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How to increase your dues to $100 and have more families pay

A higher dues cost without doing fundraising can easily be the most affordable option for more families to be in Scouts.

One fundamental of the program is you shouldn’t raise more money for a unit than is required under your pack budget. Any excess on hand would go to reduce the money needed for a future year.

Another fundamental is helping youth pay their own way in the program is a centerpiece of fundraising, not making their efforts go to the unit budget.


“There should be a real need for raising money based on your unit’s program. Units should not engage in money-earning projects merely because someone has offered an attractive plan. Remember that individual youth members are expected to earn their own way. The need should be beyond normal budget items covered by dues.”

It’s also very clear fundraising money must be used only for qualified, reasonable Scouting expenses by that individual. ex. you shouldn’t raise $150 if you only need $100 for your personal costs.

So what does this mean practically? Instead of doing fundraising to cover unit costs you provide fundraising only to help individuals pay their own way.

Dues fund the budget, not fundraising. You then make it not mandatory to participate in any fundraising provided across the year.
And that’s where you get into the psychology of marketing.

Covering the dues through fundraising as a pooled effort the options become

  1. sell
  2. don’t sell

If dues are required and fundraising isn’t the options becomes

  1. pay dues without fundraising
  2. pay dues through the proceeds of fundraising
  3. pay a portion with fundraising and a portion without

Do you see the difference in the options?

The first choice means only people who choose option 1 are paying unit costs. That’s fine in a super large unit with a lot of Scouts. The cost per Scout can be a lot smaller in a large unit through economy of scale.

The second choice everyone is picking an option where they pay. They’re given the choice of how to do it. In no way did you say a family can’t pay their way with fundraising, but they don’t have to. And because everyone is required to pay their own way like the program wants, families gain all the benefit from their efforts.

You didn’t tell the second family they must sell $150 worth of popcorn. What if they can only sell $40 worth? You don’t pressure them to sell, you tell them to pay dues.

Do you know why this is? it’s the social debt. It’s the same reason you go to a birthday party of a kid who comes to your kid’s and you both bring a gift. Forcing them to sell a $20 popcorn item to 8 families, they incur social debt around fundraising. Now those families will come to them with their own fundraising program.

Forcing fundraising can dramatically increase the cost to that family despite fundraising being around reducing cost. It’s really only the middle class that can ignore the social debt. The poorer you are the more you need to regain that value back.

At the same time a family that sells $300 worth of popcorn gets all the benefit of the extra work under the pay your own way model. Because it’s fundraising money if they quit the pack keeps the excess of course. The key point is they’re not losing out because a family didn’t pay dues and their money fills a hole in the budget.

You might think, what if someone quits without paying? You shrink the budget. You’re not buying badges for that Scout ($30-40 per) so there’s a place you naturally cut it. You throw in a few costs you won’t do if too many people quit. We changed charter orgs two years ago, I keep delaying getting a new pack flag. We need a new pack flag, we just don’t buy it. Yet.

So back to the $100.

Why do you charge dues at an amount starting at $100? Because pack supplies that benefit all families should be in the pack budget. You should be buying $30-40 worth of badges/pins/loops per Scout. You should be buying $30-40 worth of activity supplies each year. So that leaves you $20-40 per for purchases you need across many years like awnings, coolers, and the like.

Never have families buy what they need for activities. If you’re with a nonprofit use your connected tax exempt status and buy in bulk for less. You can setup a tax exempt Amazon account easily, Walmart you go to the customer service desk with the letter and get a card you can use. Families spend less because you’re buying for them at a lower cost.

And they never need to remember to bring activity supplies with them. Convenience beats cost. You increase attendance since they only need themselves and their book to participate.

That’s how you can increase your dues, do less fundraising and have more families pay and participate.

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I started with a long response to this, but a short answer suffices.

Fundraising for individuals can get you, your unit, and your chartered organization into IRS trouble. Fundraising is intended to benefit the organization as a whole, not individual Scouts or families.

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The idea that a unit should never provide a Scout a way to raise extra money so they can earn their own way to something their parents can’t afford is the kind of made up policy that pushes older Scouts out of the program. It’s bad for the program.

The BSA isn’t a socialist program, it’s about individual effort turning into individual results. That’s the entire purpose of the Eagle Project, as a capstone showing how they learned the value of hard work.

The National Jamboree around here is $2750. Are you telling me it’s not reasonable for someone to fundraise to pay their own way? There’s many Scouts that could never go otherwise and you’ve just made that an activity for the rich.

Go look at Personal Management Merit Badge requirement 9. An Eagle required badge connects to invididual effort fundraising.

We have camp scholarships in our council. This is an official form reviewed by the local professional staff.

They want to know what fundraising the Scout has done to pay part of their individual costs.

