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Where Do You See Scouting Membership In The Next 5 Years? What Can We Do To Grow The Program?

I hope this thread doesn’t become a series “doomsday” scenarios. My goal is not to debate decisions both recent and older that have affected Scouting. They are done. I’m more curious where people see things going moving forward. There has been shall we say “robust” discussion about Bankruptcy, the hike in fees and the new merit badge. Again…they are what they are and fussing about it is not going to make a difference.

I’m just speculating, but upon further reflection, I’m thinking the new eagle merit badge in the works is a precursor in part to the BSA allowing coed Troops to those sponsors that want the option. It will be easier to increase membership for girls if they can join existing Troops and will provide the opportunity to cultivate more adult volunteers which I think is desperately needed. Of course, if the BSA went coed, I imagine Venturing would be impacted if not eliminated and maybe that would save the BSA some money so they can focus on marketing.

Speaking of marketing, I wonder if the BSA has any strategy? Are they going to update their horrible YouTube channel and hit social media? Heck, I’m seeing a spike in online schools and those kids are going to need some type of social program so why not hit them?

What’s everyone’s thoughts?

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down down and down. I think they will go 100% gone in the next 5 years.

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I don’t have any real ideas at the moment where the BSA is heading with it’s strategic goals, so I can’t really provide any thoughts in that direction at the moment.

I do hope that the various doom-and-gloom predictions about vanishing membership (no matter the timescale) are wrong. Membership numbers are definitely down, and to me it says that we as an organization are not adequately communicating to families out there why Scouting is good for youth (and their families who participate). I’m not parochial enough to think that “Scouting” has to exclusively mean the BSA, but I don’t know enough about the other Scouting and Scouting-like programs out there (GSUSA, Trail Life, Adventure Guides, etc) to know whether it’s a matter of better messaging by other organizations helping to maintain their membership numbers, or if like the BSA those organizations are seeing similar drops in membership. If the former, how are they better communicating their values that we could emulate as an organization? Is it simply a matter of less “bad press”? It’s hard for me to say, in part because so many of these things are intertwined. If they are seeing similar declines in membership, then it might be a broad change that places value in areas that are less associated with membership in movements like Scouting. Assuming that’s the case, I would ask the questions what is being valued, and why is it not being associated with Scouting?

Personally, I Iook forward to seeing the BSA open up decisions on running coed and/or single-gender troops to the chartering organization. I have always found it strange that coed units were OK from 14-21 (e.g. Venturing, Exploring and Sea Scouts), but not under 14. Then, when packs went to single-gender or coed at the discretion of the chartering organization, I was similarly confused that the troop-level wasn’t moved in that direction as well. I am aware of the contention that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”, but it seems a reasonable corollary would be “an apparent inconsistency begs the question of why the difference”. I think that allowing chartering organizations to determine what will work best in their communities regarding gender makeup of units could help boost membership by reducing the overhead associated with maintaining separate units where the charter doesn’t wish to maintain separate units. I recognize that many organizations run their boys’ and girls’ troops this way already (meeting in essentially the same space at essentially the same time with the same committee and sometimes the same scoutmaster/ASMs). That said, these units are having to (in some cases) ride the edges of the rules in order to be able to support both units with a limited number of people to do so. In other cases, it’s not as big an issue and there is more than enough demand (and supply of leaders) to field separate boys’ and girls’ troops chartered by the same organization.

On the advertising front, I did get a very interesting series of comments from one of the recent OA unit elections we conducted. Our OA chapter election team decided to use the currently-available OA election video during OA unit elections. One of the comments made by a couple of scouts when watching the video was along the lines of “Is that an ad? That looks like an AD!!!” One of the scouts actually said ". They seemed less than impressed with the election video. I can’t actually say I disagree, but I figured the video wasn’t aimed at my age group, so I wrote it off as “jaded old guy”, particularly since the election team seemed to think it was a good idea. One of the scouts said “I’m from < country name here >, and that’s propaganda. I’m < nationality here > and we know what propaganda looks like.”

