One of my regular refrains about recruiting is borrowed. “Get ’em in a tent, and you got ’em.” Boys of all ages want to camp.
When I was a Cubmaster, the most common questions the Cubs asked me was “When is the next campout?!” This was not really a question, so much as a barely contained exclamation on bouncing toes. They were fairly ready to explode. When the answer was anything other than “tomorrow” they nearly burst like a balloon, looking completely deflated.
The same excitement exists at 11 years old. By the time they get to 15 or 16, they still love tents and campfires. Now the emphasis is less on being outside where they can run and now about time spent together around the campfire. Stories, gossip, favored games, personal challenges, and complaints of the day become a greater bonding experience.
Knowing that boys want to camp at all ages, even if the reasons for enjoyment change, what can we do to improve our recruitment?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put a prospective scout on a campout before we had to enroll him as a scout? You have to be a scout to camp, right? If you look at many camp enrollments, there are requirements that participants be enrolled scouts and scouters. The Guide to Safe Scouting clearly provides less favorable insurance coverage to adults who are not registered, compared to the coverage offered registered adults. The Guide acknowledges that some adults can be involved without registration.
Is there a similar method for unregistered boys? There is little literature on registered versus unregistered youth. However, there is one publication. In Publication 423-235 Scouting in Rural Communities, chapter 9, pg. 5, it provides for a program called “Outreach Camping.” Here is the language in full:
Providing outdoor and camping experiences for young people who are not Scouting members is a good way to serve youth, help establish local credibility, and organize some new units. These are some successful models:
Working through other organizations. Use of the council camp is offered for a week to another organization serving low-income, rural youth. Council personnel provide helpful support.
Bring a buddy. Non-Scouts are invited by a host troop (one boy per patrol) to be its guests for a week of camp. This week of camp should prepare them to become members of the host troop or become the core of a new troop in their own community.
Provisional troop or crew. The council or district organizes provisional troop(s) or Venturing crews for non-Scouts:
young people are recruited in communities where little or no Scouting exists, working through local agencies and potential chartered organizations. Local adults are also recruited to attend. They often become unit leaders after a good camp experience. This works best with 11-year-old boys for Scouting and the younger ages for Venturing.
Whatever model is used, personal calls should be made to the family of each non-member youth participant to discuss leadership, camp program, clothing, equipment, and health needs. A precamp meeting of families is held. District Scouters and/or provisional camp leaders also help plan for medical checkups, make arrangements to meet special dietary needs, and arrange for transportation to and from camp. They work with the permanent camp staff to adjust camp program routine and procedures to fit special needs and lifestyles of their new campers.
Camp staff preparation is the most essential success factor in all of these models. While camp staff should have good program know-how to help people who lack program experience, it is far more important to have staff with the right human relations ability. An attitude of caring support is needed. Don’t assume that all camp staff can relate effectively to young people from a background different to what they are used to. Plan a special training session for the entire camp staff.
After camp, move quickly to get this group of campers meeting regularly as a new unit back home, or get them involved in existing units.
(Underlining added for emphasis.)
What lessons can we learn?
- BSA allows unregistered youth to camp with units for recruiting purposes, if specific procedures are followed.
- District recruiting events can be designed to interest boys in scouting generally before making the connection to a specific unit, if the situation warrants.
- If unregistered youth camp with a troop, they should be assigned to patrols on a one visitor to one patrol ratio.
- If more than unregistered youth wishes to camp together, it should be handled through a District recruiting provisional camp-out. Then true recruitment can follow up immediately afterward.
- Implicit in the “medical check up” is that the unregistered youth must have a BSA-standard medical form and permission slip on file with the camp-out leader.
- The parents must have a chance to learn about the camping program in advance.
Now that we see there is a way to recruit for camping before “closing the deal,” what would your Pack, Troop, or Crew do to build its membership?