“The ninth part of the Scout Law is “A Scout is THRIFTY.” A Scout works to pays his own way. The Council Camping Committee is very interested in what the Scout has done to assist his family in providing him with this camping experience. This is a character building opportunity for the scout to learn the importance of being THRIFTY.”

Do you see how this connects to the same skills in Personal Management Merit Badge around making personal goals and earning the money towards it?

Read this brochure

“I’m selling a discount card to help earn my way to Summer Camp this year.”

“Our new Scout Saver Card is a great way for Scouts to fund adventures to summer camp, pay for registration fees, and other scout-related expenses”

The only example of anyone saying not to do a lot of fundraising is a lawyer for the BSA being quoted from 2014 and he says fundraising can benefit individuals in the statement! (see below) It’s also worth pointing out this so-called ban hasn’t been written on ANY official fundraising paperwork or guides in six years, just a magazine article.

Instead we have guides that say fundraising should benefit the individual and dues should cover the unit budget.


“There should be a real need for earning money based on your unit’s program. We should not engage in special money-earning projects merely because someone has offered us an attractive plan. Individual youth members are expected to earn their own way. The unit’s needs should exceed the normal budget items covered by dues.”

Under this model if you provide a fundraising program and your unit budget has been met the money should benefit each individual. You absolutely could plan to do the same annual fundraiser each year and make an announcement that the unit needs three new tents for spring and the first $600 will go to buy tents. If you don’t need the money you give it to the individuals.

“DUES: To cover the costs of awards and recognition, crafts, and special events most local packs have dues. Packs may offer opportunities to conduct fundraisers to offset these costs. Dues are established by the families in the pack through the pack committee.”

So if dues don’t need to be covered by fundraising and all families are still expected to pay their own way and pay dues.

WHY would you ever have a Scout pay for the costs of another Scout?

We are here to teach ALL Scouts how to pay their own way and the value of hard work and the benefits from earning the money for the activities they want to do.

An example would be if a Scout is part of a unit, and the unit raises money to offset the costs of Scouting for the entire unit. Nothing wrong with that. If they use it as a means to pay down the cost for the unit and each member to go to summer camp, nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, when you move over to the other side, and a Scout goes out and sells a lot of popcorn, and the unit designates that money that he raises to be used only for that Scout and only for activities that benefit that Scout, we get into an issue of whether or not the IRS would consider that to be a substantial private benefit.

The IRS isn’t going to go after the typical young Cub Scout that’s selling popcorn, and it helps to pay for his uniforms or helps to pay for his summer camp. But to the extent we have people that are raising significant funds, and those funds are being used for costs that would normally be parental obligations in connection with Scouting, we’re getting into an area where the IRS has been and is paying more attention.

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To not bury it, what’s a parental expectation in Scouting? In the last paragraph in my last post is the only reference to this phrase anywhere I can find. It’s again as if the BSA is not creating policy through their lawyer because it doesn’t come up anywhere else.

This isn’t written down anywhere but should be clear what this is.

Fundraising isn’t there to pay for adult costs like adult registration, adult training costs, a uniform for an adult or camp for a adult going with the Scouts.

Fundraising is for the Scouts themselves.

So how would a unit cover appropriate adult costs? In the pack budget, and that’s another reason why you need to raise your dues and not pay for the pack budget with mandatory fundraising. To make sure Scout fundraising isn’t benefitting adults and not the youth.

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I’ll speak from personal experience as a scout (> 30 years ago now) who couldn’t rely on family money to get to events. My unit did not permit fundraising to benefit individuals because our chartering org was/is a church (tax exempt), and they weren’t (and aren’t) permitted to provide substantial benefit to individuals under their tax status except where it directly overlaps with their designation (e.g. charitable organizations paying employees or providing charitable benefits to eligible recipients). As a result, I mowed lawns, washed cars, did gardening, and any other task I could find for every neighbor (and not so nearby “neighbor”) I could manage in order to participate in troop activities (including regular campouts, our annual summer “super trips”, and things like summer camp and camporee). I applied for any camperships that were offered, and even occasionally got a few. :^) I never got to go to jambo or NOAC because it was too heavy a lift for me to pull off (and frankly some of those were the Fort A.P. Hill years).

The last section that you quote (from the Bryan on Scouting article regarding substantial benefit) seems to me to be consistent with the advice coming from everyone else: the potential for the IRS to find a “substantial benefit” is non-zero. Although it may or may not put the individual scout/family at risk of being pursued, it could potentially endanger the tax-exempt status of chartering orgs that are so-designated. There are significant risks associated with that, and I would recommend anyone considering individual scout accounts (or any other form of personal benefit from fundraising) to get, in writing, approval from the chartering org first, and make sure they understand what’s potentially on the line (by having their accountant review the idea). I would not hang my chartering org’s tax status on BSA policies and procedures that aren’t professional tax advice ETA: Oops. Left the last bit of that sentence off originally.

