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Cburkhardt

Positive District Changes during Financial Reorganization

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Budgetary belt-tightening in councils over the next couple of years should lead to reemphasis on the centrality of district operations.  Here are my suggestions:

·       The staff of district executives should be prioritized in number and salary.  Our finest credentialed executive staff members should be deployed into field service and a reasonable part of the Scout Executive’s evaluation should depend upon whether the council has a top-flight staff with the results to match.  Every council-paid staff position unrelated to directly supporting units or essential to program operations should be very closely considered for downsizing or elimination.  Development professionals should be given clear-eyed evaluations.  If they raise appropriate multiples of their salaries and are producing a funding flow competitive with the local market, they should be retained.  A period of financial reorganization or a Ch. 11 bankruptcy will provide the BSA one-time extra flexibility to outplace habitual under-performers  who have accumu

·       Districts should have a full volunteer District Committee with equally-full subcommittees.  We should limit the practice of assigning multiple tasks to volunteers, such as a commissioner who is simultaneously a training chairman.  The bulk of these volunteers should expect to stay active at the district level and not move to a council level.  We should build the prestige of these positions and have people move-around within district assignments – rather than lose this top talent to less impactful and episodically busy council assignments.  For example, I believe that it would be better to have district training chairs rotate the responsibilities to convene idea-sharing opportunities and even conduct what are now regarded as “council training events”.  The same concept could be applied to the other substantive responsibilities of districts.

·       District and Unit Commissioners should likewise be increased numerically and the presence of “upper level” commissioners kept at a bare minimum to perform only those functions that cannot be executed at the district level.  Council-wide camporees might sound great from a PR standpoint – but they can wipe out the more-important accessibility and localized nature of district camporees.

·       Carefully evaluate the current positions of a District and trim those functions that are not essential to establishing, maintaining and building units.  People are most satisfied when they are engaged in the “productive” side of above-unit volunteer roles.  We should rely on larger numbers of commissioners and district subcommittee members to do the business of scouting locally and not have excessive one-off officerships.  

·       Re-orient the priority of District Committee meeting to building units.  The Commissioners and Membership chairs should report at a very granular level about how individual units are doing and seek – right on the spot – the assistance needed.

·       A 3- or 4-person group of volunteer “unit formers” within the district membership sub-committee or commissioner staff should be tasked to form a few new units each year, perhaps with the expectation that 2/3 will survive for the long run.  My late father led this in the Chicago south suburbs years ago and I did it myself in a central Illinois council in the 1980’s.  I got on BeAScout.org and found a bunch of these units still in existence.  We somehow transitioned unit formation work to professionals in the 90’s.  Let us face it; even the better new DEs do not have a clue about how to access the local influencers and leadership to form units at the right places with the right support.  We need to take back that responsibility and run with it.  Side story:  10 years after I moved away from that Central Illinois council I got a call from the then-Council President telling me to come back to their annual recognition dinner to receive the Silver Beaver.  It was because they had calculated that over 2,000 youth had experienced Scouting that decade because of the units our 5-person committee formed over a three-year effort.  10 of those units are still going after 30 years.  This is where the productive action is in a council – a district membership group that knows how to form new units and a solid district commissioner staff that knows how to service them.  Yes -- making sure a lot of young people are actually experiencing Scouting in units is what districts are all about.

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“All Hat and No Cattle”.  There must be a large contingent of commenters on this blog that enjoy reading and talking about the “big council stuff” but not District Scouting closer at the more meaningful, granular level.  Over 3,700 views and 140 great replies in 5 days on how to improve things at the Council level during the bankruptcy.  But, not a single posting on how to upgrade things at the District level.  As a Scoutmaster of a new 30-Scout Troop that receives solid support from our District, I wonder why there is such a difference.  Maybe it has been too long since you helped form a unit, run a district camporee or recruited a new unit commissioner? Perhaps the BSA perfectly operates and provides support to our Districts?

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Maybe that silence tells us where people see the issues.

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19 minutes ago, MattR said:

Maybe that silence tells us where people see the issues.

District can't hurt me, so I just ignore it.

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Districts are a reflection of the council.  I've been in six councils and can't recall seeing a top-notch district in a substandard council.  Either the district suffers from neglect or the council empowers a clique of like-minded district volunteers to make a hash of things with the units.

 

Edited by desertrat77
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Touché @Cburkhardt.  

I think you have several very good ideas there.  I very much like the new unit formation team.

My belief is that the district structure as defined by the BSA is largely fine.  A district is in essence the group that builds Scouting in a community.  In a rural area or suburban area this might be several communities.  

