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Changing Times & Demographics

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Well cubs is the main source of scouts, but not all.

One of my sons, now an Eagle, joined scouts directly but was never a cub. His younger brother did the cub thing and is now in scouts.

I myself dropped out of cubs (Boring!) and later joined a scout troop and rose to Eagle. Looking back, I joined because my friends were in scouts.

Scouts who bypass the cub route (while I agree they are rare) tend to join because of what they hear from their friends or to participate in the high adventure aspect. They want to canoe the BWCA or hike the AT and scouts is the way to do it.

So, if we want to recruit scouts other than through cubs, which we are not good at, emphasize the adventure and trips, advertise in the schools. If we assume that cubs is the only route, it will be so.


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A week or so back I started a thread about the new theme for Cub Scouting - "Words To Live By".

It seems clear to me that we are not selling what we have and do to the kids but to the parents.

This might work with and for Cub Scouts.

I have to own up to thinking that if I hear another word about character building, or strong values, when it comes to recruiting I'm going to be sick.

No kid ever joined anything to have a character adjustment unless it was court ordered!

We talk about a game with a purpose and seem to want to sell the purpose and forget about the game.

The Rockwell image of a clean faced, white smiling little fellow is cute -But I don't know any 12 or 13 year old boys who really want to be like him.

I wonder why we don't get out there and sell the fun and adventure that Scouts and Scouting can offer?

I wonder if the reason we don't is because deep down we are scared that we can't deliver?

I have sat through the annual Eagle Scout recognition dinner that our Council has each year. Most of the Scouts who attend are in uniform and about 90% if not more have the AOL on their uniform.

I know most of these Lads, they are the kids I see at camp when I'm there or they are active in the OA.

They by no means are little angels or geeks. The goody two shoes image that many people have of Scouting just doesn't fit.

Yet when it comes to selling Scouting what do we try and sell?

The thing that most kids don't want to hear.

The thing that I think harms us the most.

To be fair to the marketing guys a little while back there were some great videos that did show Scouts doing some fun stuff. The problem was that the only people who seen them were people who were already recruited.


We are not doing a very good job when it comes to marketing.

Local Councils don't seem to want to spend any money on recruiting. They seem happy to wait until someone gets the local media to donate the time and space.

National has come up with some really good stuff. Sad thing is that no one ever sees it. Even the ad for some car maker with a Pine Wood Derby race has the little fellow in some sort of a Brownie uniform? (I'm not sure what's that all about?)

On the local level, I see the same old posed photo of the proud SM and Eagle Scout or the old folks receiving some type of an award.

We do a lot of fun stuff, but no one ever sends it to the local paper or TV station.

Maybe we need a "Scout Marketing Week"? A week where National, Councils and units blitz the media with all sorts of scouting stories. (I hope if it ever happens that it's not in February when it's so darn cold!!)


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We already have a "Scout Marketing Week". It's called Scout Week, and (sorry Eamonn) it's in February.


Scout Week starts on Scout Sunday and ends the following Saturday (sometimes known as Scout Sabbath).


Back when I was a lad, the local Scout units would set up Scout Week displays in the windows of local retail and service businesses - mostly in strip malls. My town had 5 Cub Scout Packs, 4 Boy Scout Troops and 4 Explorer Posts (+ fed a Sea Scout ship and 3 other Explorer Posts from other towns). The Packs would compete agains the other Packs to create the best display, the Troops would compete against the other Troops, and the Explorer Posts cooperated together on one display (to show the diversity of the Exploring program). It would get really interesting sometimes when "sister" Packs and Troops would try to outshine the other.


I never see Scout Week displays anymore. Either people don't/won't take the time to put them together anymore, or shops won't provide the space anymore for whatever reason they have.

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At least in the larger cities, it is the latter. Many stores no longer have real display windows; and few are willing to give up space to a display of something they do not sell. With many larger retailers, the fear of PC backlash is likely a factor too. I know that at least was part of the reason that JCPenney Co. quit selling scout stuff;they got threats from certain groups about boycotts and negative publicity. I worked for them in middle management for years, and inquired directly when I could no longer even get stuff in catalog.

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I do and do know when we have Scout Sunday and am aware that in some areas it is seen as a week long celebration.

Sad thing is that in many parts of the country there isn't a lot going on in the winter months.

