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ParkMan

Positive thinking - growing Scouting in your district

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In the spirit of @LeCastor's post on positive thinking, I thought I'd start a discussion on how to grow Scouting in a community.  

Here's the premise.  Say your district is like many districts out there today.  Membership slowly declining, the number of units maybe two-thirds what it was 20 years ago, round table participation dropping, volunteers helping organize things outside of the units are decreasing (camporee, day camp, etc).  Let's further assume that the community itself is doing well - population is growing, people are generally well employed, etc.  You have some units that are going great - so you know it can be done.

Imagine you're a district committee.  You can invest wherever you want - but just recognize that you've got limited volunteers already.  For example - you've got a district membership chair, but certainly no membership committee.  You've got a day camp chief, but no camporee committee.

Say that you set a goal to double the number of youth in Scouting in 10 years.  

How would you approach this?  You're a district committee, so everything is on the table.

I would ask - let's try to keep it positive. 

 

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""The Work Is Done By Whoever Shows Up""

The DE needs to be put to work, making copies....

Posters in every Public Library. Fliers created to reflect the local Scout (both Cub and Scout) units to every Public Library (some Units did this locally, but wasted resources by making 500 (!) per library).  Local unit can be encouraged to put on a "display" or "demonstration" at the Library.  This could even be on their schedule. Here, locally(!), if one counts out and separates out the packets, the central Library Office will send out the packages to every Library. No need to go yourself to every Library.   

Check out the county school regs about BackPack fliers. (DE copying ?) and send out sufficient to every elementary school, organized, counted out as required. 

Make contact with the local TV stations. Somebody there is a "local color" reporter.  Get them to come out to the CSDC,  the Camporee.  Talk about Scouting for Food,  find a neat Eagle Project to report on.  

Make sure every Unit has a SIGN outside their CO and /or Meeting place. 

All Scouting Is Local....   it is (mostly) up to the local units to be local.  Invade the local schools and BE THERE at the PTA meetings, the Back To School Nights.  the school festivals.

Anyone remember Kudzu?   http://www.inquiry.net/adult/recruiting.htm  

Check with any museums,  civic associations,  boards of trade.  When they have "open houses" or  "Community Nights",  remind the Local Unit to set up a tent, a demo campsite.... 

Remind the Scouters (and Scouts), that it is OK to wear the Scout cap, the Scout T-shirt/sweat shirt/hoodie at other than Scout Meetings.  If folks SEE the Scout stuff, they can make the connection.

Local newspaper?   Send in the news. Who went to Philmont?  Who cleaned up the park?  

Community Listserv (is that still a thing?)   , same idea.  Send in the news....  

They can't join if they don't know we're here (or there....). 

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We’ve reached a point in history where if you’re not on the internet you don’t exist.

Every unit to have an internet presence. It doesn’t have to be an all singing all dancing website, it can just be a Facebook page. Whatever it is it needs two things on it;

 

1. Photos or video footage of the scouts doing fun stuff. Forget courts of honour, award ceremonies and smart uniform. That doesn’t sell. Make it climbing and canoeing and the like.

 

2. An idiot proof method of signing up or getting in touch. If it’s an email address make sure someone checks it. If it’s a phone number make sure it’s not someone who works nights.

Throw some effort at your online presence and you’ll soon have them queueing up.

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@ParkMan, there's some training I took, whose name shall not me mentioned, that covered how to do this. It's more about people than any area. @SSScout is interested in marketing and has good ideas. I'd try to pave the way for him to succeed. @Cambridgeskip wants to help promote units on the internet, so I'd ask him if he'd be willing to give a talk at roundtable about that. @Eagledad likes the patrol method, so I'd ask him if he'd be interested in developing some training for patrol leaders, SPL's and SM's.

