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The BSA is in bad shape. The first step in fixing a problem is to identify the problem(s).A brief summary of how we got to where we are: nearly 50 years of traditional membership losses, being cast as a bigoted/prejudiced white, middle class organization because of certain 'standards' that no longer formally exist, being cast in recent years as a dangerous place to enroll your kids thanks to the massive lawsuits without regard for the outstanding youth protection standard of the BSA, mergers and consolidations resulting in reductions in service, huge reductions in the number of unit serving professional and a massive reduction in volunteers at all levels, a failure of the program, especially at the Cubbing level, to retain membership, a failure of councils to raise adequate funds and the recent bankruptcy along with the adverse impact of the pandemic on all levels. 

Over most of the past half century the BSA's answers were to lower the age to enter the program , first to grade 2 with tigers, then to lower it to grade 1 and make Webelos a 2 year program and finally to add grade k with Lions thus turning a 3 year program into a 5 1/2 year program. A long time to keep a family interested. the second 'solution' was to organize more units and do more recruiting. This resulted in more emphasis put on new units than supporting existing units and in many (most) cases councils ended up dropping as many or more units than they created and membership continued to decline. The third way was to create outreach programs to low income and minority youth. This was probably the best thing that was done but it was expensive and difficult to sustain. My own council, 20 years ago had a vibrant 'Scoutreach' program withan inner city day camp and a provisional Scout long term camp program. As funding dried up that program became a casualty. 

What can be done: I expect a lot of folks have strong, positive suggestions. With the number of dropped units, we need to revisit those chartered partners and see if we can bring them back. With existing units we need to look at their programs and help them deliver a program that meets the kids and parents needs and expectations. This will result in higher retention. Higher retention, even if nothing changes in recruiting will result in growth. Recruiting involves strengthening our relationship with schools. We need access to youths and schools are the best access point. Social media can help but that is not the answer. If programs are meeting needs and expectations word of mouth will generate new members. Finally, we need to see program support and delivery for a full 12 months, Scouting is not seasonal. 

Councils must raise more funds and employ competent staff that deliver the best direct support to districts/units possible. District committees and commissioner staffing must grow to be effective. I look forward to more suggestions, observations and feedback... 

 

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Well kind-of.  Certainly the social issues had an impact on membership, but I suspect it's not the lion's share of the issue.  A very significant issue has been scope creep in sports combined with the

I went to one of those schools that pumped out college bound students, so did my sons. My oldest decided to go to the BOCE's (vo-tech) and his guidance counselor was so pleased. He said he saw so many

100% agree with this.  It is one thing asking a parent to volunteer to be a soccer coach.  That takes a few hours a week for a couple of months of the year.  Scouting takes more and is year round and

Well kind-of.  Certainly the social issues had an impact on membership, but I suspect it's not the lion's share of the issue.  A very significant issue has been scope creep in sports combined with the increasing rate of 2 working parents in families. 

  1. Many of those sports that were once seasonal have become year round or 3-season endeavors.  Tennis, Lacross, Baseball, Field Hockey, Soccer, etc..  So where once a kid might do scouts for 9 months and just stop long enough for a sport season, now their whole year is tied up so they just skip scouts entirely.  And the reason BSA started moving earlier and earlier isn't purely to bump up membership numbers, it was to try and get those kids engaged with Scouting before they were getting involved in sports hoping that then they'd be more likely stick with scouting, at least on a part-time basis.
  2. With more and more families having two parents working, the amount of time they are able to spend on their children's extra-cirriculars is much more heavily limited that it was in the 60s-70s.  And since scouting at any level is significantly more parent involved than sports, it tends to lose out when it comes to parent interest even if the kids are still interested.  Unfortunately, there isn't much of a way to get that to change, but I suspect the suggestions I've seen to keep Cubs to just 3-3.5 years is probably a good start cause it lessens the parental burn-out.
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Honestly... I am kind of tired.  I have been an adult leader for 5 years and Scouts has been a major part of our life.  I have been a DL, CM, several committee positions.  I am now CC for the boy troop and girl troop.  

My daughter is 13 and will be going into high school next year.  This summer we will be doing summer camp in June and she has to show up for summer band camp in the second part of July.  I have a 11 year old boy who I have to force to take care of requirements.

I realized the other day that my kids are growing up FAST and the time we have left to do things while they are still kids is passing quickly.  Next summer I am planning a family trip to Disney World in Florida before she has to get to band camp.  Summer camp is NOT happening for us.  Family is going to start to come before everything else.  <shrug>

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26 minutes ago, elitts said:

Well kind-of.  Certainly the social issues had an impact on membership, but I suspect it's not the lion's share of the issue.  A very significant issue has been scope creep in sports combined with the increasing rate of 2 working parents in families. 

