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Cburkhardt

Suggest Councils that should be Combined

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51 minutes ago, Cburkhardt said:

Dkurtenback:  The comments on these postings have been replete with thoughts about the need to have more unit-level personnel and an apparent need to trim council services and personnel -- some believe to the bone.  It makes sense to consider mergers or other forms of combinations under such circumstances to reallocate resources to support district operations and units. 

The primary motivation for a merger is going to be financial:  cut costs by combining programs and services then eliminating excess positions and duplicate programs.  It just seems unrealistic to think that, where councils merge because of money problems, the merged council would decide to spend more money on district executives.  Even where there is general agreement that more unit service is needed, in a financially-based merger the response is likely to be, "Get more commissioners - they're free!"

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Combinations of councils will be happening, and soon.  During that process Some Scouters will observe and others will take action to advocate where the local going-forward priorities and resources should be.  Being part of the process will advantage the person wanting to take action.

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I have been a part of a council merger that had strengths and weaknesses in both councils.  My old one had a strong central council while the one merging had strong districts but weak central council.  The merger was rough for some but I think it really came out well for everyone involved in the long run.  The leadership of both councils wanted to get a single vision for the new council and all move towards a common goal.  They had brain storming meetings within every district that was open to everyone.  I attended one in a different district and was amazed how well everyone was looking for the future.  Everything was done in the open and information was easily available.  If we start seeing councils merge this trait needs to be there.  Information and feedback accepted and given.  Make everyone part of the process, don't just do it behind closed doors.  You will get a strong focused and directed towards a common goal will help councils thrive.

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7 hours ago, desertrat77 said:

While I agree that councils should be merged and downsized, I think there is an important step that must first take place.

Rather than focusing initially on the poor performance of ABC and XYZ Councils, a centralized board should first examine the records of all executives above the DE level.  Only the top performers should be retained, say 30%.  These top ranked execs can then be divided into regions and develop a game plan for merging councils.

As important as the merger exercise is, it would ultimately prove fruitless if bottom tier execs were allowed to continue in any position of authority.

I would agree that there needs to be an evaluation process (though, for all we know that has been completed already in the lead up this process National began) on how many will be kept, how many are retiring by year end, etc.  The quality of the personnel should dictate to a large extent just how you can allocate them.    

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7 hours ago, RememberSchiff said:

"Top down thinking" has been restructuring councils for as long as I can remember. The promised economies (locally), service improvements,  and increased membership and resources have not been proven, but let's get it right in the next merger, e.g., The Spirit of Adventure Council (unless they merged again and changed their name since I started writing). I expect all Mass will be one council as neighboring NH is (except for one or two counties).  Remember how councils were required to develop strategic plans?  JTE?  If a council met their five year plan or is a Gold Council, why merge it or was all that top down thinking flawed?

How about bottom-up thinking based on the service needs of units,  units satisfaction with that service, and council financials?  Say a more market- driven approach.

Camps should be financially independent of councils.

My $0.02,

Won't you be, my neighbor...

Being in Mayflower Council, I think we fully expect the merger between Old Colony Council and Knox Trail Council in 2017 was a short-term strategy, and that there would at least be an Eastern MA Council by 2022- merging Spirit of Adventure Council, Mayflower Council and Cape Cod and the Islands Council (it is my understanding that the SE in Cape Cod and the Islands is due to retire in early 2021, so it would not surprise me if this occurs by Q2 2021).  I agree with @Cburkhardt that change is coming- we can only hope that it comes with some improved strategic plan to ease it.

The Mayflower merger hasn't been without bumps in the road, and some are still not fully resolved.  The biggest issues, IMO, are lack of transparency.  Our SE is good at getting the template emails provided by National out to everyone in the Council, but we've never had an email or social media post from him about any overarching vision for the "new" council.  We have one camp that has been on a decline of summer camp attendees for years, and is likely to run at about 20% of the Scouts BSA numbers they had 10 years ago- the handwriting is on the wall to many of us that the Scouts BSA summer program there needs to be shuttered, but being that ~50% of the E Board membership is from that end of the Council, they are fighting the reality. 

I know a number of Scouters in SOA, and I would say that from what they have had to say about the current Council operations, your observations seem valid (having 3 DE's serving 6 Districts doesn't feel ideal to me).    

 

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As a related aside, for years we have heard the refrain regarding summer camps as advancement focused (mB mills in worst cases) because "that is what scouts and their parents want". At the same time we see camps struggling to stay afloat due to steady decreasing attendance. It appears that the common refrain is not an accurate reflection of reality as scouts/parents are voting with their feet.

So, to stay on topic councils should reorganize with a focus on shoring up attendance and financials of their summer camp (and other offerings). First recommendation is to begin operating camps which "may provide advancement opportunities" but are primarily "a weeklong adventure for scouts with their patrol; emphazing fun, leadership, and doing things for themselves and others." 

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14 hours ago, Cburkhardt said:

I'm dropping the top-down/bottom-up language, which distracts and adds nothing to our discussions.  

Yes.  It distracts us from nationals talking points, and brings us directly to the main issues of the discussion.  We certainly can't have that.

