Traditional Membership and Unit Growth
Fun activities are key to keeping youth engaged and involved in Scouting's traditional programs.
"Capture them earlier, excite them more, keep them longer" is more than a rally cry for the Occoneechee Council of Raleigh, North Carolina. It's their strategic plan's membership-growth goal, which energized the council in 2003 to achieve 3 percent overall growth, 4 percent growth in traditional membership, 80 percent retention, and a recharter rate in the 90th percentile. Crucial to this success are focused and innovative new-unit and retention initiatives.
Due to growth in high-tech and biomedical research industries, the council territory is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. To keep pace, the council implements aggressive new-unit initiatives that include inventive School Night for Scouting strategies and major events that reach out to the religious community.
To increase interest in school nights, the council created a 90-second video flier featuring Tiger and Cub Scouts to be shown in hard-to-reach public schools. However, initiatives weren't limited to the public system. Because of private schools and the area's growing home-schooled youth population, the council experimented with direct mail, sending fliers to 20,000 targeted households. In the council's most populous county, school nights were offered on two different dates. Scout Executive Tom Dugger remarks that "many parents attended both--the first to think about it, the second to join."
Venturing is the BSA's coeducational program for young people. Its focus on leadership skills and the outdoors makes it popular among teens.
The council's new-unit initiatives go beyond the school community to the religious. Vice President of Membership Dan Bryson spearheaded efforts with religious chartered organizations, hosting two major events in 2003: a broad-based council dinner including multiple denominations, and the Methodist bishops dinner, which alone secured a commitment to charter 11 more units. In the end, however, much of the council's new-unit success can be attributed to quality leadership and old-fashioned determination. As Council Commissioner Larry Gracie remarks, "New-unit initiatives are great, but the person-to-person ask is still the main key to success."
After capturing Scouts earlier, how does the council "excite them more and keep them longer"? Gracie reports that the council makes it a point to "consider retention as important as initial enrollment." As a result, Cub Scout retention has spilled over into the Boy Scout program, in which 6 percent of the council's Scouts earn the Eagle Award.
A high-quality Cub Scout program motivates boys to go on to become Boy Scouts and Venturers.
Key to this retention success is strong program. The council has made major improvements to camps and conducts exciting youth events soon after recruitment. New members enjoy the Cub Scout family campout or the council camporee within weeks of enrollment. The council also collaborates closely with chartered organizations. As Dugger observes, "Too often units use chartered organizations' facilities but don't share a relationship. We've got units in churches where pastors even stand at the door and welcome Scouts and parents to meetings."
Further, the council nurtures units with neighborhood commissioners. Gracie comments that it's important "to make commissioners local so units are served right. Rural and urban areas have to be approached differently." The council also treats membership as a priority at the board level. Council President Lonnie C. Poole Jr. moved the membership growth report to the top of the meeting agenda. As Poole states, "Membership is the Occoneechee Council's program of emphasis."
RACE TO SCOUTINGConsistent with the Occoneechee Council's 2003 "Race to Scouting" school night theme and its goal to "excite them more," a pinewood derby driver's license is "issued" to each boy who joins. The license is redeemed at the first pack meeting for an exciting race kit packed with a radio, compass, car, and welcome letter. About 2,100 revved-up boys joined, 700 more than the previous year.
The Narragansett Council of Providence, Rhode Island, emphasizes traditional membership and unit growth in the Cub Scout program, the only membership component of the council's long-range plan. "We recruit first- and second-graders, provide quality program to retain them, focus on Webelos transition--and the rest takes care of itself," states Joe Gencarella, council president and long-range plan chair. Results include a 17 percent increase in Tiger Cub membership over the past two years and steady growth in overall Cub Scout numbers. This success can be attributed to the council's focus on a coordinated fall recruiting program, extensive commissioner support, youth interests, and overcoming barriers to school access.
The council's recruiting season begins in August with an orientation dinner for key pack leaders. According to Vice President of Membership Bob Sirhal, the event "walks unit leaders through school night expectations." Attendees receive an all-inclusive CD-ROM of resources, containing detailed membership rally preparation information, tips for success, links to the council's Web site, and more. Key to recruitment is to "have a plan and work that plan," Sirhal points out. "Past success doesn't ensure future success."
Scouting's emphasis on character and citizenship make recruiting efforts welcome in many schools.
Commissioner support also plays a major role in membership efforts, including fall recruitment activities. As Council Commissioner Roger Cardin--a 38-year Scouting veteran--declares, "First impressions count," so the council ensures that a unit or district commissioner is present at each pack-hosted school night. The commissioners' presence serves a threefold purpose: supporting the best possible rally presentations, assisting as subject-matter experts, and expediting results by hand delivering Cub Scout applications and fees within 48 hours to the district executive. Because the council maintains a one-to-three commissioner/unit ratio, commissioners are better able to personally serve units.
Additionally, commissioners serve a crucial role in Webelos Scout transition efforts. They make a practice of following the Guide to Boy Scout Recruiting, which outlines year-round activities to usher second-year Webelos Scouts toward transition. In turn, the commissioners are aware of who these individual Scouts are and remind unit leaders monthly of methods to ensure transition. As a result, 2003 saw approximately 55 percent of the council's Webelos youth cross over into Boy Scouting.
PAWTUCKET RED SOXThe Narragansett Council hit a home run by linking recruiting incentives with the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Boston Red Sox's farm team. For peer-to-peer Cub Scout recruiting, the "Paw Sox" donate tickets to the recruiter and recruitee. Further, the pack recruiting the most in each district participates in pre-game ceremonies for one of the home games. And the council/Paw Sox relationship extends year-round--camporees are held in the stadium during the off season.
To provide high-quality program that retains membership, the Narragansett Council formed a trends committee to identify what keeps Scouts interested in the program. Now a part of the council's strategic plan, the committee consults with teachers and others closely involved with youth to determine if the program is outdated or needs tweaking in any areas. For success, "it's important to maintain openness to change and improvement," Gencarella comments.
School access figures prominently in the council's membership growth success. Every year, the council sends contact letters and response cards to all superintendents. It helps that a key council volunteer is a superintendent himself. Jim Halley, active in the New England Superintendents Leadership Council, personally follows up with colleagues. Because of Scouting's intrinsic benefits, the program is welcome in local schools. As Halley remarks, "Scouting adds character and responsibility to kids' lives, which in turn helps educators work with them more effectively."