Has anyone else gotten similar types of responses either from that video or from others produced by the BSA? If we’re seeing a lot of those types of responses, it might be good to pass it along to the folks at the OA (or whomever is responsible for the particular video). If the advertising/recruiting materials come across as slick, manufactured, or “fake”, then it might be turning-off the potential scouts and their families that might otherwise be attracted to the value that Scouting can offer.

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Is this the video you are talking about?

image

Ayup… That would be the one.

I think I remembered to warn folks that it predated the changes to permit female youth in troops and inductions from crews and ships. I’m usually pretty good about that, because it’s a sore point for me, personally. Sadly, for people it’s always easier to notice/remember the things that bug you than the things that only bug someone else. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a big proponent of communication in all its forms. The more we’re aware of others folks’ perspectives… :^)

I am not about to predict anything, but I do think that the current COVID crisis we are facing provides an opportunity for BSA to market the program as one that provides our youth with means to meet these sorts of challenges head-on. They should be working hard to promote the positive responses scouts have conceptualized and delivered upon since the start of this.

“Be prepared.” has become something that every family has taken more to heart.

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Numbers are down, but I think that has had a lot more to do with the general way that family mindsets have changed.

When we were kids we didn’t have a handheld video game box/television in our hand. We played A sport, and unless we were exceptional we did not play on the travel team. Maybe we joined an after-school club during the offseason of our chosen sport as well. TV was basically 5 channels and you watched what was on when you were allowed to watch TV at all.

Now we have our kids doing everything we possibly can to keep them off the couch. Baseball, football and hockey? No problem! And everyone is on a travel team now so we’ll be carting our kids across state to play a tournament every other weekend as well. Add in some additional programs offered through schools, churches, libraries, etc. and their (our) schedules are full. Camping is a tougher sell than it used to be when there are 500 TV channels, DVR and video games.

No doubt it’s a tough challenge to keep scouting membership healthy, but I remain optimistic that there are ways to do it.

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I probably should have titled this thread “What would you like the BSA to Do to increase membership” as that is a little more accurate.

I think winning the parents that will be taking their kids to Troop Meetings and other events is a huge part of increasing membership. I don’t think it’s a hard sell on boys and girls between 11-18 an opportunity to do all of the things Scouting offers. The BSA just has to change up how they get the message out to be more enticing. They are counting too much on word of mouth and Troops to go out recruiting and that’s not going to be consistent. A commercial campaign where middle school and high school aged boys and girls can hang out and do fun things might be enticing.

Unfortunately, I think Cub Scouts burns parents out in a lot of the cases and adding a Lions Den just add another year to increase the possibility of burn out.

I wonder if the Webelos program shouldn’t have a year clipped off to get the boys crossed over earlier. In my own experience as a Cub Scout Leader, once the boys hit the Webelos 2 year I noticed the boys were feeling less like a Cub Scout and was getting tired of the Den Meetings. Getting them over to the Boy Scouts was like a shot of Adrenalin to the Scouts and parents. I don’t mend saying as a Den Leaders for 5 years I was pretty relieved to enjoy “boy led”…

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  1. [Membership went down over the LGBT policy in 2013
  2. Membership went down even with the addition of girls in Boy Scouts policy in 2018
  3. Membership went down upon the news of child abuse in 2019](New Membership Fees Disclosed + New One-Time Joining Fee)
  4. It is unknown what effect of the child abuse lawsuits and bankruptcy news will be in 2020
  5. It is unknown what effect of the BSA supporting Black Lives Matter in 2021

I conclude that the downward trend will continue at similar pace as in prior years but we may see a precipitous drop from fallout of the BSA supporting Black Lives Matter. See the related threads on this forum .

