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Membership Decline Reasons

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Yah, Merlyn in da original thread speculates it's because of 3G issues, but I don't think that really tracks. We all represent a good cross the nation sample of scouters. I'm curious what yeh all are seeing in your areas?


There's no question that we're seeing a slow membership decline, with some accelerated decline in Cubs. Here are da last few years of figures:


Cubs. Scouts. Venture. Total

2005 1,745,324 943,426 249,948 2,938,698

2006 1,701,861 922,836 244,266 2,868,963

2007 1,687,986 913,588 254,259 2,855,833

2008 1,665,635 905,879 261,122 2,832,636

2009 1,634,951 898,320 257,361 2,790,632


What are you seeing in your area in terms of causes, if yeh can identify any?


Let's try not to turn this into an Issues & Politics thread, eh? Share what you're really seeing and your best guesses for what's happening in your area, but save da political debates.



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I see several reasons for the decline, and it is mostly a result of our society.


1) Getting outdoors isn't a priority for alot of the nation anymore. If they live in a city, they see going to the park as getting outdoors. Most people seem to want to go and see "things". Museums, concerts, going to the beach, etc. When I was growing up you took a trip to see national parks and the like. Hunting was also more visible.


2) Sports and other activities have gotten much more serious, requiring more of a time commitment. Instead of recreational sports, more and more kids are getting into year-round competative teams. Couple that with more activities at school that require significant attendance commitments (sports, band, etc) and there is little time left for Scouting.


3) More and more of the general public no longer sees Scouting values as applicable. They would rather see their child lie to get a good school/job. Character values have become more of a grey area in alot of society rather than absolutes.

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More and more Scouters are not avid outdoorsmen/women either and are uncomfortable going outside what they consider the "safe" zone of car camping. Without leaders willing to go on adventurous trips, boys don't get to go either. No adventure, no reason to be a Scout.





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I don't have the numbers off the top of my head but my area has seen an increase in Cubs over the last few years. One of the main reasons, as I understand it, is that Scouting had been blocked from recruiting in schools but was allowed to do it again. Honestly, I am not sure that my son (and I)would be in the program if he didn't come with a flier.....about to wet his pants because he was so excited.....as a 1st grader because of the recruiter doing his thing at the school.


I know this is controversial here but I also have to attribute Scouting's growth in my area to the fact that we have a very sharp DE and great district leadership. Of course, our DE is so sharp that he will not be here long but hopefully he "will leave it better than he found it".

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I know that I lost some families immediately after our DE gave a horrendous FOS presentation at a Blue and Gold, in which he intentionally ranted about gays and atheists. Quite a few families just stopped participating and parents in some of them confided to me that it was because they had not previously known about BSA membership policy. That is my experience as a CM.

For the troop that I help with now, I think the 'policy' isn't widely 'known' outside the leadership, or else it's like the 'elephant in the room'. A couple of people have asked about the DRP and when they did I explained, as best I could, the reasons for it. Some decline to sign and some don't. I can't speak to their reasons.


To me, BSA's approach to all this would be better if they would be completely open and honest about the 'policies'. Make it very explicit up front and make sure EVERYONE knows what it is. A simple statement that homosexuals and atheists are not acceptable is all it would take. As it is, this stuff stays in the background unless there's a headline or something in the news. Most families I've talked with about it would rather not think about this stuff. But once they do, most of them don't like it and some of them leave. There are a few exceptions, though, who indicate their affirmative agreement. But most of them don't last long either...for different reasons.


I suspect that the biggest reason for the long-term decline is a combination of competition with other activities and lack of good publicity. I have no idea how to construct better publicity, though. The families we bring in join because of word-of-mouth and, I guess, their familiarity with the leaders. More and more, we tend to shrug off all the BSA National distractions and just do our own thing. FOS has become something we mention briefly and then go on to the next camping trip. Even popcorn is fading fast (to my delight..I hate the stuff). Troop funding is solid and we pretty much do whatever we decide to do.

It seems to work a lot better and the boys keep having fun.

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I have not been involved long enough to notice anything locally.

I do know that US birthrates have been declining steadily for years.

However, that does not seem to explain it totally. Scouts joining today were born in 1999 and births actually saw a small uptick from 1995-1999.



