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Recruiting in Scouts BSA Units

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This morning, I read an article about a New Jersey troop that's suffered dwindling numbers.  They blame their problem on "scouts getting Eagle".

Hmmm.  Methinks they haven't done enough self-examination.

Getting scouts to Eagle doesn't cause the implosion of a troop.  Poor recruiting does.

The New Jersey troop's story should be a warning to scouters that they need to be aware that there are a lot of factors that can make scouts choose not to join a particular troop....and few prospective scouts would cite "successfully helping scouts earn Eagle" as one of the reasons.

In my opinion, the troop needs to...

* focus on building relationships with Cub Scout packs so Webelos will want to bridge into a troop
  - invite Webelos to meetings and activities
  - have leaders attend Roundtables to meet leaders from Cub Scout units
  - participate in events like Webelos Weekend
* promote the unit within the charter organization
  - are parishioners/members invited to visit troop meetings?
  - does the unit participate in charter org events?  (church picnic, Sunday socials, etc.
* raise visitibility of unit in the community
  - blurbs in community papers
  - offer service to community groups / HOAs, etc.
* make sure leaders are not complacent about membership
   (sometimes, even if you build it, they will not come....if not invited, encouraged, welcomed)

Here's the story about the NJ troop:

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Units really do need to have a plan to replace 20% of their membership every year.  Cub Scouts cross over, Scouts BSA & Venture Scouts age out.  Further, if you're less than 30 Scouts, you need a plan to get to 30.

From reading the article, it sounds like the new SM is getting focused on that.

From looking online, is appears that the troop's CO has a pack as well.  If so, and those Scouts don't cross over to that troop, is there a reason?  A program problem perhaps?

In addition to @mrkstvns great list, I'd enocurage the SM to have an honest sitdown with the families, the remaining leaders, and the COR.  This troops #1 focus needs to be program, but #2 needs to be growth.  They need a defined plan to grow again.

Edited by ParkMan
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That's some real backwards logic he has there. Scouting is not an infinite program. It's like saying that the amount of kids in school are dwindling because they are graduating...Huh....part of an active well run troop is a solid flow of scouts into the troop. The failure of a troop is not because of scouts ranking out and leaving, it's because of scouts not coming in.

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My takes:

  • peer to peer recruitment is practically dead
  • Troops rely solely on AOL crossovers
  • Packs keep dying off. Less Cub Scouts eventually mean less Scouts BSA Members
  • Reluctance to recruit new members outside of Packs. 
Edited by carebear3895
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Peer-to-peer recruitment among youth is doing just fine. Purveyors of recreational drugs rely on it to secure their future clientele.

If scouts Eagle-and-out it is because they don't feel:

  • needed. The adults will do all the work anyway.
  • challenged. The troop isn't pitching Palms and other awards properly.
  • respected. They aren't being asked to visit elementary and middle schools in uniform to promote the program. They aren't attending naturalization ceremonies, or opening a session of local government, or helping run a booth at a community festival.
  • wealthy. Someone isn't offering them a job to pay for the next big-ticket event.
  • humble. They think they've "arrived" and haven't figured out that they should take their place among other scouts (BSA or GS/USA) in their community.
  • loved. Leaders don't greet them with enthusiasm, younger scouts don't want them at their campfire. Scouters in general don't care about their friends.

All of that is quickly perceived by younger scouts.

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That said, this troop is doing the right thing by putting itself "out there."

What I would like to have heard is not only does the church offer its kitchen, but that sometimes boys come before meetings to cook dinner with their patrol. It's one thing to brag about your tools, it's another thing to brag that your boys know how to use them!

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1 hour ago, njdrt-rdr said:

That's some real backwards logic he has there. Scouting is not an infinite program. It's like saying that the amount of kids in school are dwindling because they are graduating...Huh....part of an active well run troop is a solid flow of scouts into the troop. The failure of a troop is not because of scouts ranking out and leaving, it's because of scouts not coming in.

