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.