Camp is an exciting part of the Scouting experience, but camp is also
an important marketing tool that councils are using to build membership,
increase retention of members, and reach out to urban communities.
The Winnebago Council's Winter Quest gives Scouts like Greg Buehner, second from the left, and Bill Goede, standing at right, the opportunity to share the fun and excitement of Scouting with potential members.
If You Walked into Camp Quest, you might think you were at an ordinary summer camp. Kids are swimming, hiking, riding horses, and having a great time.
But this is no ordinary summer camp. There are no uniforms, no neckerchiefs, and no packs or troops. In fact, these kids aren't even Scouts—at least not yet.
But by the time this camp is over, almost every one of them will go home determined to join Scouting.
Sponsored annually by the Winnebago Council in Waterloo, Iowa, Camp Quest is designed to introduce underprivileged youth to Scouting. For many of the 541 first- through fifth-grade youth who attended in 2001, camp is a new experience. Camp Quest is just one part of the Winnebago Council's efforts to introduce minority youth to Scouting. The concept for the camp came about three years ago, when the council realized it wasn't reaching minorities with its messages. To address the problem, the council developed a Scoutreach division and hired a full-time executive to focus the council's marketing and outreach efforts.
Since then, the Winnebago Council has initiated Camp Quest, a similar winter camping experience called Winter Quest, and other community events. Each event is designed to provide a positive experience for young people and introduce them to the excitement of the Scouting program.
Council President Scott Jordan said the effort is paying off. According to Jordan, almost 100 percent of the boys who attend Camp Quest join Scouting. In addition, the council's overall minority enrollment is up dramatically, with more than 1,000 African American youth participating, up from fewer than 100 just three years ago.
"We're looking at increased membership in the council and a whole group of people who will grow up and volunteer someday," he said.
President Dennis Clark has used innovative programs like Camp Quest and Winter Quest to dramatically increase minority enrollment in the council.
Dennis Clark, immediate past council president, said there is no easy way to achieve the kind of success the council has seen.
"There is no magic bullet and no magic formula," said Clark. "It takes a lot of shoe leather, and getting out and meeting people and building a nucleus of support before you start the program."
Jordan agreed. "Marketing this kind of program can't be done with just an ad in the paper. It takes keeping everyone involved and informed, and having a strong, exciting program. A strong program excites and engages kids, and inspires and motivates volunteers and supporters."
There is no question that camp is an important tool in building membership, but a positive camp experience can also help retain membership. In fact, camp attendance is considered a measure of the health of a pack or troop.
Unfortunately, convincing first-time Cub Scout leaders and parents to allow their Cubs to attend Cub Scout resident camp can be a challenge.
Camping chairman John Gardner, bottom right, and his staff of volunteers have helped the Northeastern Pennsylvania Council increase camp attendance 40 percent by focusing marketing efforts on putting families like Pamela Anna and her son, Jason, sitting, and Cheryl Daube and her son, Scott, standing, at ease about attending camp.
In the Northeastern Pennsylvania Council in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the task of marketing the council's camps falls to camping chairman John Gardner. According to Gardner, marketing camp can be tough because Boy Scout leaders and Cub Scout leaders view camp differently.
Gardner said the person who decides whether to send a Cub Scout to resident camp is usually the mother. He said it's not surprising that a mother who is sending her son to camp for the first time has different concerns than an experienced Boy Scout leader who is choosing a camp.
"Boy Scout leaders are concerned about camp programs and what advancements are available. But mothers want to know that the camps are safe, secure, and clean," he said.
According to Winnebago Council President Scott Jordan, almost 100 percent of the boys who attend Camp Quest join Scouting.
"In addition, people leading Cub Scout packs are often first-time Scouters. They are new to our program and to leading a pack of boys. Most don't yet have the self-confidence to take a pack of kids to Cub Scout camp."
While the council targets Cub Scouts, Cub Scout leaders, and parents with marketing, the council pays closest attention to the mothers. Many of its efforts are designed to help ease their concerns about resident camp.
Many districts have mothers who have had good camp experiences talk to parents and leaders who haven't been to camp. "We see the greatest difference in the districts that do this. The personal touch makes a difference," said Gardner.
Another way the council is working to ease parents' anxiety is to offer shorter camp stays.
"We have a full-week resident camp for Cub Scouts, but we also have a three-day program for those who are uncomfortable being away for a full week," said Gardner.
To help introduce parents, leaders, and Cub Scouts to camp, the council also sponsors an annual Haunted Harvest Fest at the resident camp.
"We set up model campsites, we have hayrides and activities to let them see the camp. Once parents see the facilities, they feel better about letting their youth attend," said Gardner.
With more than 1,200 parents and children attending the festival over an October 2001 weekend, the council counts the festival a success.
Gardner said the council's marketing of Cub Scout resident camp has produced dramatic results. "Just three years ago our camp was running at 35 percent capacity, but for the 2001 camping season we were at 75 percent."
But the marketing efforts don't end when camp is over. In fact, for Gardner, the council's camp marketing efforts go on year-round.
"Every year we have a new group of Cub Scouts and another chance to introduce them to the fun and excitement of Scouting."
Since Scouting founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell held the first Scout camp on Brownsea Island back in 1907, camp and camping have been at the core of the Scouting program.
And with good reason. According to the recent Summer Camp Outcomes Study conducted by independent research firm Harris Interactive, summer camp is a microcosm of the entire Scouting experience.
While boys have fun at camp, hidden inside the experience are growth and learning opportunities that build character and develop leadership skills.
In 2001, 549,351 Scouts attended a Scout camp or went camping—the largest number ever and a 2.5 percent increase over 2000. More than 317,800 Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, and Webelos Scouts attended a day camp during 2001.