I'd ask each person on the committee what their ideas are for their area. Creating an encouraging, successful environment for volunteers is probably the key. The dynamic at our district committee meetings is there's a ton of stuff to do just to keep up with awards, filling empty positions, dealing with rotating DE's, etc, that asking people what they'd like to do more of always runs the risk of "you can't ask that person to do more because his spouse is already annoyed with the time spent on scouts." I'm not saying don't do this, just understand the real world issues people are up against.

So, I would not focus on scout numbers, I would focus on volunteer numbers. BTW, 10 years is too long (Timely goals?). I'd set a goal of increasing the number of volunteers at the district by 30% in a year. Make it a welcoming place where people are successful. Have enough people to cover the basics and do the extra things that will start helping units put on a better program. Believe in that and the scout numbers will take care of themselves. That's the vision I'd promote.
 

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Community visibility is very important and scouting has been going in the opposite direction. My favorite community service was Scouting for Food because scouts had to personally meet the public at their front door and introduce themselves, then explain the service they were providing. 90% of our community was meeting scouts face to face experiencing scouts doing their best. Our scouts would meet afterwards for refreshments and they all had great stories of the people they met. We made it fun, but our scouts looked forward to it each year. No other event gave scouting near that much priceless exposure to the community and food collected required a couple of tractor trailers rigs to haul it away.

Our district and council didn't understand the value of this activity and started to scale it down so it would take less time. They split it into two weekends. On the first weekend, the scouts (and volunteers) would stuff Scouting For Food bags in each mail boxes with instructions to leave the bags of food on the front door the next week to pickup. The scouts (and volunteers again) spent their next weekend picking up the food bags. They manage to almost completely eliminate the face to face meeting between the scouts and community , they forced the units to organize another weekend for adult volunteers help the scouts and the food collected was reduced to half because folks either forgot about leaving food on their door or their wasn't a cute cub scout asking in his quiet little voice for a donation. 

When I got on the council training team, I manage to sell the council into going back to the old method. But, local politics got in the way that same year and the scouts were kicked out of the Food collection program. If I were back, I would start by creating a District Scouting for Food drive.

Next, I would recruit a scouter with the skills of social media and start publishing lots and lots of stories about what local units are doing in their community. Scouting is such a cool program but nobody sees it. I would use social media to bring the program to into the light.  

I would at a district local level push Scout Sunday. Provide ideas for the units three months a head of time to work their the churches to provide some kind of service on that day, or even campout on the Church grounds so the member could visit a campsite. 

Then I would ask the local government to help find and assign units to take care of the city by picking up trash at the local parks, schools and public roads. Scouts somewhere in town each weekend would be seen in uniforms serving their community. 

I would recruit a scouter with the skills for the District Activities Chair to coordinate troops to do some practice hiking and backpacking through town for the purpose of exposing the fun side of scouting. Set up camp on friday night at the CO, then get up the next morning for a five mile hike though town to camp at a local church. Get up the next morning and serve pancakes to the church members before service. Our Council did something pretty clever by doing a council level pinewood derby at the mall. Scouting fun, shouldn't we see that side. Maybe even consider doing a Camporee at a local park. How about canoe orienteering at a local lake we scouts have to cross the lake several times to hopefully end up at the right place. 

In ten years time, everyone in the community should have some knowledge of the scouting program and feel good about it's contribution to the community. 

Barry

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1 hour ago, MattR said:

@ParkMan, there's some training I took, whose name shall not me mentioned, that covered how to do this. It's more about people than any area. @SSScout is interested in marketing and has good ideas. I'd try to pave the way for him to succeed. @Cambridgeskip wants to help promote units on the internet, so I'd ask him if he'd be willing to give a talk at roundtable about that. @Eagledad likes the patrol method, so I'd ask him if he'd be interested in developing some training for patrol leaders, SPL's and SM's.

I'd ask each person on the committee what their ideas are for their area. Creating an encouraging, successful environment for volunteers is probably the key. The dynamic at our district committee meetings is there's a ton of stuff to do just to keep up with awards, filling empty positions, dealing with rotating DE's, etc, that asking people what they'd like to do more of always runs the risk of "you can't ask that person to do more because his spouse is already annoyed with the time spent on scouts." I'm not saying don't do this, just understand the real world issues people are up against.