As the group that builds Scouting, I believe the core groups in a district are essentially correct:

  • activities - a district needs a team that puts on community wide Scouting activities - Camporees, fun days, summer events, etc.
  • membership - a team that starts new units and encourages existing units to grow
  • training - a team to help new leaders get going
  • program support (aka advancement, camp promotion, etc.) - the team that helps unit solve difficult challenges they face.
  • unit coaches - aka commissioners.  These folks should be engaged month to month helping unit leaders be successful.
  • community building team - I think of Roundtable here.  To me Roundtable is very important in building a vibrant Scouting community.  

I believe in having a district finance team as well.  Local scouters are the best people to identify and work with local businesses to raise funds for the program.

The problem in the BSA isn't one of structure, it's one of execution. There is no meaningful district training.  There is no leader development process.  There is minimal help and support for district volunteers.

I agree with you - we need to raise the stature of district roles.  District teams to be thrive, grow, and be full of energy.  A district should be the example that units want to emulate.

I would stop the direct management of districts by professionals. Instead of taking over, a DE needs to focus on correcting structural issues in the team.  DE success should in large part be measured by the efficacy of the district they serve.

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DE, or whatever the role is named going forward, should be 90% program focused. Their job should be to help facilitate the best program possible for units.  That will help take care of membership issues.  Let council development staff do the fundraising that is needed to support the council.

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On 2/9/2020 at 2:33 PM, Cburkhardt said:

Districts should have a full volunteer District Committee with equally-full subcommittees. 

I guess my question is how do we get that. It’s hard to get scouters to look beyond their own unit to the larger district, especially if a district is in a volunteer death spiral. (Ie not enough volunteers means the ones who are there are extra busy, which leads more to quit or not start, which means few volunteers.) that’s the largest issue my district has is getting people to look beyond their own units. 

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You could have taken your bullet points directly from my council's recent district consolidation.  DEs working in groups, some focused on program issues, others on financial/membership issues, etc. 

My former district was 30 miles corner to corner, the new district is over 100 miles corner to corner.  The district still runs two roundtables because nobody is going to drive over an hour each way for roundtable; the district still runs parallel camporees/events, and the district committees are no more fully staffed today than they were last year.  Between the consolidation, the extra driving, the overly broad back ground check form, and the extra money to register, the pool of volunteers has shrunk.  Maybe that's a good thing, maybe not, remains to be seen.  It's only been a year.  

This thread and the council thread look a lot like the Area 2 project in the Central Region a few years back.  I hear many mixed reviews about that process.  

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1 hour ago, malraux said:

I guess my question is how do we get that. It’s hard to get scouters to look beyond their own unit to the larger district, especially if a district is in a volunteer death spiral. (Ie not enough volunteers means the ones who are there are extra busy, which leads more to quit or not start, which means few volunteers.) that’s the largest issue my district has is getting people to look beyond their own units. 

We've discussed this a few times, but the good district proactively recruit volunteers with the skills for their responsibility. Finding skilled volunteers requires research, interviews and a bit of salesmanship.

Most districts don't recruit well because they tend to fill a position with the first unqualified warm body that says yes. There is always plenty of qualified skilled volunteers if the recruiter goes searching for them. 

I recruited for qualified volunteers by asking unit leaders about volunteers in their units. I asked specific questions about their abilities, backgrounds and experience. I find that most unit leaders don't mind bragging about their better volunteers. They don't even mind if those volunteers might be asked to give some time at a district position. I think they believe having someone on district committee would give their unit some advantage.

But, I should have started my response by saying the primary key to getting good district volunteers is knowing exactly what you want for the scouts in your district. A vision. For example, our district was terrible at membership because they didn't have any real goals except to do Cub Recruiting night. Then we recruited a Membership Chairman that developed training for the Cub units that gave them some ideas to recruiting scouts and adult volunteers. Membership numbers jumped. Recruiting talented district members is challenging if the committee doesn't even know what they want.

Barry

Edited by Eagledad
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8 minutes ago, Eagledad said:

We've discussed this a few times, but the good district proactively recruit volunteers with the skills for their responsibility. Finding skilled volunteers requires research, interviews and a bit of salesmanship.

Most districts don't recruit well because they tend to fill a position with the first unqualified warm body that says yes. There is always plenty of qualified skilled volunteers if the recruiter goes searching for them. 

I recruited for qualified volunteers by asking unit leaders about volunteers in their units. I asked specific questions about their abilities, backgrounds and experience. I find that most unit leaders don't mind bragging about their better volunteers. They don't even mind if those volunteers might be asked to give some time at a district position. I think they believe having someone on district committee would give their unit some advantage.

But, I should have started my response by saying the primary key to getting good district volunteers is knowing exactly what you want for the scouts in your district. A vision. For example, our district was terrible at membership because they didn't have any real goals except to do Cub Recruiting night. Then we recruited a Membership Chairman that developed training for the Cub units that gave them some ideas to recruiting scouts and adult volunteers. Membership numbers jumped. Recruiting talented district members his challenging if you committee doesn't even know what they want.

Barry

This is the way. 

