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Council Mergers/Reductions Post Bankruptcy


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The new council combination sounds like a great move.  As former president of a council that was formed by a pre-bankruptcy/COVID four-council combination, I observe 8 years later that combining was t

Regarding very small councils, the only way these work in a sustainable way is to (1) have camping property fully endowed and popular with out-of-council troops to break even and provide capital impro

Also just did a 5 day, four night, 50+ miler backpacking/hiking trip about three hours from our home location, into the near-Catskills.  We ran another unit-level Kodiak Challenge course.  Total

Q: I recognize the Council merger wrangle¬†is largely precipitated by the financial crunch due to the case, but this¬†conversation seems to have taken us¬†well off the bankruptcy discussion path. No? The wander has gone¬†so far as to find ¬†an¬†"I quit if they do that" bench for Vol Scouter. That sounds depressing for Scouting. Let's talk happy talk like how will Judge Houser direct the sussing out¬†of potentially fraudulent claims or how onerous might the questionnaire be or place bets on how much the trust process will cost or if the Coalition gets their money or not or if the STAC can function collegially. There are so many joyful things to talk about, people.¬†ūüėČ

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Mason-Dixon Council   will  fold into the Shenandoah Area Council.

‚ÄúThis decision comes after careful consideration and months of discussions at the board level. The challenging circumstances faced by Scouting in recent years, including the impact of COVID-19, financial constraints, and declining membership, have motivated both Councils to join forces,‚ÄĚ an announcement sent to The Winchester Star states. ‚ÄúThis merger aims to create a stronger organization that can provide enhanced opportunities for youth in our region.‚ÄĚ

Sinoquipe Scout Reservation (Mason-Dixon Council) and Camp Rock Enon Scout Reservation (Shenandoah Area Council) will both continue operation.

More at sources:

https://www.winchesterstar.com/winchester_star/area-boy-scout-councils-announce-merger/article_6ae8e137-6117-5057-a285-6722ac2645e9.html

SAC Mason-Dixon website transition:

https://www.sac-bsa.org/Members

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On 4/24/2023 at 2:21 PM, vol_scouter said:

At least in my home council, the registrars are paid by the council.  From my knowledge of National, that is usual but I really do not know. for certain.

So I can understand having healthier councils can result in better program and hopefully increased memberships and improved retention.  I think that only goes for some mergers as when a council becomes too expansive geographically, the areas that are far from the council office have less involvement and therefore less fewer members than would be expected.  If my state goes from 6 councils to 1, then the second, third, fourth, and fifth largest metropolitan areas would lie more than two hours drive from the largest city where the logical council office would be located.  It would lose me as a volunteer.

This is my concern too, especially the loss of Scout Shops.  While no merger was involved, our local shop (a national one) was closed.  Now we have to drive an hour to get patches and advancement, or pay to have them shipped.  Getting parents to uniform their kids is a challenge since they now have to drive so far to get them.  Large councils with satellite offices and shops would work and be reasonably cheap.  

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10 hours ago, Armymutt said:

This is my concern too, especially the loss of Scout Shops.  While no merger was involved, our local shop (a national one) was closed.  Now we have to drive an hour to get patches and advancement, or pay to have them shipped.  Getting parents to uniform their kids is a challenge since they now have to drive so far to get them.  Large councils with satellite offices and shops would work and be reasonably cheap.  

Sadly i see this in the future. Local distributers do not find it in their best interest to be a distributor anymore. IMHO, BSA has not treated them well. I know the Centennial Uniform debacle back in 2008 hurt a lot of distributors because they were buying merchandise that was going to soon be discontinued. My local distributor had a loss on Scouting merchandise, and quit selling stuff. And apparently his was everywhere. I visited a local distributor that was a direct competitor to the national scout shop, and they probably did as much business as the scout shop. I can tell you they hired folks who knew Scouting and the outdoors, and really helped folks out. There knowledgeable staff worked with folks to make sure they got exactly what they needed, not necessarily the most expensive merch.  When I needed gear for a major trip, they were my go to store, especially since they worked out  a deal with the contingent leaders: 25% off non-Scout merchandise and 10% off Scout merchandise. They too quit being a distributor once they finally sold all their merch.