  1. Many of those sports that were once seasonal have become year round or 3-season endeavors.  Tennis, Lacross, Baseball, Field Hockey, Soccer, etc..  So where once a kid might do scouts for 9 months and just stop long enough for a sport season, now their whole year is tied up so they just skip scouts entirely.  And the reason BSA started moving earlier and earlier isn't purely to bump up membership numbers, it was to try and get those kids engaged with Scouting before they were getting involved in sports hoping that then they'd be more likely stick with scouting, at least on a part-time basis.
  2. With more and more families having two parents working, the amount of time they are able to spend on their children's extra-cirriculars is much more heavily limited that it was in the 60s-70s.  And since scouting at any level is significantly more parent involved than sports, it tends to lose out when it comes to parent interest even if the kids are still interested.  Unfortunately, there isn't much of a way to get that to change, but I suspect the suggestions I've seen to keep Cubs to just 3-3.5 years is probably a good start cause it lessens the parental burn-out.

100% agree with this.  It is one thing asking a parent to volunteer to be a soccer coach.  That takes a few hours a week for a couple of months of the year.  Scouting takes more and is year round and a decade.  Even the most dedicated have a hard time managing that.

I also think while we saw some recovery post Covid ... the impact of Covid may last a long time.   I don't mean vax, social distancing or masks.  I mean that families saw a life where little Johnny didn't have 25 hours per week of scheduled activities.  Sports seems to have bounced back, but things like music lessons, language lessons, scouts, etc. ... where there was only partial commitments are being dropped.  

I definitely think less burden on volunteers is key and shortening Cubs may make sense.  I also think we need to relook at the program.  What is special and unique about scouting.  Align the program to focus on that.  Eagle merit badges, rank requirements, etc. should then be realigned.   Finally, a focus on quality and not quantity of units.  We have many units limping along.  Get scouts into fewer/better units will be best in the long run.

I think this will be a tough fix and we may just need to accept being a smaller organization.  

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Insert my general rant that the cub program should be split into two groups, roughly k-2 with a lower general time commitment, and 3-5 with a higher level of engagement, but because the kids are older its less stressful for the leaders. Reducing burnout in the cub program would help a lot.

I do think the rise of more organized sports (and higher levels of commitment for all extra curricular) has certainly affected scouting. There's a question of how we can either be priority #1 for a few kids or a consistent #2 option for a bunch of others.

I also think that there has been a general fracturing across all of American life. The conformity of the 50s changed into the individuality of modern life, which means that each program like scouting has to compete more directly. Getting back to the basics of our core competency instead of being everything is important.

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3 hours ago, Eagle1993 said:

inally, a focus on quality and not quantity of units.  We have many units limping along.  Get scouts into fewer/better units will be best in the long run.

I brought this very thing up several years ago and was lucky to make it out of the room in one piece!

Makes no sense at all to me that you can have 3 troops/packs meeting within 1 mile of each other, all struggling to draw more than a hand full of members to a meeting.

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I completely agree with not trying to save struggling units. When I was in Cubs, I convinced the DE to let a couple of neighboring floundering units fold and join our very healthy Pack. That was before COVID. There is no way those small units would have survived COVID. This move preserved the program for at least 20 kids, most of whom bridged to ScoutsBSA and have stuck with it there. 

It takes at least 5 involved adults to maintain even a very small unit successfully. If those 5 put their energy into an successful bigger unit, it would go a long way to making the program better for the other Scouters, but relieving the stress on the key Scouters in a big unit. Many hands makes smaller work. That helps to prevent burnout as well.  I think there are some Councils that think of units as sports teams, and the more teams they have, the better. That is exactly the wrong way to evaluate the success of the program.

Another example is trying to start a new unit in an economically-disadvantaged area. These are parents who are very unlikely to have the time or resournces needed to run a unit. Rather, they should be actively invited to join an existing strong unit. Maybe arrange to have the existing unit have some of their meetings "on the other side of town" to help recruit. Scouting is a big tent, and recruiting should reflect that.

 

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A lot of good comments so far. It is tough to add; however, I think the top issue is that most Scouters have no idea how the program is supposed to run. I think the next highest issue is that Packs don't have a Scouter Reserve; parents move up and out, and forget that the Pack they are leaving behind is supporting the Troop that they just moved to, and if that Pack dies, little Johnny won't have lower ranked Scouts to lead when he gets elected to SPL.