I can think of ideas as a layperson (i.e. not a tax pro/attorney) that seem to meet the idea of both benefiting scouts who need the help and (potentially) not inuring individual benefit outside of the scope of an organization’s charitable status. For example, consider a church that charters a troop. The troop conducts fundraising, and designates a portion of the fundraising to offset the costs of going to summer camp for scouts with lower incomes. Scouts/families are required to apply for those funds and the chartering org (or its designees such as the troop committee) decides who receives funds. That seems (again, to a layperson) like a reasonable approach consistent with the tax-exempt organization’s mission (which includes helping the poor) and intent of unit fundraising (for things that aren’t ordinarily covered by unit dues). Perhaps a requirement that scouts applying for such funds must participate in the fundraiser would also be acceptable, although I’m less sure since that could be more like “earned” income than a charitable gift by the chartering org. I’m also not sure what such a gift might mean for the recipients’ taxes.

I’m not sure how offsetting unit dues proportional to participation in fundraising would be anything other than giving individual benefit, though. I could see if a unit said, “We would ordinarily need to cover the cost of event Y as part of our dues structure, but because we were able to fundraise enough money last year, we can include that event in our events covered by the unit directly for all scouts who want to participate.” That seems less like an individual benefit to me, but I’m not a professional in this area and would defer to the opinion of my chartering org’s expert.

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The major problem is the BSA is more interested in vague guidance around the IRS than providing anything solid.

That there’s more good information on a magazine article than the official fundraising policy document means the BSA failed to provide good guidance.

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I would argue that is because the guidance can only properly come from a tax professional familiar with the actual circumstances of each unit/chartering org combination. BSA isn’t in the tax business, and it’s properly the place of the unit and their chartering org (whom it most concerns) to get it sorted with their tax advisors, who might ask the IRS for a review of a specific program pre-implementation if they are that concerned. I suspect that the IRS would not agree to do so, but it almost certainly won’t agree to a review of a program being proposed by the BSA (one tax ID #), but conducted by one or more chartering orgs (multiple different tax ID #'s) since each taxpayer is different.

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I think that you’re confusing an individual trying to raise money on their own to pay their own way, and an organizational fundraiser. They’re two different things, with two different desired outcomes.

Of course, as an individual, any Scout can go try to earn money to pay their way. Mow lawns and rake leaves. Hold a can drive. Get a part-time job. Make a GoFundMe for a trip to Sea Base or Philmont.

That’s completely different than a unit (especially if you’re chartered by a non-profit organization like a church) raising money for unit operations. The rules about personal benefits from fundraising only apply to organizational fundraising.

So here’s where your Troop Committee earns their one-hour-per-week paycheck. They decide what constitutes “unit operations” and they define the budget to allow the SM to run the program. There’s nothing anywhere that says “raise enough money to pay for all Scouts’ dues for the year”, or “fund a campership to pay for Scouts to attend Summer Camp” are not-OK parts of the Troop Budget.

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And this is the key distinction. Charter Orgs can get into trouble with the IRS when the amount of money raised by an individual is in direct proportion to the benefit they receive (aka Scout Account). If the unit raises money then subsidizes the cost of camp by the same amount for each Scout regardless if the Scout raised $0 or $1000, there is no issue.

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Steve, show me how a Kindergartener can raise money that’s not organizational fundraising.

Mow lawns? Really?
A part time job at McDonalds? Not a chance
Raking lawns? Not realistic.

This post is in the cub scout section of the site for a reason. It’s not about troops.

I’ll show you how and show how even the BSA professional staff doesn’t follow it’s own written rules to enable this.

Our local council has the already mentioned Scout fundraising that’s designed to benefit the youth directly. It’s written in the text that it’s for THAT Scout to raise money to go to camp. It’s organized fundraising a Kindergartener can help with.

How do you reconcile the unit splitting up that money when the purpose is to help a specific kid go to camp?

Just maybe the so-called rules are there to be guidance to protect the BSA, not rules they ever intended to be followed perfectly. As was said, they’re more telling people to go get guidance on the topic.

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My pack sold popcorn and wreaths. We earned enough to pay for Boys’ Life for all Scouts, registration fees for all leaders, all awards, handbooks, PWD cars (when we did not make our FOS goal), PWD trophies, PWD snacks, donation for PWD track & operation, Blue & Gold and $100/Scout for summer camp. The only fees families had to pay were the annual BSA registration fee, the camp balance, polar cubs (winter day camp), and a small fee to offset food for the pack campout.

EVERY Scout received these benefits no matter how much they sold. The incentive to sell was to reduce the cost for everyone. We also explained that the younger Scouts typically were able to sell more because people were less likely to turn down a Tiger than a Webelos.

