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Cburkhardt

Positive Council Changes during Financial Reorganization

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How can the coming Financial Reorganization Bankruptcy improve things at the council level?  This is the first of a series of postings focused on how we can make positive changes during the course of a financial reorganization bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy code.  We will not focus on the details of bankruptcy, inside scoops or re-argue why or how the BSA got to this point.  I encourage anyone who wants to focus on those issues to start a different posting.  Rather, in this posting we will assume a filing will occur in the reasonable future and discuss positive changes that might more-easily take place during a time when significant change will unavoidably occur.  This posting focuses on councils.  Future posts (about every other week) will focus on districts, the national organization and then program.

Here are my suggestions on how we can improve things at the council level during the financial reorganization.

Council Staffing.  Let’s re-deploy many of our best credentialed Scout Executives from council-service assignments to the districts.  People on this blog know all the reasons for this, but I believe it to be critical to our turning the corner on membership.  We need our most-experienced people out there right now as we are forming-up the new girl units and seeking to grow the size of all units.  This is also the time for us to allow those employees who do not perform to depart our employ.  Bankruptcy reorganization allows us to do that more easily.

Volunteers.  Let’s similarly re-deploy our finest council-level volunteers to the districts and make those entities more-robust (will discuss in detail in the next posting).  Let’s get the Council executive boards back to where they were in the earlier history of Scouting – when we included the leading business, financial, industry, social and religious leaders in localities on policy-making and fund-raising entities.  Too many council executive boards have become groups of program volunteers focused on micro-managing the program functions of professionals.

Camp Properties.  Let’s put camps into larger property-holding trusts on a multi-council basis.  We have too many properties with now-prohibitive maintenance backlogs.  Our weaker councils are not good at property management – we need to downsize our holdings and put the resulting cash into fewer properties that can become fully-used and “pristine”.  Bankruptcy will give us the chance to overcome those hard-core objections that often prevent councils from doing anything meaningful with their properties.

Council Combinations.   Let’s go ahead and merge our remaining weak councils during bankruptcy into larger, solid organizations.  The combination of factors councils are experiencing is reducing their cash flow, so a good number of them probably cannot survive financially as-is.  We should be perfectly willing to ask current council leaders to explain with specificity why they might be losing membership or cannot break even.  Folks, organizational sustainability is what a financial reorganization bankruptcy is all about.

What do you think we should change during the financial reorganization bankruptcy at the council level?  State your idea and provide at least a few lines of explanation and justification.  Let’s leave the bitter stuff and the obvious disadvantages of bankruptcy out of this and concentrate on how we can create some positives.                    

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I think we have to ask ourselves - why would the bankruptcy change things at a council level?  What fundamental structural thing will be different for councils after the re-organization that is not true today?

  • Will more money be available to councils to hire those now available council-service Scout Executives?
  • Will councils suddenly restructure their executive boards to focus more on districts?
  • Will the experience pool of current employees and board members be different after the re-organization?

What's needed at the council level is a plan for success.  How can a council become financially strong?  How can a council balance payroll expenses with available funding?  How can a council increase membership? 

District Success

I suspect that what we will all find is that a plan for council success requires developing a plan for district success.  How does a council best deploy it's resources to support districts?  How does a council select, train, equip, and support district volunteers?  If we look around nationally, I believe we'll find that the strongest districts are those with the strongest teams.  A council could jump start that process by assigning additional professionals or redeploying existing council volunteers to districts - but that's at best a band aid.

Professional/Volunteer Confusion

We need to clarify the job description of professionals.  Other than in a few key strategic places in a council, professionals are not program people.  Professionals provide the guidance to volunteers who drive program.  When professionals start assuming program responsibilities, we end up diluting their time too much.  Professionals become overloaded, they take on too much, and their core responsibility of enabling a prosperous district suffers.  Let's clarify roles and responsibilities so that we make it possible for professionals to succeed.

Let's Focus on Operational Excellence

A big part of the problem in the culture of the BSA is that we're too focused on structure.  The BSA is struggling, so our go-to response is either "let's reorg things" or "let's fix the program."  However, the fundamental problem is that we're just not very good at operations.