So, I would not focus on scout numbers, I would focus on volunteer numbers. BTW, 10 years is too long (Timely goals?). I'd set a goal of increasing the number of volunteers at the district by 30% in a year. Make it a welcoming place where people are successful. Have enough people to cover the basics and do the extra things that will start helping units put on a better program. Believe in that and the scout numbers will take care of themselves. That's the vision I'd promote.
 

Happy to, although given what side of the Atlantic I’m on I’d suggest Skype as the way forward :)

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Thank you all so much for the feedback.  I'm reading it all very carefully and think it's very helpful.  From this, I think I'm assembling a picture here.

1. Start with a core goal.  In this case - we want to grow Scouting in our district.  Use this as the basis for why we're doing things.

2. Rally the district committee around that goal.  Next, sit with each member and operating committee and figure out what they are motivated to do to advance it.  Work with them to establish their own goals.  From the discussions here, I'm walking away with the impression that the best benefits come from:

  • increasing the visibility of Scouting in the community - marketing, social media, & community activities
  • working with units to increase their own ability to recruit & market
  • focusing on quality program.

A quality program sells itself - but that people do need to know it there. As a side note - the specifics above on how to do these things are awesome! 

3. Build an environment within the district team, but to an extent the entire district, where members can be successful.  Celebrate those successes.  Create excitement and build momentum

4. Within the district committee, set a specific goal to grow the team this year - 30% sounds like a good goal.  Bring more people to the cause, thereby enabling the team to have a bigger impact.  As the team grows, we'll be able to do even more things.

Close?

Edited by ParkMan
changed some wording.

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I'd start by calling all the Unit Key 3s to try to set up a cup of coffee with them, individual units, (like is supposed to happen with every unit at recharter time).  There's only a couple of questions for each person, "what can the district do to help your program?" and "where is the district doing more harm than good?"  Then sit back and listen.  Take FOS and Council Fundraisers and National dues, etc. completely off the table for this conversation.  Don't defend any existing programs or policies or activities.  Just listen.  Once I'd talked to most of the units I'd summarize my notes for big picture themes and send them back out to the units, "here's what I'm hearing, could you send a representative to the next roundtable to discuss?"  Be honest about what the district can and can't change, solicit input on the former.  Bring ideas for new activities to see if there's interest, etc.  Ask if they might be aware of anyone who would make a good commissioner.

Recruit a commissioner core so you can continue the conversation with the units.  Now, the hard part is teaching your commissioners they aren't some Sage Scouting Expert with all the answers, but just a person who really wants to help.  Commissioners should never talk about FOS or Popcorn or such, at least not for the units they serve directly.  They should very regularly be asking how can I help and where should I get out of the way?  They absolutely, positively should not be members of the unit direct contact leadership (maybe even not committee members of the MCs are very active in their units).  Then tell the Council to stick to their spreadsheets and  to quit going around your Commissioners.  

I guess what I'm saying is it's not the district's job to grow scouting, that belongs to the Unit.  It's the district's job to help units grow scouting by creating a conducive environment.  Too often districts (and councils and national) get it upside down.  

Edited by walk in the woods

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Thanks @walk in the woods.  You've hit on something I've struggled with.  Please let me get your take.

I'm a firm believer in the inverted triangle of Scouting.  Scouting happens in units and the district is here to support that.  My whole Scouting career has been 95% unit level service with the occasional foray into district or council things.

Where do you see the balance between district as servent to the units and district as Scouting community leader?  For example - if I look around my district today, I guarantee that each units has different goals and objectives.  Most, I expect, don't give the district more than an occasional thought.  I know that as a unit volunteer, I didn't.

I 100% get improving district services for unit and also improving commissioner service.  But, if filling out the commissioner team needs to be done prior to even attempting this, it seems like this is a very long process indeed.