In that vain here are some ideas:

  1. Offer registration deep discounts to cub scouts crossing over to a scout troop - the retention rate is just dismal
  2. Allow girls in same troop with boys like venturing - Finding enough girls to make a separate troop is difficult
  3. What @WilliamC said regarding Lions den a Webelos - cubs are growing up quicker becoming more “mentally awake” with increase of information accessibility
  4. The BSA grows from the grassroots. - more scouts need to submit human interest stories in local publications.
  5. BSA needs to introduce a pack/troop/crew news aggregator web site by council and unit (a category under https://beascout.scouting.org/) - There is no feeling like a scout getting their name in the newspaper. Facebook just is not suitable for marketing. The search keywords “Boy Scouts” and “scouts bsa” should return https://beascout.scouting.org/ at the top of the returned search list.
  6. Offer registration deep discounts to scouts upon joining a Venturing Crew. - the retention rate is just dismal. The Venturing program should be an expansion on the merit badge requirements by adding sections to the requirements just for Venturing. See my post.
  7. Provide highly charged motivational videos for parents of cubs and scouts. - like the 2019 world jamboree (would you look at those smiles and camaraderie) and videos showing sons a daughters in leadership roles and winning competitions that inspire parents by focusing on individual scouts. Here is the 2019 World scout jamboree cultural day celebration video.
  8. Councils need to list all the sources of individual registration funding.sources - In Missouri family’s may qualify for Missouri Care.
  9. Offer a YouTube video merit badge
  10. Market the 2021 national jamboree like it has never been marketed before.
  11. Council wide jamborees and multi district jamborees must be highly publicized - Like the GSLAC ScoutFest posted to the news aggregator site mentioned above.
  12. Every troop/crew should have an adopted highway for cleanup with a sign provided by the states department of transportation
  13. The scoutshop facebook videos is a waste of effort and the resources can be targeted to motivational videos of 7. above more effectively. Scoutshop cannot compete with amazon for most products.

I will brainstorm more ideas in follow on posts. Essentially we must overwhelm the bad press with good press.

David

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Many other countries have distinct programs for K-2 and 3-5. In theory that’s what Webelos should be. I think one problem we have is that we often keep the same den leader from Bear to Webelos. So, it feels like just another year. Leaders should be creating distinct opportunities for Webelos to make it something different than prior years.

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One thing that distinguished our Webelos/AoL years from the previous years was the opportunity to go camping as a den. Our council ran a weekend camp every Fall called Webelos Woods that was specifically aimed at encouraging Webelos to continue into troops. Various troops would sign-up to put on some “fun” scouting activity that the Webelos could all participate in (crossing rope bridges, first aid relays, hikes, etc). I know it got my Webelos fired up about continuing into the troop, and most of them are still here several years later. Similarly, having good den chiefs throughout the program helps both the Cubs/Webelos and their parents see what a senior scout can do and how they lead.

I don’t know that foreshortening the program would necessarily benefit either the Webelos or their transition to a troop, but it’s certainly not the craziest idea I’ve seen. I jumped to a troop before I earned my Arrow of Light because it was more interesting.

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FWIW, the Troop associated with our chartered organization invites the AOL Scouts to their Troop meetings (replacing the den meetings), they do flags with the Troop, then the AOL Scouts go in a separate room and are led through the AOL adventure material by the Troop Guides. The Den Leader still does the requirement sign-offs, but it ends up being a great transition year to learning about Scout Led meetings. When they Cross over in February, if they choose this Troop, they already feel familiar with the other boys and how the Troop runs things (there is another Troop also associated with the Pack that some Scouts choose instead)

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We have the same set up with our partner Cub Scout Pack that I was a Den Leader/Assistant Cub Master for 5 years before I crossed over with my son. Our Council does a fall event target at Webelos/AOL Scouts as well and it does help. But they are still Cub Scouts and not “big boys”. I think they hit a level of maturation where they see the Cub Scouts as “little kids”.

The BSA has age and grade restrictions on when a Scout can crossover. They do allow an Scout that has earned the Arrow of Light a tad earlier. IMO, once a Scout earns the AOL award it’s time to move on. I’ve met a lot of Scouts both current and much much older and aside from earning the Arrow of Light I haven’t heard any of them speak about all of the Cub Scout Pins/Loops/Adventures they’ve earned. I have heard a lot of them speak about how many Merit Badges they’ve earned and what the highest rank they’ve earned.

