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Pselb

Is BSA Sustainable?

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@Cambridgeskip and @ianwilkins, It sounds like you're seeing the same things we see. Scouts are busy for a bunch of reasons and drop off. Ian, your description of explorers is nearly identical to our venturing, scouts form patrols as needed, anyone can lead. The numbers are dropping. Adults have no idea why. It looks like it should be fun but the kids just don't respond.

I've noticed that for older scouts motivation has to be internal or they'll just go along because there's nothing else to do (and if there is something else to do then they'll do that). A bigger adventure is self motivating for only a small percentage of kids. One thing that most older scouts want is purpose. They will rise to the occasion if they are a critical part. I've seen scouts that, while in a leadership position, will do great things. But as soon as they step down they drift off because they have no purpose anymore. So while many people think getting a group of older scouts into their own group might help I think it's more complicated than that. A group of older scouts that are all self motivated means all of them have a purpose in helping the group go. That's not so easy to create. Everyone needs a critical job. How many jobs in a venturing crew are critical? If the model is a loose knit group of kids that are really busy and kind of come and go when able, then my guess is there's little chance of this working. For a better example of everyone having a job to do look at a sports team or theater or concert band. Everyone has a critical job that's very well laid out. Self motivation is easy to create in those situations.

The model with a mixed age has less problems because most of the older scouts have an important job to do, namely to lead the younger scouts. That's why I think it works. But I don't think it's the only way.

I've said before that figuring out how to fix venturing would make the scout side so much better. Some things that I think would help:

  • For younger scouts the idea of teamwork is more important than leadership. Without teamwork leadership is much harder.
  • All scouts always have a responsibility. This is not a vague request that can be ignored. If you're part of the patrol or crew then you have a job to do and everyone knows what it is. The idea that younger scouts have no responsibility, that older scouts only need a few months of responsibility, or that venturing scouts don't have any responsibility is hurting the program. It doesn't always have to be intense but loyalty is a two way street.
  • For older scouts it's more challenging to find the right responsibility for them. Some will enjoy working with younger scouts. A few will be happier organizing high adventure. That can help everyone. Some will be happy organizing campfire programs. The older scouts need a wider range of responsibilities to choose from.

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@MattR I agree with you that figuring out how to fix Venturing would indeed go a long way towards fixing the problem.  In my area, I see two things:

1) There is not sufficient involvement in Venture Crews.  Adults often provide the organizational backbone upon which the unit program is built.  Recruiting, finances, marketing, etc.  They are things that Venture scouts can lead, but you need a core group of adults that provide the year to year continuity.

2) The fundamental value proposition to high school students is just not clear.  I think youth of this age want to have fun, be challenged, and spend time with friends.  I don't think this is happening well.

Our troop does very well with recruiting.  20+ new scouts a year is not unusual.  Many of brand new scouts with no scouting background.  However, it is pretty rare to get a new scout in that 14-17 age range.

My guess is that the reason we see few 14-17 new scouts and we see Venture crews struggle are related.  

Edited by ParkMan
accidental save early on.

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On 3/15/2018 at 11:27 AM, cocomax said:

Just give me a little online store that I can buy handbooks, merit badge manuals, patches and uniforms and our troop can continue on just fine.
We also need an insurance policy in place.

Those are all the hardest things though - especially the last.

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4 hours ago, Peregrinator said:

Those are all the hardest things though - especially the last.

I was upset when BSA first required us to sign up in and help pay for its insurance policy. My CO already had plenty of insurance.

My opinion was that the BSA insurance policy was just another lame excuse for BSA to step in and tell us what to do. It was a power grab by national and the councils against the Chartered Organizations. 

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On 3/14/2018 at 8:48 PM, Pselb said:

If an organization doesn't have the resources to run the program, why does it think it has the right to continue?  Businesses go out of business every day.  Organizations close down all the time.  Churches stand vacant all around the country.  It's the cycle of life.  Things come and go.  Why in the world does BSA think it is exempt from such things anymore than General Motors thought itself to be too big to fail at one time.  Maybe with the emphasis on adult involvement, adult volunteerism, etc. the boys think it's dorky and not fun and too expensive, could it be said that the organization is really not in a position any longer to sustain itself?