 

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The new council combination sounds like a great move.  As former president of a council that was formed by a pre-bankruptcy/COVID four-council combination, I observe 8 years later that combining was the best possible move to address challenges that threatened to end essential services to youth in the involved geography.  It was not a perfect process, but the things that worked were successful because we faced and acted on the big issues with complete honesty and transparency -- with the entire Scouting community providing input and being informed throughout the effort.  Please do not fall into the trap of trying to simply continue everything "the way it has always been".  This will prevent you from making the changes necessary to propel your council to a better place.  Make the hard decisions after a full, transparent evaluation.  Even the holy grail of camp properties should be on your agenda.   Don't fall into the trap of being a "merger of equals", as that encourages division and destructive entrenchment from the start.  Rather, take new approaches to address the precise reasons that have driven the councils to combine.

My presidency of that new combined council was a lot of work, but I recall it as my proudest Scouting moment because we actually made the changes to address the fundamental issues.  We were continuously mindful of the needs of future Scouts.   Believe it or not, this can be a very productive and friendly time for Scouting in the combining geography.  Finest wishes on your effort. 

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5 hours ago, Cburkhardt said:

The new council combination sounds like a great move.  As former president of a council that was formed by a pre-bankruptcy/COVID four-council combination, I observe 8 years later that combining was the best possible move to address challenges that threatened to end essential services to youth in the involved geography. 

At a basic level, for mergers to result in more financially sound councils you need to reduce your costs, which are primarily camps, service centers, and people, while trying to maintain your revenues: donations, popcorn, and camp fees.  

In your council how many of the former did you start and end with, and how much of the latter fell as you did that? 

Also, what were the factors that drove the four councils not working, and what structural changes allowed the new council to overcome those forces?

Edited by T2Eagle
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I hope when the mergers come to my area, the new pros actually listen and work with volunteers and develop relationships with them to get things done. Sadly the pros of late do not listen and do not stay around long enough for that to happen. Most quit within a year. Between the shortness of tenure and the lack of respect, there is a lot of distrust of professionals. 

And while sometimes change is good, at other times it is not. Sometimes the volunteers do indeed know better how to handle local situations because they know the community, and if a long time volunteer, what will work and what will not. I know I have seen pros try to implement things in my area that have been attempted in the past, and have failed, in some cases miserably. Since the DEs we have gotten lately are fresh out of college, with no Scouting experience whatsoever, not only are they completely clueless to the program, but also they are clueless to the local situation. Their bosses are telling them what to do based, upon their experience elsewhere, which is not at all similar to the local situation. 

Best example was my move to the district as a pro. Having moved from a metro council to a smaller size council, sorry cannot remember the class size, I discovered because of a variety of factors, things that work in a metro council do not work in a rural one. Rounds ups being a good example. In the metro council, packs adopted schools to recruit from, usually the closest one to the school.  In the rural council, because of bussing all over the place, packs shared schools because people joined by closest meeting location, which might not be the pack closest to the school like in the metro council. Thankfully I had a Scouting background as  a youth, unit Scouter, and district Scouter. I knew I needed to listen to my volunteers who knew the situation better than the guy from out of town.

 

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18 hours ago, T2Eagle said:

In your council how many of the former did you start and end with, and how much of the latter fell as you did that? 

Also, what were the factors that drove the four councils not working, and what structural changes allowed the new council to overcome those forces?