My idea is that we have a media blitz, a coordinated effort with National, Regional, Council and units doing a hard sell to get kids to join and then get out and about doing fun activities. Not hang out in the church hall learning to tie a square knot with a old piece of frayed rope.

It would be nice if each and every Council opened its camps up and invited new guys to participate in the fun activities that the camps offer. Invite the local press and TV.

I don't know how many kids we could get, but if the event was big enough and nation wide it would be newsworthy.

In the area I live I seen one article about one Troop celebrating Scout Sunday, it had a photo of about a dozen Scouts and their local parish priest.

There is nothing wrong with that. But I don't see a lot of kids chomping at the bit to go to church.


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In the wake of Little Sioux and the tornado, we have a great opportunity to demonstrate what scouts do! They were tent camping, building football goal posts (great lashing on that one!), and hiking. Use their example for anyone who will listen. We did! We recruited a new troop with one boy age 14, two 12 and two 11 plus more joining soon. You can recruit if you just tell them what you do. Our summer camp will be our troop camping at Little Sioux (hopefully) for a week. They will do T21 stuff and wilderness survival, orientieering, and the like. Who knows if they will finish merit badges, but they will have FUN!!!!!!!!! Isn't that the whole purpose of this?


If the boys are having fun, they will tell their friends who will want to have fun, too. Look at why BP started scouting. It was for "inner city" boys to experience nature and learn real skills. Isn't that what we do still? Most of our boys are "city kids". The original idea of scouting is even more important in our century as it was in the last.


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Great discussion...my apologies if someone already made this point but here it goes:


How much effort is put forth these days--by volunteers and BSA--to establish new troops?


New troops, with BSA tried and true methods, might be the best solution.


As a scout, I read every old scouting book I could get ahold of. I recall literature for the old days that described how to start a troop from scratch.


There are benefits in starting a new troop. Every scout is starting from square 1. So are the families. The scouts more than likely come from the same neighborhood, and the bonds they already share as neighbors, schoolmates, and team mates carry over into the new troop. Traditions begin from scratch and are probably more inclusive that the venerable old established troops. In a word, it's new but it's also familiar.


Switching gears, what is the culture of the typical scout troop today? I'm generalizing, but I'll bet very few are truly neighborhood troops. Odds are the leaders and scouts travel from all over town and beyond for the purpose of scouting in that troop.


So I think what holds our troops together today is tradition. Established tribes, if you will.


Might be a tall order for a new scout to join a troop where he doesn't know the majority of scouts, or the tribal lore seems unwelcoming. Or odd. Or geeky.


Well, took a long time to say it, but new troops might be the spark that BSA needs.


Post script: one might ask, what about the old troops that we have trouble keeping active today? Why start new troops when we can't keep the old ones with full roster?


This pains me, but I must say it: let the old ones fold, and start new troops from scratch, so the scouting spirit can begin anew.


(This message has been edited by desertrat77)

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After reading these posts it's apparent that scouting has dedicated active thinkers...and the breadth of thought would be the envy of any band of individuals. It is this energy that bodes well for the future of scouting. My first post, sure not to be my last. Keep the faith!

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Hard facts.


Look at the BSA annual reports for the last 10 years http://www.scouting.org/Media/AnnualReports.aspx


If you look at the youth membership in 1999 it was 3,411,852 which represented a .8% increase over the previous year.


In 2008 it was 2,832,636. That is a loss of 579,216 youth members in ten years.


If I am doing the math right that is a 17% decline. (In another thread I previously had said 16.5% but I think I was in error).


We have 3673 fewer units than in 1999.


I do not believe that the youth population has declined in the last decade, certainly not by 17%.




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I see a few things impacting BSA's ability to recruit and retain:


1) While the core values of the organization are what draws many a family (i.e. a parent that wants their son in scouting), a couple core values can drive people away. The gay intolerance issue (while I support it) must have an honest appraisal as to its impact on membership. Couple this with the religious aspects (again, something I like and support), and scouting to the outsider can easily appear to be a middle-class, Christian guided, youth organization. Even if folks don't have strong opinions one way or another on these issues, many will shy away from an organization that has recurrent "lightning rod" issues in the press. Homosexuality and atheism are constant BSA lightning rods in the media wether BSA wants it to be or not. I'm not sure how to fix this, but one must acknowledge the impact.