I spent a lot of time on membership last year.  Do you know how much guidance I got from the BSA or the Council?  Just about zero.  The DE encouraged me to make sure that we had flyers and school visits lined up.  But, to really develop a strategy for growth the assistance was very little.  What does a membership plan for a district look like?  Who can sit down and help me build one?  Who from the area or region can help our council membership chair guide me?  Where are the membership specialists that can help get us going? 

So - to me, I expect very little locally from the bankruptcy reorganization.  I'm more excited about it's impact on the national organization.  But, the trickle down effect to me locally I expect to be minimal.

 

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11 minutes ago, ParkMan said:

Let's Focus on Operational Excellence ...  However, the fundamental problem is that we're just not very good at operations.

Absolutely true.  

  • Many volunteers WANT to be involved even if they don't have the skill.  
  • Districts rarely do the majority of their roles well. 
  • Way too consistently scouting under delivers it's promise.  
  • Scouting often does a really poor job of teaching leadership in a situation that is natural for teaching leadership.  Aka pulling defeat from victory.  
  • There is not much a district volunteer can do to significantly drive membership.  

FOCUS ON DELIVERING THE PROMISE

  • The promise of scouting is adventure, friendship and skills.  That's why scouts get involved. 
    • Activities that scouts WANT to be involved in.
    • Camp outs that are new and fresh.  
    • Adults out of the scout's hair so they can develop friendships with other scouts.  
  • The BSA "goals" inspire adults, not kids.  
    • The goals (physical fitness, citizenship, character, leadership, etc) are reasons the parents should support their kids in the program.  
    • The goals provide zero incentive for the scouts to be involved.  
  • Background - I remember my twelve year old son try to sign up for Philmont because his SM inspired the scouts showing his gear, pictures and the stories of adventure.  He made it sound cool.  ... Now if he would have killed all energy if he started talking about character, physical fitness, how to lead the others.  

STOP TRYING TO TEACH THAT WHICH IS HARD TO TEACH

  • Scoutmaster minute (60 seconds) is about as much character and leadership training a young scout can take.  
  • The rest of the program should be about where are we going, what are we doing, who's bringing the food, what's the game, etc.  
  • My reasoning is that much of what scouting tries to teach is best taught by not teaching.  Scouting is about learning by doing.  Specifically, scouts will learn a huge amount about leadership by trying to get eight of their friends to agree on a menu plan.  A very very few words of guidance by the SM goes a huge way.  
  • My suggestion is that we tell our volunteers to fully focus on delivering the promise.  Adventure.  Friendships.  Skills.  Let the "goal" lessons be learned naturally without setting up the scouts or explicitly trying to teach it.  A few few few short words goes a long way. 

Baden-Powell said advancement was the natural result of being involved.  My view is that the "goals" are the natural result of delivering our promise to the scouts.   

 

 

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Quick clarification on this posting:  My overall thrust is that the filing of the Financial Reorganization in itself will establish an era of significant change within the BSA.  It will be plain easier to institute major enhancements and yes, entire eliminations of functions as a result of the financial deformities that will come with it.  Unless properly managed, the downside could be continued influence of the least effective personnel who have the political capital to maintain their circumstances or the defense of outdated properties or practices simply because a "survivor" professional or volunteer is in charge.  There may be some exceptions, but I do not think the kind of things we will discuss will be expressly written-into the various reorganization plans.   

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To think that bankruptcy at the National level will have an impact at the local council level is somewhat naive.  They are separate financial entities.  The only main overlap(s) would be National Supply, the professional Scouts medical and pensions, and the overall liability insurance.  The remainder are in fact local.

Camps, properties, and buildings are all owned by the local councils and in many cases run by their own fiefdoms.  How National Bankruptcy may impact the assignment of professionals from council to council I am not 100% sure.  They are credentialed BSA Executives, but paid by the local council.  

Honestly I expect very little to change and sadly not much upside to a bankruptcy by National.  The press will be horrific, potential parents / families who are not familiar with BSA will assume that since BSA National is bankrupt ALL of BSA is gone under, let's go find other programs.

