In some of my reading on other subjects, I ran across some scientific research from the mid-1800’s that I think is fascinating in its potential application to scouting. I am going to go down some complicated paths in this series of articles, so allow me to set the context first.
The View from the Eagle Board
For those of you who have sat on an Eagle Board of Review more than once, you likely can confirm that the following scenario is common.
A 17-year old in full dress scout uniform walks in the door. He is often clean shaven (although beards are increasingly common). He walks erect even if slightly nervous about what he is walking into. He firmly shakes hands with each member of the Board of Review. He answers questions about his Eagle project in great detail. He has pride in his accomplishments. He looks the part of an Eagle Scout already.
As he sits through the Board, the Board members ask the Eagle candidate to reflect on his beginnings in scouting and his growth. The candidate describes his first campout in the rain. He reflects on his anguish and discomfort. He laughs about how those deprivations are nothing compared to the later discomforts of camping in the snow of winter amidst the howling winds. He reflects on what he learned about overcoming obstacles, adapting, and accepting his circumstances.
He has learned that slight discomforts at home are nothing compared to facing the elements and the discomforts Mother Nature offers.
In my role as District Commissioner, the BSA charges me with the primary mission of encouraging Best Practices in our units. In other words, I am responsible for being able to explain to leaders why BSA policies are in the best interest of the unit, its leaders, and its scouts. That does not mean that I agree with each and every policy, but it does mean that I should be able to articulate the rationale in the light most favorable to the BSA’s intent.
For example, I should be able to articulate why units that camp the most are the more successful; why units that allow the boys to experiment with the patrol method with guidance and boundaries from the scoutmaster corps are more successful than units where adult leaders run the program; or why units with Senior Patrol Leaders who work the Patrol Leader Council are more successful than units where Senior Patrol Leaders acts as the patrol-leader-of-all. Read the rest of this entry »
At the recent Unit Key 3 Conference, I spoke about the need to work with your Unit Commissioner and your Unit Key 3 (i.e., Chartered Org. Rep., Chair, and Unit Leader) to do a Unit Service Plan.
A Unit Service Plan is a six-month “business plan” for your unit. It examines your annual planning & budgeting, your programming (like camping and meetings), your leadership succession plan, your adult leader training status, and your recruitment and retention status.
If your unit is not examining these departments on a regular basis, it is easy to allow one part or another to slide. The worst case scenario is you ignore the slide until the slide is a death-spiral do you stop and try to fix it.
The goal of doing regular Unit Service Plans is to prevent this scenario from occurring.
If your Unit Key 3 meets with your Unit Commissioner in the next 90 days, we would help you define ways to succeed in a predictable and healthy manner.
One trick is building your unit is to set goals of 5% across the board improvement. Five percent does not sound like much. But it is.
If your unit has 30 boys and it grows 5%, it means that you have replaced boys who have aged out or dropped out, keeping your retention at 100%, then adding an additional 2 boys (it is hard to have 1.5 boys, so I rounded up).
In programming it means moving from 10 monthly events to 11 events (rounding again). If you have 20 events, you move to 21. More opportunities for more scouting leads to more opportunities to find the one event that sparks the passion of one more scout. With the spark ignited, he is easier to retain, even when his parents are offering different extracurricular activities.
A five percent increase in fundraising, for example by adding camp cards to your existing practices, means that you have more money to use in programming that one more event mentioned above.
A five percent increase in trained adults means one more volunteer to staff events.
A five percent increase in advancement means you are less likely to lose scouts because they are progressing and are actively engaged in the program.
Now has your unit improved by 5%? I would argue not. You have add more financing, more capacity for adult leadership, more boys, more events. You are a much healthier unit.
When your next recruitment cycle hits, you will likely gain more than just 2 boys, because you have that much better of a program to pitch.
Schedule to sit down with your Unit Commissioner and see where you can plan a 5% improvement plan. Your Unit Commissioner’s job is to help you find the resources to make your plan work. You will be amazed at how quickly your unit will grow in a short period of time.
I am beginning a project that I want to complete by May 30th. I am looking to design a prototype of a new parent handbook.
I am asking for your help.
First I am asking each unit to email me a copy of their current handbook, annual calendar and handout on costs of membership by May 5th. We will use these as sources of best practices. Documents in a word processing file are preferred.
Second, I am looking for a panel of editors to assist in assessing the result and focusing on simplification and clarity.