What started out as a simple outside observation seems to have taken on a life of its own.  However, in spite of the many commenters trying to patch the hole in the hull of a sinking ship, the observation holds true.  While I don't spend much time on the forum sorting through the thousands of comments, there all seems to be a general wave of reaction of "trying to fix" what wasn't broken.  I'll use my original analogy of General Motors.  For years they were a proud member of the Big Three car companies in America.  They could do no wrong and they knew it.  They were riding high.  

But then the Japanese figured out how to make cars and the competition began to take it's toll.  First Chrysler faltered, then GM.  The dropped models like hot potatoes while the foreign companies added more and more.  Ford on the other hand just kept doing what it always did and surprisingly they survived and stayed in the running.  They did not change the way they did business "to meet the demands  of the market".   Neither did they feel the need to "fix" anything.  They just stayed doing what they did best, they made cars and trucks.

So BSA instead of keeping doing what they did best, they started making changes, or should it be better phrased as "trying to out guess" the crystal ball of a fickle marketplace.  Then of course they doubled down when they thought it appropriate.

So there are some here that feel it necessary to double down on the gender/sexual orientation issue, while others raise their bet on females in the program.  Others are doing for the retro look and the Charger/Challenger and Camaro is dragged out off  storage and dusted off. (Ever wonder why the Mustang has always been around?  I  don't.)  And before you know it, everyone has tossed their 2-cents worth of pine needles into the fire.  A lot of smoke, but no  real heat.  

So the observation holds true... What was Chevrolet doing in 1957 that it isn't doing today?  What was BSA doing in 1957 that it isn't doing today?  Did the world change or did General Motors/BSA?  Or what is Ford doing in 1964 1/2  that it is still doing today?  What was GM''s market share relative to Toyota/Honda as BSA's market share with every other youth program in the market place now?

Sure there are a few of the diie-hard outdoor enthusiasts still out there, but they are not the same as it were in past years.  Most of those "outdoor" people really are nothing more than trans-placed suburbanites in an RV park, where their army surplus equipment is replaced with 5th wheels, Class-A's and high priced gas grills on the patio.

So, has the world changed?  I'm sure you would get two different answers depending on whether you are talking to a GM Vice President and that of a Ford Vice President.  

Stand back and look at the big picture, the hole in the hull isn't going to go away anytime soon. 

 

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The country changes every 10-20 years.  It's quite different than it was in 1957.

The biggest difference between them and now is how we think of organizations like the BSA.  Then, our parents and grand parents would have worked hard to make the organizations work.  Parents would have pushed their kids to make Scouting work.  Today, Scouting is one of many activities vying for attention.

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12 hours ago, Pselb said:

Stand back and look at the big picture, the hole in the hull isn't going to go away anytime soon. 

 

Interesting comments. One of my traits of reasoning is I tend to look at the bigger pictures. What I see is that scouting did it to itself from a lot of bad decisions. 

I often wonder how today's parents would view the BSA if National had not made any major program changes since 1957?

Over the years, since the 1960s anyways, sudden membership declines can be tracked following national level program changes. Not all membership declines were sudden. I believe some declines were the result of changes (Tigers/NSPs) that took a little longer to show a performance degradation of the overall program.

When I look at the program differences between my youth experiences of the 60s and 70s compared to starting back as a scout leader in 1990, I can't think of a single change to the program over those years that was an improvement for my sons. When I watched and experienced the changes from 1990 through about 2010, I felt National was purposely trying to drive adult leaders to quit. The changes over those years increased the work load on the cub leaders and gradually turned troop leaders into baby sitters.

I remember after seeing the changes to the Tiger program in 2000, several of us in the District Membership Committee predicted that troop membership would drop measurably in 2005. And it did. We weren't clairvoyant, we just reasoned  that the membership drop we saw from Tiger program in 2000 would catch up to the troop membership five years later. Tigers feeds packs. Packs feed Troops. Troop membership is directly related to Cub membership. Can someone think of a Cub program change that resulted in long term growth?