2) People are AFRAID of the outdoors. PLain and simple. A good number of folks in the past 25 years have given in to the idea that the outdoors are best enjoyed in a well lighted, well maintained, city park or organized sports field, not camping and God forbid in the backcountry. A lot of people have the mentality that if the critters don't get you, the boogey man will. Nature has been marginalized into something to be put behind a glass window and viewed from afar... either because its inherently dangerous, OR because over-zealous environmentalists have convinced us that nature is best left alone by us humans, because all we do is destroy it and mess it up. Its the boogey-man, carbon footprint mentality.


I've seen it 1st hand. People (mostly parents) physically AFRAID to hike through waist high bushes on a single track trail, because something is lurking in the weeds, or they'll get poison oak, or they don't want to trample the environment more than they already have. This is a societial shift to city living that started in the 50's and continues to accelerate today. Not sure how you fix that one either - but I vote NOT to move away from the OUTing in scouting.


3) In my short time in the cubbie world, it has become apparent that a couple things tend to pull Web-II away from scouting. First, Jr. High is when boys get REALLY serious about sports or other school activities. Before that, if you miss a game on rec league to go to scout function, no big deal... you skip a practice to make a scout meeting, and you ride the pine at the next game. Jr High age becomes a time when many kids have to start making choices about what they want to be in and what they want to excel at. Sports glory (or the faint prospect of it) is a HUGE draw that BSA really can't compete with. No one grows up to make Eagle, become the next Man Vs Wild and ink a multi-million dollar deal with TLC. Yet many see sports as a possible career choice, very early on in life. Parents see sports as a potential college scholarship at the very least.

Second, Webelos is a limbo rank IMHO. They are not old enough to do many of the higher adventure BSA things, but they are old enough to think the games / crafts done by the Tigers and Wolves are completely lame and boring... so why hang around? To me - cubbies is highly focused on family and younger scout activities. Webs are trying to get away from their parents and they need big adventures to hold their attention. Many units do a poor job of realizing this. Its almost as if Cubs need to tailor a more robust and challenging program for the webs, so they don't get bummed out doing 1st or 2nd grade activities in 6th grade.


Personally, I think BSA needs to focus more time, energy, and $$ into revamping the ADVENTURE in late cubs and early Boy Scouts and less on marketing. Build a strong program and it'll recruit for itself. Yes, there are many reasons that we loose Web-II aged boys, but we need to make sure that the program controls those varibles it can in the equation. I fear the G2SS and litigation fears have done much (and will continue to do much) to attenuate the "adventure" aspects of scouting, especially for senior Webs and Tenderfoots. They're looking for excitement and a sense of risk-taking. We need to make sure the program provides such things with appropraite oversight for safety.


Build it and they will come (or stay).

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I agree with most of what you posted.

However, the environmentalists are the ones out in the back country. They are the ones appreciating nature and wanting to preserve it. The anti-enviros are the ones standing in their fenced backyards, sucking down a cold one and spouting "drill, baby, drill". Most have never set foot more than 20 ft away from their SUV, but are experts on the environment because they watched Man Vs. Wild.

Once you take the modern suburbanite into the wilds and expose them to the beauty and fragility of nature, they become environmentalists.

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>>3) In my short time in the cubbie world, it has become apparent that a couple things tend to pull Web-II away from scouting. First, Jr. High is when boys get REALLY serious about sports or other school activities.

Second, Webelos is a limbo rank IMHO. They are not old enough to do many of the higher adventure BSA things, but they are old enough to think the games / crafts done by the Tigers and Wolves are completely lame and boring....

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"As for the 17% loss. What is said to be the cause? I know a lot of folks think they have the answer, but without in depth research, you cant know. To try and come up with ideas for fixing something that isnt broke only makes things worse. Fix the problem, not the assumption."



I couldn't agree more which is why I did not attach any interpretation to the statistics. I have some opinions but they are based on people I know in my unit and my district. Opinions expressed inside the Beltway may not reflect the opinions held by anyone else anywhere.


What I do think national should do is hire a reputable, independent research/polling company to conduct a nationwide survey of the families of scouts, former scouts and scouting age non scout boys and find out what causes them to join, not join, stay or leave. The survey must be constructed in a way to get real answers, not just those that validate BSA's current positions, preconceived notions, values etc.


A well constructed survey could give national the information they need to make the decisions and changes that they need to survive in the 21st century but BSA has to be ready to accept the results, whatever they may be.


It won't be easy and it won't be cheap but to do nothing could be fatal.

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