Hmm, I don't know why enrollment is declining.


Anyway, here, according to USAToday are the number of live births in the US by year for selected years:

1990.......... 4,158,212

1991.......... 4,110,907

1992.......... 4,065,014

1993.......... 4,000,240

1994.......... 3,952,767

1995.......... 3,899,589

1996.......... 3,891,494

1997.......... 3,880,894

1998.......... 3,941,553

1999.......... 3,959,417



(This message has been edited by LIBob)

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In my neck of the woods, scouts is actually growing. There are lots of reasons why Scouting membership is "declining." My #1 reason for this is that national has gotten tough on those pros who manipulated the system to get membership numbers at any cost. We've all heard about several court cases on this matter, and may have even seen this up close and personal. I've heard of districts and councils where the membership has been majorly inflated in the past. So I believe the membership numbers are more accurate now than in th past.


Another reason is that emphasis on quantity over quality in creating units. The 10 step process does work in creating a sustainable unit. But I know first hand the pressure by some in management on DEs to create units. yes it's important, but the needed to follow the process and create a unit that will not fold in a year does take time and needs to be followed because it does work.


And as other have already mentioned sports and other extracurricular are a big competitor. Some of these programs out there practically demand that you do nothing else. And lots of folks have dreams of college scholarships and playing in the pros.


Another factor IMHO is the urban scouting of the 1970s. Lots of adults have little to no experience of Scouting b/c national took the "Outing in ScOuting." They either think BSA offers the same boring, non-adventurous program of the 1970s , or they lack the confidence to do the outdoors, hence the need for mandatory BALOO and IOLS courses.


Specific to CS, there is the attitude that " I don't have the time to do all this work with my son at home for him to get his badges." I lost 3 TCs to this mentality this past year. Hopefully the new program will take care of it.


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These are my reasons, and I don't think they are political, but if you think they are, I apologize to Beavah


As mentioned, there is Nature Deficit Disorder, Nature is outside, outside is dirty, dirt is bad , therefore Nature is bad. Well, actually, Nature is good, its just humans in nature is bad, which is odd since I thought we were natural


I think Baby Boomers, as much as sometimes maligned, are the last "volunteering" group in America. We were raised on having Dad who were Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Knights of Columbus, etc. Our mothers were in the PTA, Ladies Auxillary of the Church, Garden Club, etc. And of course scouting. The current generation of new parents do not have a "Volunteer" ethic. Yes, some do, and they are great, but the prevailing concept is, for my kids activities, I want to drop them off and then pick them up, I actually dont want to be involved with them. The Cub Scout program changed because parents do not have the time to work with their children on something the child in interested in. Read that last sentence a few times, now that is depressing. A national program changed from being parent centered to Organizatin centered (Den Leaders doing advancements) because parents are too busy to spend time with their kids


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OGE brings up what I have noticed. Having just been at summer camp and looking around my district over the years, I have seen that most of the adult leaders are older folks like myself - the boomers. I ask - where are the young parents? Is it true that they were not raised in an atmosphere of volunteerism and giving? Perhaps.


Maybe it is also that these younger adults were also not raised with the idea that you make your own fun. Go outside, find your friends, and make up a game. For the past couple of decades the play date, restrictive safety zone and structured games have been the norm. It comes as no surprise to me when we receive a new Scout who has no idea how to take care of his smallest personal needs or the ability to take responsibility for his own actions. His young life has been overly structured and controlled and his parents have made excuses for his mistakes.


"What do you mean he used an axe...an adult lights the stoves don't they...the adults will be bringing extra food in case the boys mess up their meal, won't they...he's never spent a night away from me...he needs to bring his cell phone so I can call and find out how he's doing...he can't be expected to take care of all that himself..." etc. etc. etc.


Those kind of remarks used to surprise me. Not anymore.

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I too agree with what OGE has said, but I have hope that GenY when they start having children old enough will be there to support the Boomers as leaders.


As a (long-time) student of sociology, I just spent two years working with a group of largely GenY employees at a local computer company. They seem to have the same desire to "serve" their community as the Boomers. But they don't want to waste their time. I think this may be one of the reasons why we are seeing some of the Basic trainings becoming "online" courses. (Yes, separate topic and rant.)