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18 hours ago, The Latin Scot said:

My concern is that strong, healthy councils may eventually be forced into adopting weaker neighbors that could hinder their continuing success. For example, my council (Orange County Council in CA) is actually doing pretty well - we are financially stable, we have strong and healthy volunteer numbers, a good reputation in our community, and all of our districts earned gold or silver in their JTE scores (save for one bronze district). Last year we served more than 17,000 youth, and almost 43,000 Scouts attended the various camps in our council last year. We have more than 10,000 adult leaders in our area, which encompasses less than 600 square miles of populated suburbs. We get strong support from our council, and since our geographical area is very small despite being densely populated, we get a lot of meaningful council support. We are having a lot of success. So is it worth it to the powers that be for us to adopt a weak, struggling council next door if it means we lose these supporting advantages and sacrifice the close sense of fellowship we feel with fellow Scouters in our area, just to stretch ourselves out to fix problems not of our making?

Didn't OCC come under a lot of fire a few years back because you guys added the $120 "filing fee" for Eagle Scout applications? 

And to be fair, a 100 level council like OCC is mainly suburban/metro population with a lot of money. When you have a 100 level with a lot of poorer rural communities outside of the big metro, those districts and smaller units tend to be forgotten. I hear that's how its like with the Greater St. Louis Area Council. 

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The premise of a council merger is that the standard council organizational structure and "business lines" (types of activities and programs conducted by councils) are all necessary.  It is just that for whatever reason (declining membership, declining revenue, declining donations, debt), the structure and business lines have become financially unsustainable in one or more of the merging councils.  Through the merger, the organizational structure and business lines will be preserved, but economies of scale and cutting specific excess or burdensome elements within business lines (such as an assistant registrar, a low-attendance golf tournament, or a camp that perpetually operates in the red) and other adjustments within the existing structure (number and size of districts and professional staff needed for them, for example) will result in financial stability for the merged council.  Overall, the merged council looks pretty much the same as its predecessors, it is just geographically bigger and names have changed.

What doesn't happen is a re-thinking of the whole idea of a council, what we need it for, what we don't need it for, what it should be doing, and what it shouldn't be doing.  Many of the ideas we have been discussing would fundamentally change the organizational structure of a council (and its districts) and how it does business.  But there is no incentive in the councils, areas, regions, and national office to venture into the unknown if they believe that fundamental council organizational structures and business lines ain't broke, and they can they can remedy financial problems with just enough tinkering.  

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Yes, now is not the time to merge. Bigger council: bigger target.

I'm also not sure bigger is better. Amuse me for a moment:

The approach of this thread, let's decide which councils to merge, appears to be a bit top down. There doesn't seem to be any input from the units and volunteers that put on the program and not even the councils.

If there's to be a bottom up, service view of leadership then here's a good place to start. To begin, evaluate each council. This is not JTE as that's crap. Pick an outside entity with no skin in the game and have them do a 360 review. Fiscal health, endowments, donors, usage, membership, camps and history of all that. Talk to council staff and volunteers, district staffs and units. Ask start, stop, continue questions about processes and camp, and hire, fire, encourage questions about people. The big question is whether each council is delivering a quality program and has a bright future. If a small council is doing that then don't muck with it. If a large council is just barely making ends meet then merging it with a failing council likely won't help. There is always a trade off between centralized, large control and distributed, small control, so don't assume bigger is better.

Categorize each council as great, on the fence or failing. For those doing great find out what they're doing right. For those on the fence ask them how they want to solve their problems. Give them options to think about: it could be a crash course on what good is and how to get there. Another might be asking a neighboring council if it wants to merge. Another is hire a national fire team (which doesn't exist yet but will replace the group that says squirt guns are banned :)) and let them make binding suggestions.  Let the council present their proposal. If it's accepted then help them be successful. If not, they move to the failed category. Note that neighboring councils might not want to merge with them. Last is the failing category. They automatically get the fire team. The first thing the fire team does is clean house (both people and camps) and get good people. By good I mean people with the skills and also with an ability to accept change. This is not everyone in the council. This is limited to the council exec, the council president and the board and doesn't require them to be fired. It depends on the review results. From there, give them guidance on what it will take to get their council in shape. This is a teaching, mentoring job to build them up. Have them develop a plan. The point is not do or get axed. The point is make them successful. They may eventually get to the point of wanting to merge, or splitting, or who knows what. It's going to take time finding people, getting them on the same page, and solving all sorts of issues along the way. However, I think there will be more volunteers if they see a credible plan.

Now, this may sound really draconian and strange because we've never seen anything like it, but this is right out of the woodbadge course. How much stronger would the BSA be and how much more respected would it be if it only used the tools it's trying to sell?

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For the past decade or more I have felt that National should have had and have a focus on preserving the council level camps whenever possible, including making upkeep help available.  While I am not one to feel the Summit is white elephant and not a great idea, no more than are any of the other National high adventure and training facilities.  But I do feel that the money put into the Summit might have been better utilized for the broadest benefits by working to "fix" and "save" local camps first.  After all, if Scouting is local, then the key outdoor element needs to utilize local facilities to the max, and at the lowest level of expense.  As noted, once the property is gone, it is pretty much gone, even though in a few instances it went to a friendly and cooperative entity that still allows scouting groups.  At this point though, I feel that the international interest in our large reservations and so on is a plus, and that properly managed and developed they are worth keeping.  But, that being said, a primary focus should be on bringing the cost down so that more youth can benefit.  Surely there are methods to do this, and the National board should have individuals that could spearhead this type of redirection.  

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