When Service Projects Become a Problem


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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