I guess my point is - I don't see any of the units as being the position to grow Scouting community wide.  So, taking something on like that seems like a district task.  Yet, with the idea being that the district is really just here to support the units - how do you accomplish community growth?

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@ParkMan, my apologies in the delay in getting back to this thread.  I agree that the district could and should be active in the community in a way that's helpful to the units in the district.  If I knew the answer to how I'd be rich!  I do like @Eagledad's idea of Scouting for Food.  I think a district could provide a nice service (handling the logistics of drop-offs, coordinating press releases, etc.), but, that only works if the units have bought into the idea and trust the district to perform.

On 12/21/2018 at 2:31 PM, ParkMan said:

Most, I expect, don't give the district more than an occasional thought.  I know that as a unit volunteer, I didn't.

This I think is the crux of the problem.  The relationship between districts and units is broken.  I think a solid commissioner corps could be the source of the fix, but, the UCs need to show up to help at service projects, work the serving line at Blue and Golds, etc.  Something beyond FOS, JTE, and recharter in order to build relationships with the unit leadership and families.  More importantly they have to meet units where they are and not try to fix everything they think is broken.  Nudge more than direct.

On 12/20/2018 at 4:36 PM, ParkMan said:

For example - you've got a district membership chair, but certainly no membership committee.  You've got a day camp chief, but no camporee committee.

I think we might miss opportunities here.  Does a district need a membership committee, or, does it need a membership chair that builds relationships with the various unit committee membership chairs?  Same for Advancement, Activities, Camping, etc.  I wonder if it wouldn't be more fruitful in the end than building a district committee of people who are disconnected at some level.  Plus I think it builds a bench for the district committee chairpersonships and perhaps would help strengthen some unit committees.  This runs a bit counter to my earlier comment about not engaging active members of the committee but I'm reserving the right to rethink my original post.  It's a tough row to hoe no doubt. 

I think there are process things that need to change as well.  Meetings like Roundtable and District Committee Meetings that consist of announcements and status reports are horrible. They need to be remade or allowed to die.  If we're going to hold meetings they need to educate or solve problems.  I also think we need to make video/audio conferencing an option.  Not as good as face-to-face but it needs to be an option in 2019.  

Well, that was a rambling non-answer answer.  In the end I think a successful district comes down to successful relationships.  Those have to be built first.

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A past Scout Executive in our council had a formula that he used to repeat that went something like this:  A unit with trained leaders, and a strong outdoor program, supported by a good Unit Commissioner, will attract and retain youth.  And he's right, at least in my experience.

The underlying premise, of course, is that BSA is structured in a way that practically all of the recruitment and retention responsibility and burden is on the adult volunteers and youth members in individual units.  The Boy Scouts of America can retain existing Scouts and recruit more Scouts only when unit adults and youth take their program seriously (the only way to retain Scouts) and take recruitment seriously.  That gets us to the role of the district in growing Scouting in a community.  It really comes down to:  (1) processing unit paperwork (and its electronic equivalent) quickly and accurately; (2) responding to unit questions and requests quickly and accurately; (3) proactively providing units with resources, such as training opportunities and information about places to go and activities units can participate in; and (4) convincing / encouraging / inspiring unit adults to take the steps necessary to put on great programs and actively recruit youth.

That doesn't necessarily take a lot of people at the district level.  You just need (a) a District Executive who will process paperwork and requests quickly, and (b) a small cadre of experienced volunteer Scouters who are always on the lookout for information, have multiple ways of disseminating that information, are happy to field questions, hold training sessions, and visit units to talk about Scouting, and are happy to help units solve problems. 

You don't need a bifurcated Committee / Commissioner structure or a bunch of committees with bulleted lists of responsibilities.  You don't even need anyone registered in a district position other than as placeholders.  All of that formal structure and their associated meetings are wasted energy and a distraction from the real objective.

 

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The BIG Problem is ultimately the difference in desire.   