If National had done nothing to the program since 1957, how would we view the program today? The three leaders who started our troop ran it as close to the program we experienced in the 1960s and 70s as we possibly could within the limitations of program changes. Our troop of 17 scouts (11 crossovers, 5 older scouts) grew to a troop of over 100 scouts in six years. Forty Five percent of the scouts were 14 and older. We were not even close to the biggest troops in the council, but we had more older scouts than any unit (Crews Included) in the Council. That is nearly half the state of Oklahoma. Council noticed and tried very hard to convince us into creating a Venturing Crew. But we  resisted by pointing out that our troop program model (1960s Patrol Method model) was the reason we were so successful. A Venturing Crew didn't fit in that model. 

My point of all this is to say that in my opinion, the declines aren't how National attempted to fix the hole, but are instead a result of  National creating a lot of new holes from a series of bad decisions.  Some here have said that people change. Population attitudes change. Still, I wonder if a 1957 BSA could be successful today?

Barry

Edited by Eagledad
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13 hours ago, Pselb said:

Ford on the other hand just kept doing what it always did and surprisingly they survived and stayed in the running.  They did not change the way they did business "to meet the demands  of the market".   Neither did they feel the need to "fix" anything.  They just stayed doing what they did best, they made cars and trucks.

I understand your point, but the background is weak.  It could be argued Ford made more changes earlier, but that would probably be a flawed argument too. 

  • There is a reason FORD stood for Found On Road Dead.  There was a major quality problem for decades.   Just like GM.
  • Ford killed and added and changed models just like other manufacturers.
    • May favorites
      • Ford Escort - Created and sold heavily as a direct response to Japanese cars and the demand for fuel economy.   Then followed the Pinto and Capri for the same reasons.   
      • Ford's large boats have been mainly killed off.  Crown Victoria.  LTD.  
    • Other famous dropped models ... Escort, Pinto, Capri, Bronco, Falcon, Fairlane, Fairmont, Galaxie, LTD, Torino, Granada, Country (squire, sedan, wagan, etc), Thunderbird,  ... Ranger ... Explorer ... Windstar ... Aerostar
  • Ford and GM are very differently organized companies.  
    • Ford was mainly one company that had models.  If they purchased another brand, they tried to merge it in more than GM.  And if not, it was killed or spun off again.  
    • GM had a hodge-podge of poorly differentiated, out-dated brands.  Where Ford killed cars like the Falcon because the market shifted, GM kept supporting whole sub-brands whose time had passed.  When times became tight, it's those sub-brands that failed.  Oldsmobile.  Pontiac.  Geo.  Saturn.  In fact, GM has been merging and killing brands for a long time.  Ford and GM are very different case models.  
    • Ford only really had one sub-brand ... Mercury.  Like GM's sub-brands, Mercury did not survive the tight years.  

I understand your point that BSA may be damaging their brand and the heart of what is good in scouting.  But just like Ford and GM, BSA needs to change and update otherwise the only thing left will be a bunch of scoutmasters pulling trailers with their Ford Broncos with scouts who's parents drive Ford LTD wood paneled station wagons.   And, there are not many of those left.  

Edited by fred johnson
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1 hour ago, Eagledad said:

Interesting comments. One of my traits of reasoning is I tend to look at the bigger pictures. What I see is that scouting did it to itself from a lot of bad decisions. 

I often wonder how today's parents would view the BSA if National had not made any major program changes since 1957?

I think some were bad decisions and some were needed decisions.  I think we can argue Lion and Tiger additions were bad as they hurt the troop later and create a bad long term reputation with-in the kids of that age.  But I think we have not hit on a key issue.  Yes, we've talked about family burn out, cubs being repetitive and now being 5+ years.  But we have not discussed one big area that I often think about.

CHOICE - Did the kid choose to be in scouts?  Is the kid choosing to stay in scouts?  Or, is it the parents choice?  It's the biggest difference I'm seeing now.  Scouts in scouting because their families want them in it instead of because they want to be in it.  Builds resentment.  Builds membership that subverts the program.  

When I think about the model from long ago, a scout leader would visit a class room with pinewood derby cars or other similar and inspire the scouts to join.  The scouts then asked their parents to join.  They wanted to build that car or go camping or ....

