). If at all possible, the COR should be active and dedicated to starting a quality unit. If not, someone else will have to do the heavy lifting in getting the unit started. That can work, but the COR is in the best position to do it, as he has the actual authority to take the necessary actions. Otherwise, you’ll basically be acting in the COR’s name.
Note that as there’s no unit yet, there’s no charter, and therefore (unless the Chartering Organization already has other Scouting units) the COR is not actually registered with the BSA yet. That’s fine; there’s nothing he needs to do at this point that requires he be registered.
Appoint a Committee Chair.
A Committee Chair, as the title suggests, is the head of the Troop Committee, which provides support and assistance to the troop. The Chair is chosen (or approved) by the Chartered Organization Representative.
Again, this person won’t be registered yet. That’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with this. I think this is what trips people up; they think the unit has to exist before (or, really, at the same time, since you have to have a unit committee in order to form the unit) the adult positions can be filled, because otherwise they can’t be registered in the system. But this is exactly backwards from a functional perspective. The adult leaders should be in place before you recruit a single Scout; otherwise, they’re racing to do a bunch of stuff at the “last minute,” so to speak.
It is crucial to appoint an organized, dedicated Committee Chair. Ideally, this person will also be likable, well-connected in the community, and have sufficient free time to dedicate to his tasks, especially for a new unit. It is not necessary that he be experienced in Scouting.
The COR and CC should look through their respective Guides (the Chartered Organization Representative Guidebook and the Troop Committee Guidebook, respectively). A thorough reading is not necessary at this point; just skim through and read what looks relevant.
Alternately (or in addition), they can go through online training.
For the Chartered Organization Representative: Click on “BSA Learn Center" at my.scouting.org (you’ll likely have to register first), select “Position,” then choose “Chartered Org Rep.” Select the “Chartered Organization Representative” plan, and complete the listed courses.
For the Committee Chair: Click on “BSA Learn Center" at my.scouting.org (you’ll likely have to register first), select “Program,” select “Scouts BSA,” then select “Scouts BSA - Troop Committee Training.” At minimum, complete the "Scouts BSA - Troop Committee - Before the First Meeting” training.
The Chartered Organization Representative can also, if he chooses, join the Troop Committee, so it wouldn’t hurt for him to take this course as well.
Another option is to take classroom training. Contact your District for more information on when courses are taught. They can also view the classroom training guide (called Committee Challenge) to get a good overview.
Recruit a Troop Committee.
The Troop Committee is made up of at least three Scouters (including the Chair) who help the troop with recruiting, finances, equipment, transportation, and other things.
The Committee Chair (with the approval, and hopefully the assistance, of the Chartered Organization Representative) is in charge of recruiting members of the Committee. There’s no limit to how many Committee members you can have, but at least five is ideal. However, you only need three (the Chair and two others, who will hopefully serve as Secretary and Treasurer) to start the unit, so you can start from there and expand later.
These are often going to be the parents of Scouts, so feel free to approach parents of youth you think would be interested in Scouting. Other sources for possible Committee Members is the chartered organization itself, business leaders, and involved members of the community at large.
Once enough members have been recruited, establish a regular monthly meeting time for the Committee.
Train the Troop Committee.
Committee Members use the same training as the Chair. Eventually, they should be fully trained (completing all the relevant online training courses or attending a classroom training session), but for now, they should at least be given a basic overview of Scouting and the duties of the Troop Committee and the Scoutmaster corps.
Select and recruit adult leaders.
The Scoutmaster is in charge of the actual youth in the unit. The Scoutmaster doesn’t run the unit—the Scouts themselves do that, with the Scoutmaster’s guidance (Cub Scout packs are different in this). But the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters are the primary adults who interact with the Scouts themselves. Scouts may not know that the Troop Committee even exists, but they will see the Scoutmaster at every troop meeting.
Therefore, the decision of who the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters will be should not be taken lightly. It is extremely important that these be people of good character and reliability, because the safety and well-being of the youth members will be placed in their care. In a very real sense, the Scoutmaster makes the troop. A good Scoutmaster can make up for a lackluster Troop Committee—though the Scoutmaster will be very busy in that case! But a good Troop Committee cannot compensate for a poor Scoutmaster, other than by seeking a replacement.
Because of this, the process that the Troop Committee uses for selecting and recruiting adult leaders (as Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters are often known) is somewhat more involved than the way Committee members are chosen. Please refer to “Selecting Quality Leaders," and/or the relevant section in the Troop Committee Guidebook for details.
Don’t apply this process only to Scoutmasters! Assistant Scoutmasters may need to step into the primary role at any time, and therefore should go through the same selection process as the Scoutmaster.
Ideally, the Scoutmaster will have experience in Scouting, but that’s not required.
If establishing a girl Scouts BSA troop, try to recruit at least two female adult leaders, as one female registered adult is required to attend all troop outings. That registered adult can be a Committee member or even a Scout parent, but it’s much simpler if she is an adult leader.
Why two? Because you need a backup. You can’t count on one person to make it to every single outing; unavoidable conflicts can arise. You don’t want to have to cancel an outing just because there’s no registered female adult available to attend (this has already happened in my troop).
Train the adult leaders.
