The Membership Discussion

WSJpic1Lets talk about membership.
We all know that we need members to keep Scouting alive.  There are many different angles and directions to answer the membership question.  I am not going to solve this issue in this post, rather, I am opening up the dialogue to see what you all think.
Scouting in the United States if a bit different from the rest of the World Organization of the Scouting Movement (WOSM).
First, we are not Coed, until you get to the Venturing Program.
Second, our programs are not connected.  Yes, Cub Scouts go to Boy Scout etc… but in most cases outside of the US, a Scout group is made up of youth from 7 to 21.  The units are formed from a group.  This allows for continuity in the program and allows for leadership and example to be promoted from within the group.  Personally, I like this idea.  I think it solves a few of the issues we have in Scouting in the US.  Namely keeping youth in Scouting.
I have become pen pals of sorts with some Scouters from outside of the United States.  While they do have their own issues it seems that young people stay in Scouting longer and have a great Scouting experience along the way.
Starting off as a young 7-year-old and staying in Scouting till they are in their young adulthood.  I think this creates a better Scouting life for them.
Anyway, as stated, I am not going to answer the question, just start the discussion.
I think that the BSA will need to explore the COED option sooner than later.  With declining membership and the Girl Scout program not what most girls want… I think that opening the doors to a COOED program may go along way to saving Scouting in America.
So how does that work?  Will we lose our values and program?  I don’t think so.  I think we can move forward with the program we have.  We need not tailor the program to girls, they will fit right in.  Look at the Venturing program as it is?  It would be much better if it were filled with young people and adventure.
OK, membership at the core.
I think that our professionals at the National and Council level have the very best of intentions when they talk membership.  It is a simple equation.  Get more youth in and membership will fix itself.
A few things that I know for sure.
You will never be able to out recruit your losses.  You will never be able to keep Scouts in a program that is floundering.
When I was a young Scoutmaster I was told the three keys to a successful troop were Program, Program, and Program.  If you build it they will come.  Boys do not join Scouts for Monday night meetings.  They join for cool programs and camp outs.  Parents bring their sons to our program.  Not to our meetings.  They need to be able to see value in the program.
Program will drive membership.  So I think sometimes we put the cart before the horse.  The horse is our program, the cart is membership and money.  Now, you can’t have one without the other, but if your priority is not program, you won’t get members.  That, I know for sure.
So where is our effort more effective?  Building programs or recruiting?  I think we build programs and let them come.
There are more factors to this discussion to be sure.  It is not always that simple I understand.  At the unit level programs need to be the priority.  Build it and they will come.  Recruiting efforts need to be a part of the annual plan.  Focusing on Cub Scouts is not the only answer.  We need to sell Scouting to all eligible youth.
This is where I see other WOSM get it.  They appeal to youth of all ages and keep them in longer.  There is a coolness factor about hanging out with their peers and they longer they stay, so do their friends.  I think this is an important part of our membership issue.
So.. lets take a few posts and explore this issue?
What do you think?  Let’s discuss this.
Here is a little video I stumbled on that really got me thinking.  It is from the Scouts in Germany.  I would love to see our youth in American Scouting like this one day.  I got to see Scouting like this when I was a kid in the Transatlantic Council as we did many International Scouting activities.
Also take a moment to check out the Kandersteg International Scout Center videos.  See what they look like and lets see how we can implement some of this here.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

A Sky Full of Scouts from Andreas Herten on Vimeo.

4 comments

  1. Jerry,

    BSA has already looked into the coed option and decided it would hurt the program. I had the opportunity to attend a session with Tico Perez, the national commissioner, and he explained he initially had the same opinion you do. After forming a committee to look at it and talking with scouters from other countries it was decided coed is a bad idea. While he gave many reasons, the two biggest were it would not increase membership and boys need a place to be around other boys. Canada’s membership remained the same. For every girl they got, they lost a boy. His research showed this occurred because boys need a place to be stupid and having girls around caused them not to want to take leadership roles for fear of embarrassing themselves in front of the girls. While he agrees the Girl Scouts need help and we need more members, adding them would hurt our boys. Do t take my word for it, just ask Tico.

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    1. Thanks Glenn, I am not completely sold on the COOED idea either. I do think that Boys need to be Boys and have a safe place to do that. I am throwing that out there as an option in the discussion.
      I was at the National meetings in 2011 and this came up there also. The same reasons that you gave were given. I do not disagree… I just wonder why it is working in other countries. After checking around the internet, I could only find 3 members of the WOSM that are not COOED, we are the biggest.
      Thanks for adding to the discussion. That is exactly what I am looking for. Maybe if enough folks weigh in we can come up with some solutions.
      Thanks again.

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  2. Just because other countries do it, it does not follow that doing something will be successful for us. Occasionally I hear someone refer to the British experience of going coed as a success, but then I went to England and spent an inordinate (in my wife’s opinion!) working with, interacting with the leaders of, and generally investigating Scouts UK. Turns out that few agree with the assessment that going coed was “successful” in practice. In fact, membership took a nosedive immediately after they went coed in the ’90’s, so the promise of “doubling membership” (sound familiar?) was a false one. The concept of “coed” is literally enforced — can’t attract females to your unit? Sorry, you are no longer a unit. And coed turns out to be a one-way street in the land where they drive on the left: Girlguiding continues to serve the unique needs of girls. The unique needs of boys? Not so much. The biggest hit to British Scouting has been in the membership of boys age 11 to 18. Ironically, this ‘progressive’ decision negatively impacted that segment of the British that the movement was originally established to help.

    Want to “save Scouts in the United States”? Get out and recruit. JSN is not just for Cub Scouts. Request your local school to allow you to promote your pack/troop to a few classes at the beginning of the school day. Reward Scouts who recruit members. Hold a GOOD troop open house (exciting activities, ropes, spars, food, first aid with plenty of fake blood). Recruit adult leaders. And last but not least, help your unit build a strong (FUN) outdoor program. Our troop started with the minimum of 5 just over a decade ago and we used this recipe. The proof is in the pudding. Current membership: over 100 Scouts, over 20 ASMs, and over 20 TC members. Build it and they will come.

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    1. I agree and I am not advocating that “because other countries do it” it’s right. I am just throwing out the idea that it may be the way we need to go and I think that trends would lend itself to the National Office looking in that direction.
      Thanks for the comment.

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