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21 minutes ago, Tron said:

A lot of good comments so far. It is tough to add; however, I think the top issue is that most Scouters have no idea how the program is supposed to run. I think the next highest issue is that Packs don't have a Scouter Reserve; parents move up and out, and forget that the Pack they are leaving behind is supporting the Troop that they just moved to, and if that Pack dies, little Johnny won't have lower ranked Scouts to lead when he gets elected to SPL.

`When we had in person training sessions and Pow Wow training sessions I believe more volunteers understood how to put out a quality program for the kids. Most units lack a knowledgeable commissioner that can assist them. When a Pack is well led the kids/families stay. To be a gold standard unit a pack can drop 25% or more of their membership... 25 x 6 years and you get the picture. nothing left by AOL year. We need to restore quality at all levels of Cubbing and see that the program experiences beyond just the rank requirements grow with the cubs. 

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45 minutes ago, Ojoman said:

`When we had in person training sessions and Pow Wow training sessions I believe more volunteers understood how to put out a quality program for the kids. Most units lack a knowledgeable commissioner that can assist them. When a Pack is well led the kids/families stay. To be a gold standard unit a pack can drop 25% or more of their membership... 25 x 6 years and you get the picture. nothing left by AOL year. We need to restore quality at all levels of Cubbing and see that the program experiences beyond just the rank requirements grow with the cubs. 

A lack of good commissioners is an issue. Based on what I am learning about my local commissioner core it sounds like they were all new and once they earned their award of excellence they basically became commissioners on paper or something.

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On 5/26/2022 at 2:56 PM, sierracharliescouter said:

I completely agree with not trying to save struggling units. When I was in Cubs, I convinced the DE to let a couple of neighboring floundering units fold and join our very healthy Pack. That was before COVID. There is no way those small units would have survived COVID. This move preserved the program for at least 20 kids, most of whom bridged to ScoutsBSA and have stuck with it there. 

It takes at least 5 involved adults to maintain even a very small unit successfully. If those 5 put their energy into an successful bigger unit, it would go a long way to making the program better for the other Scouters, but relieving the stress on the key Scouters in a big unit. Many hands makes smaller work. That helps to prevent burnout as well.  I think there are some Councils that think of units as sports teams, and the more teams they have, the better. That is exactly the wrong way to evaluate the success of the program.

I have mixed emotions on this one.

One one hand I fully understand the rationale. It is a lot of work to support a struggling unit.

On the other hand, i am in a struggling troop. Our pack folded about 10 years ago when we stopped having a DE that would get us into the school system to do round ups. The troop has dwindled, and was on the verge of folding. Work of mouth has been our best recruiting over the years. Almost have the troop have transferred from another, larger troop, that on paper is "more successful" but is actually not doing much. One large troop locally had a strong pack preCOVID, and folks automatically went tho them because they didn't know better. On paper that troop is strong, but they don't camp much, their SM appoints PORs, and they focus only on advancement. had one of their Eagles who NEVER went to summer camp, earning all of his MBs at the MB weekends and one day MBUs. That unit did a lot of virtual stuff during COVID, i.e. MB classes. While we did some virtual meetings, as soon as we were able to, we were meeting outside  and doing day trips, mostly bike rides. We even put on our own summer camp within COVID restrictions.

Tell me which troop is better?

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1 hour ago, Eagle94-A1 said:

I have mixed emotions on this one.

One one hand I fully understand the rationale. It is a lot of work to support a struggling unit.

On the other hand, i am in a struggling troop. Our pack folded about 10 years ago when we stopped having a DE that would get us into the school system to do round ups. The troop has dwindled, and was on the verge of folding. Work of mouth has been our best recruiting over the years. Almost have the troop have transferred from another, larger troop, that on paper is "more successful" but is actually not doing much. One large troop locally had a strong pack preCOVID, and folks automatically went tho them because they didn't know better. On paper that troop is strong, but they don't camp much, their SM appoints PORs, and they focus only on advancement. had one of their Eagles who NEVER went to summer camp, earning all of his MBs at the MB weekends and one day MBUs. That unit did a lot of virtual stuff during COVID, i.e. MB classes. While we did some virtual meetings, as soon as we were able to, we were meeting outside  and doing day trips, mostly bike rides. We even put on our own summer camp within COVID restrictions.

Tell me which troop is better?