At minimum, new adult leaders should complete the "Scouts BSA - Scoutmaster - Before the First Meeting” training plan (available at my.scouting.org similarly to the Committee training discussed above).
Alternately, classroom instruction is available, similar to (and often at the same time as) the Committee training mentioned above. My district provided the Troop Committee Guidebook and the Troop Leader Guidebook, Volume 1 with the price of the course.
Adult leaders should also complete a hands-on outdoor course called “Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills,” but that doesn’t have to happen before the unit is chartered.
Complete Youth Protection Training.
All adults—Committee members and adult leaders—must complete Youth Protection Training before registering as an adult with the BSA. It takes about an hour to complete.
This step can be completed at any point prior to interacting with youth; I included it here to ensure that all adults are included.
It’s crucial that the adult leaders be fully and correctly uniformed according to the standards of the BSA (more details are available in the Guide to Awards and Insignia). This sets the standard for your Scouts, and also inculcates respect and taking Scouting seriously.
Establish an online presence.
Make a Facebook page, a troop Web site (there are various Scouting-specific Web hosts), etc.
Coordinate with your local District or Council to establish your BeAScout pin. This is a popular way to find local Scouting units.
This is the responsibility of the Troop Committee.
It’s finally time to recruit some youth members! The best way is to have a sign-up event.
The Troop Committee should organize it, or appoint one or more members to do so.
Speak with the chartering organization to see if there are any members with eligible children. Contact those parents and invite them to the sign-up.
Have announcements made at local schools. Make flyers for students to take home with details of the sign-up event.
Contact local newspapers, media outlets, and use social media to announce the sign-up event. Such notices are often free.
Coordinate with other Scouting units in your area through your District leadership. For instance, are there Webelos Scouts ready to graduate and looking for a Scouts BSA troop? If you’re starting a girl troop, are there boys in existing troops with sisters who would like to join? Also, are there existing recruiting events, such as School Night to Join Scouting, that your unit can participate in?
Explore the connections of the Troop Committee members. Send invitations to friends with eligible children. Brainstorm other resources that might be tapped.
Conducting the Sign-Up (from p. 19, New Unit Organization Process)
Hold the sign-up at the location where the unit will meet. Make it a brief, upbeat, and well-planned rally. Be sure to:
Introduce the unit leadership.
Present the unit program.
Register new youth members.
Select and recruit additional adults.
Create an air of excitement of things to come.
Provide light refreshments.
Announce the unit’s next meeting date.
Don’t forget that recruitment is an ongoing process. Your existing Scouts are your best recruiters. See Scouting.org for more recruitment ideas and aids.
File the paperwork.
This is the time to submit all applications, both youth and adult, along with the New Unit Application, and applicable registration fees, to your District office.
Your District Executive is the expert on all these things, and can assist you in this process, as well as provide all necessary forms.
Have your first troop meeting.
Don’t assume that everyone will just show up. Someone should call the parents of every single youth member prior to the meeting to remind them of the date, time and location of the meeting.
Encourage all parents to attend, and have a Parent Orientation meeting during the troop meeting. (These are a good idea to have several times a year.)
Although Scouts BSA troop meetings are usually youth-led, the Scoutmaster will have to lead the first few meetings, to show the Scouts how it’s done.
How the first few meetings are organized is up to the Scoutmaster, but a good suggestion is that patrols be established, troop and patrol officers be elected, and patrol names, flags, patches and yells be determined.
After that, work on requirements for Scout rank for all Scouts.
Present the Charter
Once the charter is processed and received by the unit, it should be formally presented to the chartering organization. The charter presentation should occur at a full gathering of the chartered organization. For instance, in a church they should present the charter before the full congregation; a service club should present it at a meeting of all of its members. This way, everyone will know that Scouting is a part of the organization’s youth program and can share in the pride of ownership.
Youth members and unit leaders should participate in the ceremony as the charter is presented to the head of the chartered organization. Unit leaders and the unit committee may also be installed during this ceremony.
The charter certificate should be framed and appropriately displayed after the ceremony.
Have the Troop treasurer establish a bank account and budget for the troop in accordance with the guidelines in the Troop Committee Guidebook.
Begin fundraising activities, such as popcorn sales. Consult the District Executive for more information.
Ask the Chartered Organization if they will contribute seed money for the new unit.
Get the Scouts trained.
Once youth leadership has been selected, schedule training for the youth leadership (ILST) as soon as possible. The Scoutmaster can run this training, or your District may have regular courses.
Set the Scouts loose.
At this point, the goal is getting a youth-led troop working smoothly. This is no easy task, and may take months or years to implement fully.
Once the troop is having regular PLC meetings, the Scoutmaster should hand over more and more authority to the Scouts themselves.
Every troop is different, so there’s no specific blueprint to follow. Use your best judgement, but err on the side of letting Scouts learn from their mistakes.
There is much, much more to learn about Scouting than I’ve presented here. There are many different books and training courses to increase your knowledge of Scouting—Wood Badge being a pre-eminent one. Make adult training a regular part of your Committee and adult leader activities.
It’s not only Scouts that get to have fun. Scouting is fun for adults too! Whether it’s learning skills alongside the Scouts, going camping, enjoying the outdoors, or brushing up on your leadership skills, Scouting has many opportunities for adults to improve and enjoy themselves. Enjoy your new unit!