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Councils will be impacted.  While they are not yet thought to be part of the expected national Ch. 11 filing, they are named litigants in the pending tort cases and the other litigants are out to strip council assets.  Depending on the degree of exposure of certain councils, they might find themselves participating in a Ch. 11-like activity.  Also, there will be a significant impact on local councils even if they are not directly a party to a Ch. 11.  When we get to discussing potential national changes we will probably be considering wholesale discontinuation of a portion of what goes on nationally.  That would change the council operation in itself.  This will be an overall time of change.  Let's see if some of those can be positive.

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Our council's fundraising plunged by 1/3 after the SE abandoned FOS in favor of a drive to convince potential donors to: 1) agree to an automatic monthly bank withdrawal of some amount ("Why should we have to ask every year?"); and 2) leave their estates at death to the council.   

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Following on @Jameson76, a key area that National will be forced to revisit is supply. Publications will need to be lean, printed in black and white, and use plain text where possible. More newsprint, less magazine. Obviously, online redundancy is a given, but print still has power. Otherwise, MB pamphlets would have been pulled from shelves long ago.

Beleaguered camp properties should be grown into forests or other ecological preserves and assigned a resource harvesting schedule. This is typically what is done to tracts that by law revert to the estate of the donor. But, if BSA actually owns the property and can get the correct resource designation, a judge could order that creditors can only be paid from a portion of the sales of resources as they are scheduled to be harvested.  This will require some state and federal help to obtain the proper land designations. The down side: it will make it harder to develop things like aquatics playgrounds, grand buildings, and other big-ticket facilities that donors would rather put their name on. The up-side, scouts will have access to unique camping locations, albeit in smaller numbers than the usual densely packed summer camps.

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3 hours ago, Cburkhardt said:

How can the coming Financial Reorganization Bankruptcy improve things at the council level?

Councils are independent entities from national, so I'm not sure there will be any impact.

That said, you asked how the councils can improve. You seem to be focused on process. The problem at my council is not process so much as people. Good people could solve all these problems so the bad people need to be replaced with good people. The biggest problem is the SE. Given that he'd have to approve anything I suggest I doubt this is a productive exercise. But, just to play along, I'd first fire the SE and take his salary and split it among the DE's. With the added salary I could hire better DE's. I'd implement a servant leadership culture and let them figure out what makes best sense for our council.

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5 minutes ago, MattR said:

Councils are independent entities from national, so I'm not sure there will be any impact.

Unless National starts rejecting Council Charter Renewals from insolvent or poorly run councils.

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19 minutes ago, Cburkhardt said:

Quick clarification on this posting:  My overall thrust is that the filing of the Financial Reorganization in itself will establish an era of significant change within the BSA.  It will be plain easier to institute major enhancements and yes, entire eliminations of functions as a result of the financial deformities that will come with it.  

 

2 minutes ago, Cburkhardt said:

Councils will be impacted.  While they are not yet thought to be part of the expected national Ch. 11 filing, they are named litigants in the pending tort cases and the other litigants are out to strip council assets.  Depending on the degree of exposure of certain councils, they might find themselves participating in a Ch. 11-like activity.  Also, there will be a significant impact on local councils even if they are not directly a party to a Ch. 11.  When we get to discussing potential national changes we will probably be considering wholesale discontinuation of a portion of what goes on nationally.  That would change the council operation in itself.  This will be an overall time of change.  Let's see if some of those can be positive.

I understand the point.  But, I would go back to my earlier point.  Before we start talking about changes, we really need to focus on why we'd make those changes.

Simply doing more re-orgs, changing the program, etc. is not going to address the reality that we live in a more competitive world today in the youth activity space.  We've got to raise our game in Scouting in order to "compete".  Our Scouting program is excellent - but you can't surround that with lackluster execution.  Packs that repeat the same activities year after year.  Troops that don't camp and having a boring program.  Districts who had stopped trying because they don't recruit new leaders.  Councils who focus on simply keeping the lights on.  These things all matter.

I augment my earlier comments to add:

Understand there are three types of councils

Nationally, councils are going to fall into three groups:

  1. High performing councils - growing in membership, growing in fundraising, strong program
  2. Typical councils - they are checking all the boxes, membership declines in-line with national trends
  3. low performing councils - these are the train wreck councils.   We've all heard the stories

High performing councils - you stay out of their way and provide whatever logistical support they need.  You support their initiatives, you help encourage them to do more.  This is where innovation happens.  You watch these councils and try to replicate what they do.