The combination I led was a 4-year project in a major metropolitan area, so it is not possible to adequately summarize the effort in a short posting.  However, here are some basics:

  • The principal challenge for the four predecessor councils was an inability or unwillingness to adequately govern and manage Scouting.¬† Membership was dropping 5% - 10% annually and finances were on a steep decline.¬†¬†After years of encouraging the councils¬†to upgrade things, national withdrew the four charters, disbanded¬†the executive boards and directly implement¬†a combination.
  • There were seven camps, including four long term summer camp operations.¬† This was resized to three camps, including two long¬†term camps.¬† Much of the camp sales proceeds were¬†reinvested in the go-forward properties.¬† ¬†This re-set the finances of camp operations from a huge money loser (the predecessor operations were¬†receiving huge subsidies from the operating budgets) to a respectable operation that has modest excess revenue at the end of each year to help capital improvements.¬† Decades of postponed maintenance was addressed, including utilities, program, buildings and equipment.
  • There were four service centers and a marketing office in a shopping mall.¬† The service centers were retained, and the mall office was closed.
  • The membership losses were halted through a massive overhaul of volunteer and professional leadership.¬† The combined council actually had membership growth the second year of the¬†combination.¬† This was because we instituted¬†unified and well-disciplined membership growth and rationalized field service.¬† A few years later COVID and the bankruptcy caused significant negative membership impacts, but those losses were far less than what would have occurred if the combination had not occurred.
  • This probably all sounds a bit simple.¬† That's because the challenges and solutions were very apparent.¬† A crisis of governance prevented the councils from addressing the basics and the combination allowed new leadership and personnel to make the necessary decisions and move forward.¬†
  • Ten years have¬†passed since the start¬†of the effort and developments have impacted on the combined council.¬† Since I left it has unified the long-term camping program into its 5,000-acre mega reservation with 3 operating camps (and 2 camps in "mothballs").¬† This last summer the reservation was "packed" with Scouts.¬† It¬†can easily accommodate almost any membership growth scenario.¬† It has also adjusted districts from¬†legacy boundaries to groupings are more naturally serviced.¬† It has weathered the COVID/bankruptcy issues better than most councils.
  • In¬†direct response to your question, the combination allowed a "hard reboot"¬†in the geography that was necessary because the volunteer governance and professional management of Scouting was unable to adequately process change to continue providing Scouting.¬† Necessary membership, finance, property and field servicing changes were able to be made by¬†the new structure because the deformities of personal hostility¬†and institutional¬†drag were offset.
  • I don't want to get into a detailed examination of this particular¬†combination (at least not in this posting).¬† However, the combination¬†would not have been able to make necessary adjustments if pre-combination "guarantees" were made that "nothing will change".¬† For all of the many reasons that have been detailed by our¬†Scouting colleagues on this¬†site for many years -- we need significant and timely adjustments to how Scouting is governed and managed in many councils.¬† Every council should give strongest consideration to adjusting their governance and management structures while¬†recovering institutional health from COVID/bankruptcy challenges.
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Both of these councils have 1000 youth or less.  They are geographically close as well.  I would think we would see a number of these mergers since 20% of all councils are in this same membership situation.

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1 hour ago, PACAN said:

Both of these councils have 1000 youth or less. 

I've never understood scouting finances.  1000 youth at say roughly $100 per youth revenue gets $100,000.  How can you pay a council president, staff and other people at that level?  I know there are other fees (camping, sales, etc), but it still leaves the vast majority coming from fund raising.  Wow.

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Regarding very small councils, the only way these work in a sustainable way is to (1) have camping property fully endowed and popular with out-of-council troops to break even and provide capital improvement revenue, (2) have a single professional employee (and maybe a helper) to function as a SE/DE and (3) use the camp for the service center.  Those councils need to function mostly as volunteer-operated entities.  If the expenses get loaded-up beyond that, it is the job of the volunteers to raise the necessary cash.