For families that did not want to go sell on their own or lived in a neighborhood with many Scouts, we did blitz nights where Scouts and leaders hit neighborhoods where traditionally not many Scouts live.

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The issue of “private benefit” with fundraising is real, but not nearly as significant as people tend to portray because they generally aren’t looking at things the way the law actually reads. The important concept under IRS regulations is whether or not the “private benefit” is incidental since incidental benefit isn’t a problem.

Where people go wrong when discussing this is that they look at a Wreath sale (for example) and say, ok, the sale generated $4000 in profit, and the troop is giving half of that to scouts. Then they say, “50% of the profit is certainly substantial, so this could be a problem”.

But that’s not the appropriate way to examine it. IRS guidelines state that a determination of “substantial benefit” can only be made in the context of the Charitable Organization’s overall activity. So the appropriate analysis would actually be:

Our CO is a church with an annual budget of $1,000,000;
Out of that budget, $2000 in free camping or discounted fees gets split up between 15 scouts.
0.2% of the total budget being “private benefit” looks much more “inconsequential”.

I’m not 100% sure that’s the way the analysis always gets done. Someone shared on this discussion board the broad brush strokes of a situation in which the individual benefit as a percentage of the total operating budget was (likely) small based on the information presented, but the IRS faulted/punished the organization anyway.

That wasn’t a case of “private benefit” it was over a claim of “private inurement”. That was a case of the hospital taking general revenue funds and effectively giving $300 each to a couple of doctors. There is NO exemption for “incidental benefit” under the inurement rules.

Scout accounts where the scouts individually benefit as a natural consequence of conducting the sale (in the form of a commission) is different than if the CO simply took $2000 of donations and distributed it to a select group of scouts. Even the letter from the IRS discussing this issue only talks about it in terms of “private benefit” and not “inurement”.

@ErikLitts - it is not a problem if the unit uses half of its profits for wreath sales for all the Scouts. If this means every Scout gets $50 off the price of summer camp, that is not an issue.

The problem that seems pervasive among BSA units is that, in the interest of fairness, they track how many wreaths each Scout sells and then credit the individual Scouts with a commensurate share of the profits. That is called “troublesome” in IRS Release 2002-0041.

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Again, I’m not an expert, but I don’t really see the distinction if funds are raised by a charitable organization by sales or by donations, and then distributed in the form of a $300 discount per “contributing person” (e.g. highest selling doctors) on rent vs a $300 discount per “contributing scout” (e.g. highest selling scouts) on scout camp. Maybe it’s one of those technical issues (like when I try to explain the difference between salt hydration distress and sulfate damage) that laypeople won’t get. Of course, that goes back to the common recommendation that individual organizations consult their own tax advisors to get professional advice. :^)

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Yeah, I can understand why people would think that’s all pretty much the same thing, but the IRS is good at splitting hairs. It’s like the difference between profit sharing and a commission; they look about the same, but are treated differently.

I think the way I would look at it if I were handling the finances is like a consignment situation. The troop buys 1000 wreaths for $10,000. The scouts then sell the wreaths for $20/ea. For each wreath they sell for $20 on behalf of the troop (and thus the CO) the scout delivers $15 in revenue to the troop and pays $5 towards their troop account; either reducing the amount of money they owe for the year, or possibly running a negative balance against future charges. This way the troop (and thus the CO) only ever records the $15 as revenue and there isn’t an issue of CO funds being used for private benefit.

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Yes, I’m aware. Though I’d argue it’s not in the interest of fairness, it’s in the interest of motivation.

The problem with the way the issue is presented in that release (and in the 1993 discussion of a booster club) is that it imagines the Scout Pack as an independent organization. And I don’t disagree with their assessment that if you had a CO that was distributing 25%-50% of it’s revenue as a direct benefit to the scouts based upon their fundraising performance, it would be “troubling”.

However my point is that neither the booster club or scout pack discussions really address the issue the way it would actually work with the majority of BSA packs/troops/crews because they aren’t independent organizations, they are small components of much larger COs.

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Yes. If the organization was older, I would suspect the IRS of inventing hair-splitting. :^)

I’ll admit that I’m still not fully convinced of the difference, but again that’s why I’m not a tax pro, and try to leave it to them (y’all?) to hand out that advice.

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We raised our Pack program cost to $300 and have had dramatic success. First off no one is turned away for financial reasons. Our model is $75 down and the rest can be made through financing (approx $33/mo Oct - May payable by credit card) or paid in full or through fundraising. As a bonus adults who “own” a position get $100 off the $300. Also for parents of multiple children, each subsequent sibling is $50 less so a family of three is $300 + $250 + $200.
My parent roles are filled. The scouts are thriving in an enriched program. I’m getting near 100% attendance at all meetings.
The morale i learned; if it doesn’t cost much it must not be very valuable.

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