In that group, there were a couple of "border children" (on the end of the GenX start of the GenY group) - they all had sons old enough for Scouts and other programs -- and they were all involved in one fashion or another.


The biggest challenge for us "boomers," will be to find the right size "slice of pie" for them to want to take.


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In no particular order


Sports - the sport programs thru our local schools are now year-round. Training, practice, conditioning, assorted camps and the coaches prefer 1 sport athletes so they can be monitored closer with a lower chance of injury from another activity.


Schools - we can only get in one time per year to do any kind of boy talks. If the night in question also happens to be football or soccer practice or there's another school activity, that's too bad. The school administrators don't care. You had your chance.


Cost - a 50% increase in cost in one year. Our area is still being hit extremely hard in the economic sector. Some have been unemployed for over 2 years and are losing their benefits. No end in sight.


TAY - our TAY has been on a continuous decline over the last several years, mostly due to the job situation here. We still are maintaining a slight increase in % against TAY, but are falling behind in actual #'s.


Apathy - parent and participant apathy is frustrating. If you can get them to a recruitment event, they're more likely to sign up and attend a meeting or two. If those meetings aren't better than what's on TV that night, it's over. If you ask a parent to step up and become a leader, you'd better be wearing kevlar. How could they possibly help when they're soooooooooo busy already?


Program - BSA program continues to change for good or bad. Inconsistent information comes out of the national office and local councils are expected to enact the programs as best they can. Local programs fall into a rut and are afraid to try something different.


Training - leaders aren't attending training, roundtable or taking upon themselves to learn about their position.


Time - if it's not right now and I can't download it onto my Blackberry, I don't want it.


Bug, snakes, racoons, bears, the boogie man - it's almost like people are saying "I'll take my chances going to the park where we may have a random drive by shooting." As pointed out earlier, too many leaders and parents have no clue what to do in the woods or won't go more than 20' into the treeline.


Don't talk to strangers - we've conditioned our entire society to mistrust everyone. Watch out, that person's going to lure you in so he can steal your life savings. The media is quick to pounce on anything that might resemble a story, because they don't investigate anything, they wait for someone else to do it then tell the story over.


No that's not everything, but it is a variety of factors that have affected ours, and I'm sure many other areas as well.

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A couple of books that I recently re-read that touch some of the underlying causes of declining membership. Maybe we can spin off a book club thread.


Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.



If you're over 40, you likely grew up playing outdoors from dusk to dawn in the summer. Youth today think of team sports as outdoor time, but we had a lot more outdoor time that was unstructured. There are parts of this book that will make you stop and think about your unit program.



It's Better to Build Boys than Mend Men by Truett Cathy.



This little gem is a little narrow and conservative, but the underlying message applies to most scouters that I know: investing in young people today is the best way to affect the future.

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Its a combination of things. Everything OGE said.

But also I think the current social conservative bent the BSA (and its major chartering partners) project is becoming increasingly distasteful to younger parents. Young adults are far more accepting of gays and athiests than those of my generation and far, far more than those of my parents.

Also, the ban on schools sponsoring cub packs really hurt the BSA. Back in my time, every elementary school had a pack. Now none do. This antagonistic relationship between schools and the BSA severely crippled the recruitment potential. Without a constant stream of eager cubs, boy scouts will naturally decline as well.


And Ed, if its cyclical, you should be able to demonstrate a statistical model showing it happening before. The decline in the 70s was due to a massive change in BSA program and not stopped until the program was remediated. Perhaps this decline is due to something similar but not based on a change in policy, but an enforcement of an often ignored one.

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Lots of good answers given already. I would like to see a break down of the drops. My personal opinion is the Cub side of the program was getting too heavy and complicated for the average volunteer to maintain. The drops were indicative of that just a few years ago. The first year of the Boy Scout program is traditionally the biggest lose of scouts for all ages, so there is no surprise there. But I wonder if there are any dramatic changes of trends on the Boy Scouts side. I know there was on the Cub side.


I have always thought the National would see the light and try to lighten the Cub program so the volunteers weren't working so hard, but the opposite has been the case. Just follow the Tiger program changes alone and you can see the increase of volunteer time required to maintain a quality program.




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