Now, I see many scouts that are in scouting because their parents want them in it and they don't.  They never made the choice. It then becomes almost like a rotten apple spreading a bad attitude.  They are there saying they don't want to be in it.  So their friends, then start saying they don't want to be in it.  I think often Lion and Tigers is bad because the kid is too young to understand the choices or to participate with any level of responsibility.  I think it makes scouting look like a mature toddler program.  

When I look at my own kids, they often don't want to go to the meetings.  They are boring.  Repetitive.  Often poorly organized.  Without purpose.  But if you give them an interesting camp out or an interesting activity or a chance to share time with their real friends, absolutely.  They are excited to go. They ask to go.  They clear their schedules.  They pack and are ready to go.

IMHO ... this is the biggest change that needs to happen.  A return to a program that kids want to be in.  A return to the youth asking to join.  ... IMHO, until we inspire and excite the scouts, we will keep hemorrhaging.  

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I would say half-that is right-half of the new boys coming in the last few years in our Troop are coming in because their parents want that Eagle--primarily for the college application. At least what a lot of the parents say.

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In my area, we don't see that much.  There is some push by parents for our current Scouts to make Eagle, but I can't remember hearing from a lot of scouts who say "my parents made me join".

I think the general premise is correct though.  Years ago, scouting was more novel and unique.  It was fun to camp every month with your friends.  It was fun to build some pinewood derby cars.  It was fun to learn how to build a fire.  Today, those things are still fun - but not for 5-6 years.

I still think a big step would be more program differentiation at the different levels.  Don't make Cub Scouts 6 years.  Make it two separate 3 year programs.  If you really want to keep the boys together in a single Lions to Webelos pack - that's fine.  But, create the program in a way that when they get to Bears or Webelos, things change - a lot.  Same with Boy Scouts.  Again - if you want a 11-17 troop - fine.  But do something so that the program changes enough at 14/15 that it is fresh and exciting again.

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2 hours ago, fred johnson said:

CHOICE - Did the kid choose to be in scouts?  Is the kid choosing to stay in scouts?  Or, is it the parents choice?  It's the biggest difference I'm seeing now.  Scouts in scouting because their families want them in it instead of because they want to be in it.  Builds resentment.  Builds membership that subverts the program

Meh, I wish my mom HAD NOT given me the choice. I probably would have stayed in longer instead of quitting as a Wolf.

I don't give my kids much of choice, yet. They are not wise or mature enough to either know what is good for them or to even make an informed decision for which I might disagree but accept.

If they end up resenting the fact that scouts is a requirement, then we are probably not making scouts FUN (which goes to the points you make later).

I did give my daughter the choice of whether or not she wanted to be a cub scout but now that she is a member, it is now a commitment until at least 1st Class.

 

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Cubs and Troops are two completely different programs, so the discussion has gone divergent from my points. The Cubs who resented the program because their parents would not let them quit typically didn't crossover into the troop program. Most of the parents, like Hawken, wanted their sons to learn the lesson of committing even when they lost interest. But the percentage of Boy Scouts who resented the program as a result of their parents were far fewer than the Webelos who quit at crossover. 

And, as was said, resentment of a program is typically the result of a boring program, not the unrelenting parents. The parents get blame, but the program is the cause.

Barry

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@EagledadI'm sure that's correct.

So, why do we have boring pack programs?  I always felt my pack's program was kinda dull.  But, as much as I tried to search, I couldn't find a recipe book of "do this and it will be fun."

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I agree, @Packman, the meetings are repetitive. I think that's caused by DLs learning as they go. Yet the program is the bread and butter of the organization. Think of it this way - 6 or 7 years in cubs with 30 den meetings a year means roughly 200 meetings. I'd think national could come up with 200 really fun ideas. Or a wiki. Or something to help these poor den leaders.

Boy Scouts is a bit more challenging but your idea of increasing challenge in the basic program is good. MBs are low hanging fruit. Wikis of good ideas that national would facilitate would be great. Again, the volunteers could use more ideas. And then there's the issue of teaching the scouts to own it. Again, the training lacks.

I think it's all easily fixable. It just needs some leadership that understands that, in your car analogy, that people want quality.

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