The adults want "Character Development".  That's where the  Goals came from.  Eagle equals college scholarship, job advancement,  higher initial rank in military. 

The BSA (Irving, Councils, Professionals) want "Numbers" (do they get a commission?). I think this is where the "eight methods " came from.   Seems like all organisations want/need to quantify and define and list and point to.  Last I was told, DEs are judged, not by the number of Scouts enrolled, but by the number of new UNITS.  Where did that come from? 

The kids want the adventure and camaradarie , or they don't join. Or stay.   Why join a group that wants to hike and camp and rock climb and canoe and get dirty if you don't (want to hike and camp and...)?  And if you DO, why stay in a group that doesn't?  STEM and Explorer posts not withstanding.... 

Can we say that the original Scouting (B-P,  Seton, Hillcourt) that was "discovered" and chartered, was defined as #3 above with the assumption that #1 and #2 would follow almost automatically ? 

So how do we get back to land of Christopher Robin and Pooh ? 

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Posted (edited)
18 hours ago, walk in the woods said:

The relationship between districts and units is broken.  I think a solid commissioner corps could be the source of the fix,

I happen to think the entire commissioner system is broken and needs to be scrapped: 

- It’s nearly impossible to find bodies to be commissioners, let alone good people who will do a good job.

- The commissioner system is foreign to outsiders - and, frankly, to many experienced Scouters as well. It requires a lot of explanation just to get a foot in the door. Few people understand just what a commissioner does, and there is not a clear counterpart out of Scouting to help with that understanding.

 

It’s far easier to find people willing to serve in a specific unit than to serve in some nebulous, ill-defined, relationship-building role that exists outside of the unit structure. Why are we spending our time recruiting people to be a sympathetic ear and a word of advice for unit leaders when we could be taking concrete action? (And let’s face it - most people are not good at that type of work!)

Let’s put our energy into program-side unit support with tangible results:

- Compelling training

- High-quality Roundtables

- Solid districtwide service projects

- Great outdoor program (camporees, Klondikes, day camp, chariot races)

- Strenghening summer camp infrastructure 

At a time when our volunteer pool is shrinking, we shouldn’t be wasting time on propping up an antiquated organizational structure that confuses more people than it helps. Let’s shift people to direct program and support work - where they usually want to be anyway.

Edited by shortridge

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35 minutes ago, shortridge said:

I happen to think the entire commissioner system is broken and needs to be scrapped: 

- It’s nearly impossible to find bodies to be commissioners, let alone good people who will do a good job.

- The commissioner system is foreign to outsiders - and, frankly, to many experienced Scouters as well. It requires a lot of explanation just to get a foot in the door. Few people understand just what a commissioner does, and there is not a clear counterpart out of Scouting to help with that understanding.

Could be.  I've worked in a number of places outside Scouting that had formal mentorship programs.  For me that's a fairly clear outside counterpart to Commissioner Service.  The way Commissioner service is defined today (JTE police, FOS, recharter), it's no wonder it's hard to find UCs.  If the role was more program focused I suspect it might be easier.

38 minutes ago, shortridge said:

Let’s put our energy into program-side unit support with tangible results:

- Compelling training

- High-quality Roundtables

- Solid districtwide service projects

- Great outdoor program (camporees, Klondikes, day camp, chariot races)

- Strenghening summer camp infrastructure 

I'm curious who you see doing these things?  In my mind these are exactly the types of things the Commissioner Corps should be staffing.  

@ParkMan, my apologies for the thread derail.  

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50 minutes ago, walk in the woods said:

I'm curious who you see doing these things?  In my mind these are exactly the types of things the Commissioner Corps should be staffing.  

Perhaps it’s a local thing, but in my neck of the woods the activities and programs are organized by a much younger group of volunteers, mostly unit-serving folks who happily put on another cap to organize a fun camporee. The commissioners, such as they are, are typically older gentlemen who haven’t slept in a tent in years. They don’t go to Roundtable, they don’t run training, and they certainly don’t help with camping events.

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