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Current District Guidelines are Good.  I don't see many suggestions for District structural reforms but do see an emphasis on recruiting District volunteers and program/service implementation.  That is good, because I believe simply following our current District operations guidelines is a great way to go.  My belief is that District positions are hard to fill and retain because work at the District level is … work … hard work.  People who accept a District responsibility and do not perform are immediately apparent to District colleagues.  District expectations are clear, the responsibilities are achievable and success or failure are hard to hide.  There is really not that much to "figure out".  Contrast this to a good number of positions at the Council level.  For instance, a District membership chair has actual duties to fulfill upon which the lifeblood of Scouting depends.  Council membership chair on the other hand are often folks who can get away with talking and not doing.  For some, the only thing they do is read depressing numbers, diagnose the reasons why the Council continues to lose membership and express hope that "somebody will do something about all of this in the Districts".  So, we need people with tremendous work ethic and long-term dedication to be unit commissioners, roundtable commissioners, camporee chairs, membership chairs and finance folks.  So, it is better building, retaining and professionally supporting the priority and volunteer prestige of a splendid group of women and men to comprise a District Committee and District Commissioner Staff that needs to be done.  One built, let's keep these people associated with the committee by refreshing enthusiasm b rotating into different roles.  

Geographic Size.  Councils can obtain great economies of scale through a good merger.  Districts on the other hand do not.  Keeping a location manageable is mandatory in Districts.  It allows good friendships to form and is easier to serve professionally.  I would make certain there is a very experienced DE in each and allocate salary money for each DE to have some type of assistant.  200 mile-wide Districts sound entirely unmanageable. 

Walk in Woods:  I believe in Districts that are standard and comprehensive in operation and management.  I do not agree with the kinds of teaming and other innovations you are referencing.  At the Council level, those kinds of things are fine if they make operational sense.  Districts should be operated in the standard manner.  Sounds like there is an attempt to limit or reduce the number of DEs in the circumstance you are referencing -- he very opposite of what we need. 

Find Good Leaders.  You hit it right Eagledad.  Jus following the standard practice of finding good people and then not overloading them with three simultaneous responsibilities is a great start.

Bankruptcy Implications.  So to the big question, I restate that we should be quite willing to insist that Councils redeploy their professional, volunteer and financial capabilities to the districts when the unavoidable belt-tightening occurs.  This is in contrast to the circumstance where less-competent and less-ambitious employees or volunteers at the Council level corral their internal political influence to survive at that level.  Bankruptcy will allow us to downsize staff and in that process eliminate categories of jobs where unproductive and sometimes highly-salaried people have hidden themselves away.  We can't sacrifice our capability in the field to keep unproductive "support" folks employed -- no matter how friendly they are and no matter how close they are the Council Past President of four terms ago.  

Maybe there is simply broad agreement that we are where we should be with the District structure and that it is a matter of emphasis, resources and restoring priority and prestige.  

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I agree the structure and guidelines are good. The problem is lack of focus on quality in all levels of scouting. 

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Districts have two primary functions, which in turn generate a variety of specific district activities:

1.  Raise the district's share of the council operating budget.
          - Friends of Scouting
          - District special fundraising events (golf tournaments, award dinners)
          - Promote council-sponsored unit fundraisers, such as popcorn (council gets a cut)
          - Promote council camps and council special events (registration and participation fees)
          - Ensure that district events have revenue in excess of expenses (surplus goes to council)

2.  Increase youth membership.
          - Keep units healthy and active, because healthy, active units retain existing members and attract new members
               > Adult leader training, because trained adults help keep units healthy and active
               > Roundtables, to support adult leaders and help them solve unit problems and enrich unit programs to keep units healthy and active
               > Commissioner service to monitor the health of units and help them avoid and solve problems
               > Organize and run district events (camporees, district pinewood derbies, service projects, etc.) to supplement and enrich unit programs
               > Support advancement to keep Scouts engaged in the unit program
          - Support for unit recruitment efforts
          - Develop new chartered organizations to sponsor new units to access untapped youth populations
          - Recharter existing units
          - Market Scouting within the local community to support local unit recruitment efforts

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I'm thinking district roles really need to change. We keep looking at restructuring from a top down perspective. I think we need to start from a CO/unit level up perspective. Everyone is talking about recruiting good volunteers, more volunteers, any volunteers. Well, volunteers are disappearing or at least morphing in the Millennial generation. This may be blasphemy to some but I think more district roles may need to be paid resource positions. I think more district roles will necessarily need to be in direct support of unit volunteers, making their lives easier and providing resources that are becoming scarce at the CO/unit level. Other youth organizations have had to make this transition. Once we figure out what districts need to do to keep the local programs running and expanding, then we can decide what Councils should be doing. That's how I look at it. A lot of these traditional top down roles people are talking about may not be relevant in two years. For example, what is the point of worrying about Council level fundraising and Fortune 100 board influence if our youth numbers continue to decline?

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