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Size of a Pack

WHAT IS A REALISTIC PACK SIZE AND STRUCTURE?

Years ago packs often attracted about 20% of the available youth. Those days were when Cubbing was a male only program but today, even with a blended pack of boys and girls if a pack gets 8-10% of the available youth it is probably doing good. However, 20% is not unrealistic. In fact I know of one highly successful pack that attracted over 80% of the available youth.

Scouting used to be measured with what was called degrees of difficulty. In other words, low income programs had to deal with poverty, high single parent issues and in some neighborhoods a safety issue. The benefit to those neighborhoods was a large demographic in a small area so distance was not an issue. Next came rural families. Distance was a major factor when folks might live a significant distance from meeting sites. Suburban communities generally had the lowest degree of difficulty since most families had adequate finances, distance generally was not an issue and neither was safety.

The biggest key to the size and density of a pack tends to be the quality of the program and the retention of members as they move up the ranks. This is dependent on several factors. First, getting and keeping the support and participation of parents. Cubbing is a family values program and you can’t have ‘family values’ without family. Get the parents involved. Next is meeting the expectations of parents and Cubs. There are many factors involved in meeting expectations. Kids want fun, excitement, adventure, rewards and awards and to see the program grow and keep up with them as they move up in rank and grade. Parents want some of the same things but they also want to see good structure, good communication and that their children are growing in social, moral, character and other skills and areas.

Strong, healthy packs do best when they run an active, 12 month program. Why would you wind down for the summer when that offers the best weather for program and kids have the most free time? Sports exist year round so that isn’t an excuse. Families do not go away for 3 months, maybe a week or two, so that isn’t an excuse. This is a time for great field trips, picnics, conservation projects and summertime advancement and the summertime pack award plus day and resident camps. Our argument about competition with sports was to become the competition because we did so many fun and varied things.
Plan the program to grow with the Cub. Offer special events and recognitions in the Webelos program that the younger Cubs and families will aspire to do. Den and Pack meetings need to be FUN and be built around the Cubs. Family events should be planned throughout the year. Families should be kept informed via a pack newsletter and website. Dens should be kept at 8 members and new dens started as needed. Parents should be recruited for leadership and committee positions and assisted to get fully trained and familiar with their jobs. Ideally, there should be a strong sense of belonging and being welcome at all levels.

Personally, I think that a pack can get too big. If quality and communication starts to slip because of size, you might want to consider a second pack. 6 grades mean 6 dens of 8 Cubs each times 2 if you have equal numbers of girl dens. Might be something to think about.

Now I know that the post sounds like a lot of work but believe me, once it is all in place it almost runs itself. Happy families join in planning and running programs and they build their other activities around the pack. Especially now that it is a one stop shop for parents with both sons and daughters. Where else can they get the kind of value based program for both kids?

One of the reasons why Packs wind down a bit over the summer is adult volunteer burnout. We run some limited activities and camp over the summer but we suspend pack and troop meetings. Unless you are in travel or high school sports, most of those slow down for the summer too. I think summertime pack plus camp is plenty. For those who simply can’t let down, we also have options for scout camp all summer long where I am.

Interestingly, I was feeling pretty bad about the summer my kids had this year due to Covid because we didn’t go away anywhere and there were few organized activities. I was shocked when they said it was the best summer they ever had because we weren’t running all over the place all the time.

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My limited understanding is that a “healthy” pack consists of at least one Den or more at every level of Cub Scouting K-5 and each of those Dens consisting of between 5-8 Scouts with at least one Den Leader and at least two parent volunteers supporting the scouts, all of whom have a current up to date Youth Protection Certificate. Also; a healthy Pack has a trained Cubmaster, Secretary, Charter Organization Rep and treasurer. Most of all; having all these things is fantastic. However; if your not doing fun and interesting things, the most important members, Scouts, won’t continue in scouting. So do things and have fun and work as a coherent TEAM with one goal and that is promoting as many Cub Scouts as you can to be Tenderfoot Scouts.

