Perhaps the most precious resource of any Scouting organization is its volunteers. And when the ranks thin out, there really is only one way to solve the problem: Go out and get more.
The Crossroads of America Council, based in Indianapolis, credits four factors for its success in building leadership ranks: a strong council board with a strong nominating committee, a focus on building membership committees, a commitment to adult recruiting, and a method of measuring the staff on how well it grows volunteer ranks.
The nominating committee, including Scouting alumni and parents, is a dedicated group of community leaders who meet eight or nine months out of the year. The committee's tenacity is the key to its success.
"We're careful about what the membership of that group is," said Charlie Golden, nominating committee chairman. "Over the past few years, we've tried to populate it with past presidents" who have institutional knowledge and solid perspectives on the issues facing the council.
There's also a continuing evaluation of board members, a "cleaning up" to make sure those who are on the board stay active and interested. "We don't just let people stay on there because they got on there the first time," Golden said. "We want folks who want to participate."
Success in bringing a high-profile board member to Scouting often attracts more just like him or her.
The evaluation process also helps the council identify areas in which it needs more representation. For example, after recently noting that it lacked members with connections in public relations or communications, the council recruited some.
The rewards of the council's recruiting effort pay double dividends: Success in bringing a high-profile board member to Scouting often attracts more just like him or her.
"One of the best things we do when we want to get someone on the board is to show them who else is on the board," Golden said.
"If you can get good people who are well-recognized, that attracts other people who are the same."
In the San Diego-Imperial Council, each of the 11 districts has its own Eagle board of review committee—some with as many as 35 to 40 community leaders in the pool to serve on review boards.
While each community leader may serve only a handful of times in a year, those few occasions plant the seed for future involvement. And what better way to showcase the potential of Scouting than with a young man on the cusp of becoming an Eagle Scout?
"Fifty percent of the goal is just to get involvement on some level," said Russ Strenk, the council's marketing and communications director. "Then we get to tell them our story."
The council takes a similar approach through many community programs. In terms of volunteer recruitment, the theory goes: A one-time effort by a volunteer opens the door to another.
But even if a volunteer's involvement doesn't become a full-time endeavor, it can still help the council grow its leadership. "Our strength in leadership isn't that the board gets to add 100 members," Strenk said.
"It's getting people who are helping Scouting grow behind the scenes, and not by coming to a board meeting once a month."
The council's continued success in volunteer growth is perhaps even more remarkable considering it has faced litigation and the potential loss of two campgrounds and a headquarters because of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. In the face of such controversy—and as the subject of headlines in the newspapers regularly—the council's leadership huddled together, found its focus, and set aggressive goals of growth.
The theory goes: A one-time effort by a volunteer opens the door to another.
"You don't say, 'Woe is me,'" said Terry Trout, the council's Scout executive. "You tell your story in a succinct, dedicated way."
The council tasked a committee to handle all issues pertaining to its legal situation, leaving other volunteers free to focus on raising more money, adding more board members, and improving facilities. One such goal was the development of a long-range master plan for the council's Mataguay Scout Ranch.
The committee preparing the plan included professional staff and experts in the fields of youth camping, camp facility development, building and landscape architecture, construction, forestry, and conservation.
And so the cycle continues: Bringing in experts from the community gets the job done well, and perhaps plants the seed for future council leaders.