The was a bit more wordy than I intended. Again, my whole thought about getting Scouts into a Troop as soon as possible is about retention of both the Scouts and their parents.

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One item I will add for consideration is that the BSA should evaluate the future viability of the Venture program given the changes made to Scouts BSA. Other programs have been dropped throughout the history of Scouting. Rovering comes to mind as an early casualty, which Venturing seems to have filled in for. Is there still a good return on investment for maintaining it?

Auto companies have made similar decisions over the years as well. Ford dropped the Mercury badge when there was no longer significant differences between them. Same with GM ala Chevy remaining while Pontiac and Oldsmobile were dropped. It was a means of reducing overhead costs while strengthening the core brands.

Is there anything unique to Venturing (other than the age extension and co-ed units) that could not be incorporated into the Scouts BSA program? I imagine the co-ed issue will be moot in the next couple years anyway.

I have no hands-on experience with Venturing, so I am looking to be enlightened on why it remains a value-add in the BSA’s portfolio of programs.

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Venturing has not performed over the years.
Venturing went from 87,827 enrollments in 2017 to 42,571 enrollments in 2019. A decrease of 51%.

I am sure the program was developed to attract senior Girl Guides and Girl Scouts along with older Boy Scouts.

My experience with Venturing was disappointing because the Crew Advisor could not hike, was afraid of the water, could not attend summer camp because her job and was unwilling to take on adventures of any kind as they were out of her comfort zone. The crew never worked toward any of the core awards.

There is no uniqueness that set it apart. When the scout has earned his Eagle Scout rank what else is there. Nothing, but there could be.

How about The Legion of Merit that is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements as neck order/ribbon.

The Venturing uniform should display the scouting ranks earned along with the core awards side by side since scouts can continue to earn scout ranks and merit badges while in venturing.

The Venturing program should expand on the scout merit badge requirements by adding sections to the requirements just for Venturing (with unique patches worn on the sash), which would entice adult leaders having interests in those tier II and tier III adventures such as:

  • Build a totem pole to be erected at the summer camp
  • Make bows and arrows for personal use
  • Build model airplanes for display at the charter organization
  • Build a replica of Native American canoe or dugout
  • Build an crucible for melting aluminum and making medallions and other objects
  • Rehabbing antique bicycles
  • Knapping flint arrowheads
  • Rebuilding small engines
  • Rebuilding a lawn mowers
  • Join the model airplane club and learn to fly model airplanes
  • Take airplane ground school working toward a private pilots license
  • Swimming and lessons and races
  • Carving (visit a woodcarvers club),
  • jewelry crafting and metal working and sculpting
  • Attend meetings of the city Advisory boards
  • Survival training and outing to perfect skills
  • Build a cockpit to fly those model airplanes without those hand held controllers.
  • Rebuild a 1953 Piper Pacer 4 seat aircraft (a 2000 man hour project)
  • Rebuild a 1983 Honda motorcycle
  • Orienteering classes and contests challenging places
  • Outfitting your day bags, backpacks, and gear
  • go to garage sales to obtain camping equipment and refurbish them
  • Assembling electronic kits
  • go to garage sales to obtain computer equipment and refurbish them
  • repair and refurbish scouting equipment if needed
  • Setup a WIFI and LAN and learn computer programming
  • Learn techniques of Camping in the winter
  • Run the Colorado River or other big river out west
  • leather craft for fun and profit
  • Producing you tube videos
  • Thru hike a national or state trail
  • trail and camp maintenance

Unless it provides a means to a unique status over and above or in conjunction with the Eagle scout rank, it should not remain as value-add in the BSA’s portfolio of programs.

BSA did not think the Venturing program through and just slapped it together without making it a continuation of the basic Scouting program. BSA needs to alter its programs to attract the youth in ways that are important to them, Recognition for higher achievement.

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I believe that BSA has yet to see its finest days.