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I think you need to work with the group you have, make sure a quality program is being delivered and make sure the word spreads in the community, Instead of focusing on the obstacles, push the positives. The parens will spread the word, and we should encourage them to do so, The parents out there who haven’t yet been reached trust their friends and neighbors far more than a DE that shows up at the school or a television commercial.

Things are different right now. We had no access to the schools this fall, and recruiting suffered. The pandemic has also crushed retention. We have the same seven actve Scouts now as we had in late June, and that’s down from 20 in February. These are unprecedented times, and we need to do what we can to hold things together and make sure we are prepared to grow when the tide turns. When you do have a potential recruit attend one of your events, making sure the family feels welcome and the Scout enjoys a quality program will get the Scout to join and stick with Cub Scouting,

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I’ve decided 30-40 is a good minimum size for both programs and councils need to look at combining nearby units to hit this number, unless they would be so far apart the distance matters.

We’re at 14 or 15 Scouts and it’s just too small but we’re stable this year, which is a good position this year.

We ended up gaining the remaining few Scouts of another pack and had enough new recruits. At the same time I jumped to 8 adults registered. We’ll come out of this year in a good position for next fall. We’ll make it to 80 years at the end of 2021.

I feel like we can get a rotating group of adults at this scale that the pack can do well. I was aiming for 2022, but 2023 is fine at this point. I’m in the pack another 6.5 years and want to take a pack that almost folded my first year and lead it to become a major program in the area that families want to join.

I looked around here and the most stable packs in our area have a minimum of 700-900 kids to recruit from. I hit 20 on fall recruiting from a school of 350.

Here, a few years ago the school districts went to a monthly electronic ‘newsletter’ for the school and outside groups were to purchase ads on it. Well, that has become ineffective to say the least. This past Friday I spoke to the principal and she is willing to have us post videos on the classroom announcements on their room monitors, send home flyers and even see about a zoom type presentation where students can ask questions. We will work out the details and I’ll be posting how it all works out. Don’t be afraid to meet with your administration and PTO/PTA and see what can be done… The first step in membership is recruitment, the second (and IMHO most important is retention.

@KevinCarlyle - I disagree about combining units to hit 30 or 40 Scouts, Once you shut a unit down, it is very difficult to start it up again. If two nearby packs are delivering quality programs and have 15 Scouts each, I think the council’s effort is better spent on helping those existing paks grow and retain their membership.

I’m a Cubmaster of a pack that will recharter next month with six Scouts, down from 19 at the start of 2020, and 10 at the start of 2019, when I assumed the role. I know we’re doing things right. We’re getting zero points for recruitment, retention and day/resident/family camping, and we’ll still just barely get JTE Gold status for 2020. If we can get through this pandemic, I’m certain we’ll grow.

Even though we have a pack less than two miles away from us and another about three miles away, just the fact that all three packs meet on separate nights makes Scouting more widely available. Whenever we encounter families who tell us the meeting time doesn’t work, we refer them to one of the other packs. I have a den chief from the girls’ troop in one of the other chartered organizations. I want to see both of those other packs succeed and thrive. If nearby units cooperate, everybody wins.

About 17 years ago, I was a Scoutmaster of a troop in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The troop was chartered in 1917, and has deep ties in the community. The troop meets right on the southeast edge of Chinatown. When I heard that a new troop was formed in Two Bridges, an adjacent neighborhood to the east of us, I contacted by DE. I asked why a new troop was formed a five-minute walk from ours, if it meets at the same time as we do. He told me that some folks approached him with an interest in forming a new pack and troop. I suggested it might have been a better idea for the Scouts to join our pack and troop, since they really weren’t offering anything that’s not already available.

I got the new Scoutmaster’s contact information. I left him voicemails on his cell phone and work phone and sent him an email. In my messages, I was reaching out offering to cooperate. I know how hard it can be to start from the ground up. My email had my troop’s calendar attached. I told him that I had spoken with my PLC, and they wanted to welcome his troop to participate in any of our activities to help get them off the ground.

To date, none of the messages I sent have been returned. I never met the Scoutmaster or any of the adults from the pack or troop. They never attended a roundtable and never got trained. Why WOULDN’T someone attend roundtables of the Big Apple District (coolest district name ever) back then, since they were held on the 78th floor of the Empire State Building (coolest roundtable location ever), and I was on roundtable staff, later commissioner?

