When Service Projects Become a Problem

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Next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. Aside from food, family, and football, this holiday is a time many people think of volunteering at a soup kitchen or other outreach program. The problem? That little word “many.” Charities that beg for volunteers on the fourth Thursday of April or October are overwhelmed with helpers on the fourth Thursday of November. As a recent USA today story explained, training new volunteers takes staff time–time that’s essentially wasted on one-time volunteers who show up on a day when they’re not even needed.

I don’t know of any Boy Scout troops that descend on their local homeless shelters on Thanksgiving Day, but I’ve seen plenty of examples of service projects where the costs to the recipients far outweigh the benefits. My wife used to work as a volunteer coordinator for a local nonprofit and often told stories of youth groups that not only did a poor job painting rooms but also left a mess for the staff to clean up.

As our troops plan service projects (including Eagle Scout projects), it’s easy to focus more on the benefits we will receive than the benefits we will provide. To be sure both projects are beneficial to both parties, ask the groups you’re supporting what they really need and what you can do to make the process go smoother for them–not for you.

And if you want your troop to volunteer at a homeless shelter, check their calendar for the fourth Thursday of January. I’ll bet they’ll have an opening.

Note: See my blog post on transformational service for more ideas.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

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A Great Source for Court of Honor Backdrops

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Courts of honor these days typically include a slideshow chronicling the honoree’s time in Scouting. That means setting up a projection screen, of course, a screen that will be blank during most of the ceremony.

Fortunately, it’s simple to create a slide like the one shown here that you can keep on the screen whenever you’re not showing a video or other images. And thanks to a growing number of websites that offer free, high-quality, royalty-free images, you can create a great-looking slide for zero dollars and without violating anyone’s copyright.

The bald-eagle image I’ve used here is from my new favorite site for free images, Pexels. Most, if not all, the images on the site are offered at with the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which means:

  • The pictures are free for both personal and commercial use.
  • You can modify, copy, and distribute the photos without limitation.
  • You don’t have to ask permission, credit the photographer, or link back to the source.

(There are a few restrictions, such as making sure a photo that shows a recognizable person doesn’t make that person appear in a bad light.)

Of course, once you’ve found an image you like, you’ll probably think of other ways to use it, such as on invitations or programs or on signs that help people find their way to the auditorium where the ceremony is being held.

Bonus tip: If you’re projecting a static image from a laptop for a long time, be sure to disable any popup notifications, screen savers, or energy-saving features that dim the screen after a short period of inactivity. Otherwise, your slide will draw plenty of attention–just not the kind you envisioned!


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both EagleBook.com and Amazon.com.

A Tax-deductible Tropical Vacation? Sort Of

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How would you like to spend a week in the Florida Keys and write it off on your taxes? That–within important limitations–is a real possibility for Scout leaders.

Every January, the Florida Sea Base offers a series of volunteer training conferences that mirror those offered at other high adventure bases (including my beloved Philmont Training Center) and that offer the chance for a week in the sun at a time many of us are ready to escape the cold and snow of winter.

Most Sea Base conferences target district- and council-level volunteers, especially trainers and commissioners. But 2018’s schedule has a couple of offerings unit leaders may find interesting:

  • Strengthening Your Leadership Team (January 7-13)
  • The Mechanics of Training (January 14-20)

So where does that tax deduction come in? The IRS allows volunteers to deduct out-of-pocket expenses that are unreimbursed and directly related to their volunteer work. That would likely include your conference fee ($495) and travel expenses, but not any expenses incurred by your non-conference spouse (if he or she goes with you) or any recreational activities you participate in, such as a fishing excursion the day before you check in.

I talked about charitable deductions in a blog post a couple of years ago. I encourage you to read that but also to consult with your tax adviser, who–unlike me–is qualified to interpret IRS publications.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.