Several important issues here... First, packs and troops need to be in a symbiotic relationship where they support each other. The best example of that was a pk/tr in the west end of Pittsburgh where the Troop hosted the packs B&G, gave them den chiefs and assisted with other aspects including a tr/ webelos event. The pack hosted the troops annual banquet and court of honor and also attended Eagle presentations. A troop that supports its pack should never 'lose' its pack. As for school recruiting and relationships, that should be the responsibility of the unit leaders and parents. They are the ones with kids in that school system and need to maintain a positive relationship. BTW it is a federal regulation that school district must give scouting the same access to students that they give to any other outside group. Every school district has at some point outside groups that come in to interact with students from speakers to book mobiles and so forth. Check out the BSA access law. The adopt a school program encourages packs and troops to be partners with their schools. PTAs would love to have a Pack or Troop committee adopt a fun program for the students, everything from movie night to dances to a picnic on the school grounds. A troop needs to provide the type of program that meets the needs of its members and families. A troop with a lot of fun learning opportunities for advancement and leadership is certainly superior to a unit that doesn't provide that. Good luck and I would suggest that your troop leadership (including youth leaders) see if you can rebuild your lost pack. 

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3 minutes ago, Ojoman said:

Several important issues here... First, packs and troops need to be in a symbiotic relationship where they support each other. The best example of that was a pk/tr in the west end of Pittsburgh where the Troop hosted the packs B&G, gave them den chiefs and assisted with other aspects including a tr/ webelos event. The pack hosted the troops annual banquet and court of honor and also attended Eagle presentations. A troop that supports its pack should never 'lose' its pack. As for school recruiting and relationships, that should be the responsibility of the unit leaders and parents. They are the ones with kids in that school system and need to maintain a positive relationship. BTW it is a federal regulation that school district must give scouting the same access to students that they give to any other outside group. Every school district has at some point outside groups that come in to interact with students from speakers to book mobiles and so forth. Check out the BSA access law. The adopt a school program encourages packs and troops to be partners with their schools. PTAs would love to have a Pack or Troop committee adopt a fun program for the students, everything from movie night to dances to a picnic on the school grounds. A troop needs to provide the type of program that meets the needs of its members and families. A troop with a lot of fun learning opportunities for advancement and leadership is certainly superior to a unit that doesn't provide that. Good luck and I would suggest that your troop leadership (including youth leaders) see if you can rebuild your lost pack. 

I believe the law being spoken of is the Equal Access Act of 1984. 

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BTW it is a federal regulation that school district must give scouting the same access to students that they give to any other outside group. Every school district has at some point outside groups that come in to interact with students from speakers to book mobiles and so forth. Check out the BSA access law.

 

As noted, this is in fact a "law".  Yet if we confront the school or district with it, have we opened it up or simply made the possibility of cooperation more difficult?  We have struggled in our council for years with this, more in some districts than others.  Much of that falls on the individual school and its staff.  When a school has a principal and or teachers that are positive on scouting, and who know how many Eagle projects, for example, are being used on the campus, they tend to be more open.  But the media continues to poison the well, and that is something that is too often beyond an individual unit to fix, other than indirectly.  

One thing that appears to have been somewhat effective in our council is the actual recognition of educators using the Fretwell Award.  It is now a part of our annual recognition, given at the same time as regular Scouter awards.  What is crazy is that so few councils apparently really even know it exists.  In our council, I specifically asked our district chair and scout executive WHY we were not using it?  They were basically not even aware it existed.  https://41zfam1pstr03my3b22ztkze-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/522-05918_EKFretwell_Guide.pdf  Take a look.

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17 minutes ago, Ojoman said:

Several important issues here... First, packs and troops need to be in a symbiotic relationship where they support each other....

I agree completely. But when you are not allowed in the schools to recruit, eventually your pack ages out or moves to a thriving one when they get too few to recharter.

19 minutes ago, Ojoman said:

 As for school recruiting and relationships, that should be the responsibility of the unit leaders and parents. They are the ones with kids in that school system and need to maintain a positive relationship.

Depends upon the council as I have found out. Some councils, for whatever reason, do NOT want units doing their own recruiting and round ups. Instead they set up everything, and tell us when they want us to be at the round up. And in other councils each unit has assigned schools, usually to get Scouts int eh same neighborhood to be together, because of bussing, multiple packs recruit form the same school. It is crazy.

27 minutes ago, Ojoman said:

BTW it is a federal regulation that school district must give scouting the same access to students that they give to any other outside group. Every school district has at some point outside groups that come in to interact with students from speakers to book mobiles and so forth.

If the school system allows NO ONE to come in, then Scouts can't recruit either. Yep, that is system policy as outside groups  take away form "teaching time."

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