Sometimes, DEs may form units they know are doomed to failure, because forming a new unit counts strongly in performance evaluations. The sad part is that the program presented was probably subpar, and neither the pack nor the troop survived two years. The families who signed their sons up now have a negative image of Scouting. Some of the youth who joined now probably have children of their own and may not consider Scouting a viable option for their time and money, because they had a bad experience as a youth. In other words, entire family trees have been chopped down.

That could have turned out different with a little cooperation. I led the horse to water, but I couldn’t make him drink.

Although my pack dropped from 20 active Scouts with better than 95% weekly average attendance in February, down to seven now with one graduating to Scouts BSA next month, not one of the 13 who left did so because they were dissatisfied with what was happening week to week. Some experienced pandemic-related family tragedies, and others are gripped by fear and confusion. If a vaccine gets distributed and creates herd immunity, I’m confident we can get several families to return.

Councils focus so heavily on numbers, but they really need to find a way to lift up underperforming units. If a unit scores poorly on JTE, the council needs to figure out why, and it needs to rely on a mostly understaffed group of commissiioners to do that. It’s not an easy nut to crack.

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You are correct about the difficulty of bringing back a dropped unit once it is merged with another. You are also correct in that the professional staff generally is highly concerned with the number of registered youth and not so concerned with the day to day operation of the unit which can lead to poor program and poor retention. The ways to counter that involve growing the number of trained and active adults including a full committee, a solid program with summer events and activities (our pack did den meetings, den field trips and monthly pack meetings combined with a picnic atmosphere), Virtually every member earned the summertime award and kids that are active over the summer months are still there in the fall and generally bring friends with them. A good annual program planning conference with the key leadership is critical and a stepped program that keeps pace with the abilities of the cubs is a must. 4th and 5th graders don’t want to be doing the same stuff they did in grades k, 1,2 and 3. Keep the program simple, fun and affordable.

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Nope Nope Nope. If you implemented a minimum Pack/Troop size that large, you’d lose most of the units…

The minimum size for your unit is what you’re comfortable with. We have a Troop with 14 youth members, and we’re large enough (even in COVID times) to do pretty much anything we want to do.

If my Council showed up and told me they were going to forcibly merge my Troop with another one, there’d be problems.

On top of that, in my experience, units that get very much larger than your suggested minimum size run into problems managing the program – Scoutmaster conferences, for example, are an entirely different animal in a Troop with 100+ Scouts than in a Troop with 20-ish Scouts.

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Having a Troop that is a practical or manageable size is important. I can see small troops having joint activities and events but I would not want to force them to merge. As a kid, my troop was roughly 100 members and they split it into two 50 boy troops. One 100 boy pack feeding two troops at the same sponsor. It worked for many years until the key leaders of both troops had major health problems the same year. My troop continued because the troop had a strong committee that stepped up and kept the program going until our leader was able to return. The other troop was a 2 man show without a real committee and they faltered and then folded. We picked up a few of their members but most just drifted away. It is critical to cultivate good volunteers in Packs and Troops in order to properly support a quality program experience.

While the strong committee is a key, you’re making the point for me.

You had two Troops, when one faltered, most of the youth there left the program. I’m sure there are plenty of underlying issues that lead to that beyond the health issues, but the truth is that if there were more, smaller Troops, the impact of that Troop folding (for whatever reasons) is mitigated more effectively than it is with fewer, larger Troops.

There was a natural sense of competition between the two troops and I suspect that in addition to the downturn in program with the loss of their leadership that the members didn’t have the same sense of loyalty to our troop even with the same sponsor. I agree that trying to force troops to merge when they are running good programs and retaining and holding their members is wrong. The most critical issue to me is not size but quality and retention. A quality program will grow and draw both youth and adults. Troops need a healthy relationship with a healthy pack as well as do their own recruitment in addition to crossover. I am in the process of working with a local troop to rebuild their total structure, recruit new members and reorganized the pack that used to feed them but that dropped 3 years ago. There are a lot of elements that need to come together for long term success.