I agree with your first comment. Scouting is not an infinite program.  It ends at 18.  

I have to disagree with your other comment about scouts ranking out.  There is no such thing as ranking out of scouting.  

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In our area, the reason scouts "Eagle and Out" is largely because they are busy on the college prep treadmill and move on to other things. I don't know how you counter that. I've been involved in scouts for 15 years and every year it seems like parents are pushing their kids to earn Eagle at younger and younger ages so that they can be "done" and have more time to focus on high school course work and other college relevant extra curricular activities. Also, by Eagle, some kids are just burned out on it, especially those kids who have been pushed by parents. 

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In my view, the single biggest membership blunder that BSA has made is allowing Boy Scouting/Scouts BSA to develop in a way that makes it almost totally dependent upon crossovers from Cub Scouting.

  •  It puts the future of the Scouts BSA almost entirely in the hands of Cub Scout leaders and their ability to recruit kindergarten and first grade families.
  •  It allows Webelos and Arrow of Light Den Leaders to heavily influence whether Scouts should cross over to a troop at all.
  •  Having to leave one Scouting organization (the Cub Scout pack) and find and join a new Scouting organization (the troop) provides a convenient opportunity for youth to simply not continue with Scouting after Webelos/Arrow of Light.
  •  It allows Webelos and Arrow of Light Den Leaders to heavily influence the choice of which troop to cross over to.
  •  The expectation that new Scouts BSA members will join at pretty much the same time and same age, together with New Scout Patrols and first-year advancement practices mean that it is awkward for older youth to join when they would be significantly "behind" their age/grade peers.

The result is that simply by running our program as expected, we leave a lot of youth un-recruited and we allow many who are already in Cub Scouts to slip through our fingers.

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There are 2 questions I always ask when I hear about a troop struggling with membership numbers, and neither one of them has anything to do with Eagle Scouts.

I ask, "What kind of marketing and promotion does the troop do?", and "How is the troop's relationship with the local Cub Scout Packs?"

There are 3 troops in my area close enough for the scouts from my Pack to consider when they cross over, and each troop has 50-70 scouts. We have very close relationships with those troops, we get Den Chiefs from them, we go to their events when invited, they attend out meeting and activities, and also attend our annual recruitment night event. A healthy Pack recruitment program contributes to a healthy troop program.

I find it rare that troops do any marketing on their own. I applaud the troop in that article making flyers and getting the word out to the community, but it seems like they probably only did that because of dwindling membership. Troops should be doing that regularly, regardless of the number of active members they have.

I'd also suggest that the image portrayed in the flyer isn't ideal. They're using their own photos, which is fine if they're good photos, but I don't think most troop-level flyers and marketing materials really "sell" the program in a way that appeals to kids. Photos of scouts in uniform are nice, to adults, but does that really appeal to kids? I think most kids would prefer not to wear a uniform, it's why scouts always ask us if they can where Class B to whatever upcoming event/activity.

I know packs and troops often like to use their own photos, but the stock photos in the BSA Brand Center are better suited for this purpose. Sure they aren't photos of your scouts, but they are professionally shot and styled in a way that is designed to look great and appeal to potential new members. Less emphasis on the uniform, more casual images, more fun, more beautiful scenery, more color, etc.

Also, try selling more than camping, cooking and leadership. The BSA offers over 130 merit badges, most of them have little to do with camping. I think it's a missed opportunity to present the Scouting program as a place to try things you don't do in school, including camping but certainly not limited to that. I got my first taste of what would become my career in scouting (graphic design) and I'm not a professional camper (although I kind of wish i was). 😀

I know people don't want to think about scouting like we're selling a product, but the reality is, we are selling a product, and we should use any and all available tools to do so. I just don't think the image of dragging a trailer out to a dirt field to sit around a small metal fire ring is going to convince many kids to ask their parents if they can join.

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