Sea Scouting, for example, has been growing since February. As an example, we have chartered new ships start-to-finish in Wichita and Des Moines. Units that are active are growing. Youth are looking for real opportunities and we are providing them.

And I’m finding that other such opportunities exist all over this great nation.

I believe that BSA will grow. I believe that very soon we will have membership that rivals the days of the 1940s and 1950s.

We have work to do. But it is work that we can do and are capable of doing.

We have the capacity and the demand is there. We just need to properly execute our tasks. We need to do what we are supposed to do when we are supposed to do it.

That’s my belief.

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The BSA needs to make radical changes to stick around and remain relevant:

  1. Relax YPT - that is such and overreach and frankly it’s a lie. It’s not about youth protection, it’s about insurance and lawyers, if you think it is anything else you are lying to yourself.
  2. Drop the insurance coverage - BSA is play at your own risk.
  3. Drop the national charter - it adds ZERO value to the BSA and forces the BSA to have an annual membership drive. The BSA then moves to a subscription model so a family of 4 does not have to shell out $400 in October to enroll two kids in a Lion Program. Spread the fees over 12 months so it is easier to manage in budgets.
  4. Work locally not nationally. National council policies come across more like central control from the military than they do about a program benefitting the local needs of youth.
  5. Revisit every single rule in the BSA - over 1000 pages of rules. Why is an Eagle Scout required by 18? it is an arbitrary statement of “it’s about youth” when half of the participants are adults. Why would the BSA risk alienating a person for the rest of their life because their Eagle Scout project finished 90 days after 18 and the project successfully served his or her community? There should be pride in service not penalties for being older.
  6. All local councils need to fund themselves through endowments and their offices must be located on a campground. The corporate offices and salaries are draining resources from youth and delivering little value. Funding scouting professionals through popcorn sales and membership drives will break - a carefully managed endowment will keep camps and staff family compensated.

This year we did some virtual workshops for merit badges during the pandemic lockdown. This has transitioned into merit badges for sale for $25 online. That is the biggest mistake the BSA has made - put a price tag on a merit badge course. Many of the Scouts were under the impression they did not need to turn in worksheets. Um, no. Do the work.

If the BSA is going to survive, they need to work locally, become a lot more efficient than the bloated bureaucracy that exists today, and focus on serving the varied interests of youth and their families. Adding a required merit badge on diversity is pandering - having a unit that is99% African American youth - that is not their interest in Scouting. Their parents want their sons and daughters to have the same opportunities and experiences that caucasians have. And that is what I spend my time, capital and energy doing.

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The Mods will periodically post a statement saying the “BSA does not monitor the forums”. They should because the foot soldiers here are offering some really interesting thoughts and ideas. I like @ChirstopherDaly’s idea about the rule book. When you have rules saying a scout can’t have a water balloon fight unless the balloons are inch in in diameter (which makes them more dangerous) then it’s time to take a second look.

They need to get a different product to sell other than popcorn. People don’t mind over-paying for Girl Scout Cookies but popcorn is one of those things I don’t feel people see the value in. What they can learn from Girl Scout Cookies is “Cash and Carry”. They are impulsive a much easier sell. A better product puts more money it the Troops account and the Councils as well. In this crazy day and age they could probably do well selling Hand Sanitizer, face masks and other protective gear as an example.

My thoughts are to simplify the program and get back to the basic things Scouting does well and downsize what isn’t working so well. I think the idea about ending (or Suspending) the Venture program is a good idea. I would allows existing crews to continue but no new crews as I would allow BSA Troops to go coed if they like. As it’s been noted, it will be much easier to grow female membership if they can join an existing Troop rather than try to form a new all girl Troop.

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I think membership will take a hit from Covid, rising membership dues, and the abuse claim deadline (and resulting advertising) in the near term. However, once those have passed, I expect Scouting will be on the upswing. Hopefully President Mosley has a vision for the future on which we can execute.

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I still remember the TV commercials for Scouts when I was a kid in the 1960s. We need a marketing department that targets prospective scouts. When we signed up my grandson for Scouts, I had to search for it.

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