Commentary on Dues Increase

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This article is a bit more personal commentary than a normal article.

As I posted over the weekend, and Council Commissioner Ron Penczek confirmed on Tuesday, the BSA membership national dues are going up to $33.00 per person (scout and scouter). Each new application or recharter also includes a $1.00 per person insurance premium for local council. Consequently, the cost of membership in Crossroads of America Council is $34.00 annually, effective December 1, 2017.

I have received or been copied by several scouters in North Star District expressing frustration at the amount and timing of this announcement. Their complaints range from frustration with the tardiness of the notice for the 2018 rechartering cycle to the lack of complying with the expectations for annual planning and budgeting that National Council sets for units.

Each of these critiques is valid and worthy of rebuke to National Council.

If a scouter reads over the FAQ, the reasoning for the sudden change is less than edifying or clarifying. Essentially, their argument is that they attempted to be thrifty and have reached the end of what they cut, so with escalating costs, they now must pass the costs along.

Neither of these points answer the critiques that I have seen.

Regardless what got us to this point, I am recommending that all units begin budgeting for dues increases of approximately $1.50 every year. If this year is $33.00, 2019 would be $34.50, 2020 would be $36.00. If each unit had a 36-month budget plan with this type of escalation built in, these sudden changes will be less shocking. This process would also take into account National Council knows that dues increases are not well-loved, so they are avoided even when likely necessary. Unfortunately, that creates the effect of making increases far larger when they do occur. It has been 40+ months since the last dues increase. This jump is $9.00. If we round the number of months to 45, that is a dollar for nearly every five months. Even my escalation factor of $1.50 every falls short of that. For true accuracy, a unit should build in nearly $2.25 increase every year.

All of the BSA budgeting templates are based on 12 month projections based on known data. Unfortunately, no stable and long-lived business works this way. Budgeting has to be done on a longer time horizon than 12 months.

Consider that a troop that wants to do a high adventure trip through Sea Base must enter a raffle nearly 18 months in advance and build the budget accordingly. Consider that annual events may have increasing costs. A unit that budgets to break even at the end of 12 months will almost certain be “in the red,” that is overspend against its budget.

In business, the budgeting rule is “budget for more than what you expect to spend, then double it.” Luckily, most activities in scouts do not have as much costs due to wages and salaries, lodging for unforeseeable periods of time, or multiple month projects with related expenses. All of these run budgets through the roof.

Still, the sense of building a margin of error into the budget is one we should consider. Rather than doubling, we might be well served if we budget for most line-items at 115% to 125% of projected cost.

What’s the worst thing that happens by meeting this goal? Your unit has excess funds on hand. If excess funds become a regular pattern, your unit will be able to plan further into the future for more creative activities. Notice I did not say more expensive. If your troop wants to do a canoe trip down the White River, the troop will be financially situated to invest in capital equipment for canoeing like Duluth bags, dry bags, or aluminum cookware. This makes future trips cheaper because new equipment purchases will be less necessary. Even trips to the Boundary Waters become cheaper, because less equipment needs to be rented on site.

So I suggest that we take a lesson from the Personal Management Merit Badge and plan for the future and the unforeseeable.

Is this jump just reflective of inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index? No. $24.00 in 2012 is about the same as $25.59 in 2017 dollars (“real dollar value”). This is a large increase. This leaves me with a question that I cannot answer: what is the financial condition of National Council that this increase is trying to correct by an increase of nearly $7.40 in real dollar value?