When we did our combination, one of the combining councils was very small, yet it operated two long term camps located 4 hours from the council and a Cub Scout camp about an hour away.  The two long term camps operated for 2 weeks each summer.  To operate this arrangement, funds had to be raised each year to effectively subsidize each long term Scout camper for over $400.  The Cub camp was essentially undeveloped and would require further capital investment. 

How did such a small council end up with all of that cash-eating property?  It was itself the product of a "merger of equals", where pre-merger promises were made to keep and operate all existing properties.  The combined council leadership was able to deal effectively with this non-sustainable circumstance.  This illustrates why combining councils should not promise to keep and operate everything as before.  The new council will likely need to change things and should avoid poisoning its membership relations by breaking promises.

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On 5/1/2023 at 6:27 AM, ThenNow said:

I recognize the Council merger wrangle is largely precipitated by the financial crunch due to the case, but this conversation seems to have taken us well off the bankruptcy discussion path. No? The wander has gone so far as to find an "I quit if they do that" bench for Vol Scouter. That sounds depressing for Scouting.

I have read most of your postings concerning the bankruptcy and am glad you added your voice here.  Your thoughts informed many of us on topics we were not as familiar with and upgraded the quality of sensitive discussions.  Many of us have had long-time engagement with the operational leadership of units, councils and the national organization and enjoy exchanging information and opinions on how the BSA can best provide safe and meaningful program for all of us to participate in.  Sometimes these conversations can be very direct -- but that is only because we are seeking to encourage what is best for the young people of our country -- and that is important.

The bankruptcy is causing us to recast the fundamentals of our business platform, management and some aspects of program operation.  These are critical and existential matters and we have to make our decisions correctly during the next couple of years if we are going to regain organizational health and re-establish our role as a leading and trusted organization.  I encourage everyone, including you, to contribute informed practical ideas on how we can best reposition Scouting to an even stronger position.

As the lessons of the bankruptcy are internalized, changes are made and a sense of justice is provided to abused members, the bankruptcy will have served to make us better.  That time is coming -- so we all need to begin enjoying visioning where our future will be.

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2 hours ago, Cburkhardt said:

The bankruptcy is causing us to recast the fundamentals of our business platform, management and some aspects of program operation.  These are critical and existential matters and we have to make our decisions correctly during the next couple of years if we are going to regain organizational health and re-establish our role as a leading and trusted organization.  I encourage everyone, including you, to contribute informed practical ideas on how we can best reposition Scouting to an even stronger position.

As the lessons of the bankruptcy are internalized, changes are made and a sense of justice is provided to abused members, the bankruptcy will have served to make us better.  That time is coming -- so we all need to begin enjoying visioning where our future will be.

Fantastic! It's refreshing to hear a focus on improving and on the future. Not that we shouldn't look backwards to learn from the past, but at some point it's also time to face the future.

I'm going to throw out this vision for BSA's future and see how it lands: remember that the wild, free outdoor adventure lies outside the organized, developed, and staffed. Owning land and properties can be good, but can never provide the experience of hoisting your pack up onto your back together with your patrol to head into the wilderness... or push your canoe out from shore to paddle miles downriver with them... or click your cross country ski boots into the bindings with hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls your patrol baked yourselves in your pack.

As a side effect, these kinds of expeditions ask more of the scouts and cost less for their parents. @InquisitiveScouter shared an absolutely wonderful trip he just did with his scouts along those lines, and I've read others share how they arranged wilder, grander summer camps for less money than the BSA centrally run camps.

The wilderness adventure method of scouting is very, very powerful, and it seems BSA as an organization has drifted away from that. IMHO that's a strategy mistake. Pull on the BSA leaders who are doing this stuff now and encourage others to do it, too!

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Also just did a 5 day, four night, 50+ miler backpacking/hiking trip about three hours from our home location, into the near-Catskills.  We ran another unit-level Kodiak Challenge course. 

Total cost per person for 9 people, including covering gas and tolls for drivers? (not including awards for Scouts, which came out of the Troop budget)

$100.08

 

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