Typical councils - these councils have potential, but need some guidance.

Low performing councils - You reorganize these.

It's like any team.  Focus on and support your superstars.  Apply training to improve the prospects of those in the middle.  Reorganize those at the bottom of the list.

 

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Quick Reactions:

Thawk:  Your SE eliminated FOS?  Wow, looks like he should be on his way somewhere else.  How can that be regarded as putting the council on a sustainable pathway?  Done correctly, FOS is pure profit.

Matt R:  Looks like you might address some of those items through a merger if the council is weak.  Your thoughts are consistent with a need to redeploy more professionals back to the field.  We need fewer SEs of higher quality and a bunch more DEs of highest quality.  Soon will be the time to press that agenda even if a merger is not involved in your locality.  Everything will be easier to get on the table.

Walk in Woods:  National has already been withdrawing charters, dismissing boards and creating new councils when merger cooperation is lacking in catastrophic situations.  This has included large, iconic councils.  I personally believe that is the way to go.  “Mergers of equals” is a fool’s errand and the resulting council takes years to normalize.  Make the decisions, pick the best people and move forward with strong leadership.

Parkman:  Your postings show you have a very mature approach and the experience to go with it.  These postings here are ultimately exercises in identifying issues and potential solutions and I apologize for what might seem like less-thoughtful suggestions.  Having just celebrated my first anniversary as Scoutmaster to a large all-girl Troop (and after 30 previous years as a council/national Scouter) I’ve learned new lessons and could not agree with you more that execution of program and operations at the local (district, I believe) level is the key determinate of our future success.  Let’s hope changes that will come to BSA staffing will favor those priorities.

Qwazse and Jamison:  I am looking forward to what you are going to say when we get to National on the supply division.  That is something I have never really focused on but as a “new unit leader” this last year I certainly see where things might better-support units.

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Councils are independent corporations.  And our new SE is advertising that if the current FOS campaign meets his goals, he will eliminate the "Council Program Fee" that has been levied on each member.

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Hi @Cburkhardt,

Thanks for the kind words.  I very much appreciate that you initiated this conversation and other thought provoking discussions like this one on the forum.  While there are other places online to discuss Scouting, the format of the forum provides us all the ability to have some deeper conversations and weigh topics like this.  My apologies if I seemed to pounce a bit on this topic - it was not my intent.

One of the things I worry about is the trend towards minimizing the role of volunteers.  As a result, I grow concerned when I hear discussions of increased professional involvement, mergers, and the like.  I am concerned that Scouting is mis-reading the symptoms and concluding that the right result is to transfer more and more responsibility to professionals.  I worry that as professionals take on more, it reduces the sense of ownership that Scouters have over Scouting in their community.  If you, as a volunteer, feel you have some ownership over it, you are going to work harder to make it successful.  So, in an era where we need Scouting communities to achieve at an even higher level, it seems that now is the time to invest in district leadership. 

I would make three proposals:

1) that national develop a team of "consultants" who can work with individual districts to strengthen their operations.  These consultants should themselves be accomplished district volunteers who understand how to craft a district vision, who understand how to recruit quality volunteers, who understand how to put together an annual district plan, who understand how to grow membership, etc.  This team would be available to district chairs who request their assistance.  The would meet, the consultants would understand the particular needs of the district, would then work with the district key three to craft a plan, and would then coach and mentor the key three through deployment of the plan.

2) that areas/regions develop, under the leadership of national, a district key three training program.  Key three from around the area would meet jointly for an annual training and there would be a program of continuing guidance and support.  This would be similar to what we see for events like a Wood Badge Course Directors conference.  It seems strange to me that training requirements for a Cub Scout Day Camp or Wood Badge course director are more stringent than that of a district chair or district commissioner. 

3) that councils or areas develop an annual district volunteer training program.  Regardless of your role, having a face to face training from experienced district volunteers is important.  If we all agree that the key to growing Scouting is an increase in unit leader support and a focus on Scouting in communities, why is it that volunteer preparation at the district level is all but non-existent?

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Parkman:   These are all very good ideas that would support an effort to re-establish strong district operations, which is where a lot of the volunteer “ownership” of Scouting can take place. 

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