Some of the concepts I will be building come from Scouting Magazine’s article last spring. They had to be more generic nationally. Ideally we as a district can put in more specifics in a prototype.
In explaining scouts, we do best when we ask what a mother would like to see her child grow to be. If she wants an athlete, we can discuss athletic activities in Cub Scouts and athletic merit badges in boy scouts.
If a father wants a STEM focused child, we can focus on those activities.
Scouting can meet those needs because scouting is the only liberal arts activity for youth. We serve all interests.
More importantly we encourage our scouts to expand their interests. An athletic scout may show little initial curiosity about the stars. Yet a little introduction to astronomy in Cub Scouts may open his eyes to the skies. That exposure to ideas and concepts that they never had considered is only part of why scouting works.
We know what a scout needs to develop because it has been well studied over the last century.
One of the summations of what a youth needs has been compiled by the Search Institute. They have summarized the skills and experiences that a youth needs at each age level in order to develop into a well-rounded and upstanding citizen. For each age level, the Search Institute has developed a chart of 40 Developmental Assets appropriate for the child’s age.
In reviewing these assets, place a checkmark next to each developmental asset that scouting touches. Then repeat the exercise for each activity that you child participates in. You will find an average Cub Scout Pack or Scout Troop outscores most other activities.
When you are talking to parents who don’t know scouting, these charts are a great method for the parents to formulate questions and independently determine that scouting is worth their family’s time.
For parents who are considering withdrawing their son from scouting, these charts are a perfect method to diplomatically challenge their thinking.
If you cannot explain how scouting serves most of the developmental assets, talk to your unit commissioner or the district membership committee. You may be losing scouts because you are struggling to explain “Why Scouting?”
At Tuesday’s joint Council Commissioner Staff and Membership Committee Meeting, Council Membership Committee Chair Tony unveiled the outline of a campaign to improve membership retention within the Council.
Tony reported that 2015 saw Council cut its membership drop rate in half. The goal for 2016 is to have a net increase in membership.
Year-over-year council has had consistent recruitment night attendance.
Sticking with a basic premise of marketing that retaining a customer is cheaper and easier than finding a new customer, Council is focusing its membership committee efforts at making the first 6 months of a new scout’s and his parents’ experience better. That way the new scouts stays long enough to become a veteran scout.
The outline of this plan focuses on giving the district electronic communications to allow better information flow to the new parents and new den leaders. Since so much of the current training focuses on national’s online training, we have lost some of the local component that training had historically provided. As a result, the new leaders feel more stranded.
The goal of this plan is to give districts and in turn units tools for the new parents and new den leaders to feel part of something larger and more local.
There will be more details about this plan at the April 19, 2016 semi-annual operations meeting for the council to teach the districts.
Tentatively, North Star District is planning to offer a Unit Key 3 Conference at Spring Camporee at Camp Kikthawenund on the morning of April 23, 2016. We will be able to share more details with Cub Packs at that time.
Similarly the Ideal Year in Scouting presentation at the May roundtable at the Scout Center will provide even more ideas on how these elements fit together.
As adults, we are involved in our units: packs, troops, and crews. We rarely stop to consider who is the most important part of the unit. As we talk to Council representatives, they talk about our units as packs, troops, and crews. This is for a good reason. Their job is to support the adults at those levels. Council’s (and, therefore, district’s) focus is on creating and maintaining a place for boys to do scouting.
This focus from council on units can easily confuse the adult leaders that those units are the primary units of scouting. If council focuses at that level it must be the most important, right?
Wrong. The most important is the den or patrol. Our focus is the boy and his enjoyment and growth. The den or patrol (which I simplify to patrol for reasons that will become more clear shortly) is where the boy experiences scouting. He wants to do scouting with his friends. He is more likely to continue scouting if his friends are physically nearby. The patrol is where this proximity can and should occur.
Clarke Green shares some very interesting literature from Canadian scouting about why and how this works. It is worth a read.
What should we learn from this? Do these lessons apply to Boy Scouts only or do they apply to dens and crews?
The stronger the identity and cohesiveness of the patrols, the stronger the pack, troop, or crew. The boys doing what they love as a patrol will never fail to seek more of the fun. They want to spend time with their friends their own age. If they get this, they will want to share the joy with younger scouts. It starts a healthy cycle of do, model, teach, and do again.