Dear (Eagle Scout) John


For new Eagle Scouts, receiving a thick stack of congratulatory letters from politicians and celebrities can be pretty exciting. But let’s face it, the letters often sound a lot alike—and may sound a lot like “Dear John” letters.

If you choose to read the letters as part of a court of honor, you can greatly improve their impact with a little planning. First of all, make photocopies of the letters you plan to read (which doesn’t have to be the complete set!) and put them in logical order—the mayor before the Congressman before the President, for example. Next, go through each of the copies and highlight the sections want to read during the ceremony. You should never, for example, read the part where your Senator apologizes for not being able to attend the ceremony (Did you really expect her to?), but you should always read the parts that talk about the significance of the Eagle badge or the writer’s personal connection with Scouting.

A little thought and strategic pruning can go a long way toward making congratulatory letters a meaningful part of the court of honor—and not just a pile of junk mail.

What? You don’t have a copy of The Eagle Court of Honor Book yet? Click the title to order one now in either print or Kindle format. When you do, I think you’ll agree with the reader who said, “The information is insightful and a welcome addition for our parents preparing for their sons’ ceremony. It is well organized and easy to follow. It flows like a river.”

Hand Washing 101 for Scouts


One of the occupational hazards of being a Scout leader is eating the food young Scouts have more or less cooked. I’m sure most of us have choked down our share of hamburgers cooked to the consistency of hockey pucks and bacon that can just about still squeal.

Unfortunately, many Scouts’ cooking techniques are on the level as their sanitation techniques. Not very good in other words.

Ubiquitous bottles of alcohol-based hand gel can help in that regard, but they can also give Scouts (and you) a false sense of confidence. Did you know that hand gels are not effective against C. diff, a nasty bacteria that kills half a million Americans every year? (Yes, most of those victims are older people in healthcare settings, but community-associated infections are on the rise.) And did you know that the gels are less than effective on excessively dirty hands–which are de rigueur on most Scout campouts?

Fortunately, help on hand-washing is close at hand, so to speak. The Mayo Clinic website includes a good basic introduction to the right way to wash your hands, including a link to a fun Jimmy Fallon video you might want to show your Scouts. (Preview it first, however, because it does include a couple of PG-rated comments.)

It’s tough to avoid sampling the questionable cooking your young Scouts do. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t protect yourself and them from the nasty bugs that hitch a ride on dirty hands.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at

Onboarding for Not-so-Dummies


One of the ongoing challenges the BSA faces is retaining new members, Back in 2004, the National Boy Scout Retention Study found that nearly four in 10 new Scouts leave within a year. Here’s the specific breakdown

  • One year or less: 39%
  • Two years: 20%
  • Three years: 17%
  • Four years: 19%
  • More than four years: 5%

I’m not sure whether those numbers are still accurate, but I assume they’re pretty close. I also assume that a big percentage of those who quit within a year actually quit within the first month. In other words, they never really get started in the program in any meaningful way.

New member retention can be a big problem in Cub Scouting as well, which is why the BSA just launched an email campaign designed to welcome new families and smooth their transition in Scouting. You can read about the campaign on the Bryan on Scouting blog, but in essence each family that registers online receives a series of five one-topic emails during their first 14 days; they receive pack contact information, details on uniforms and equipment, an invitation to subscribe to Boys’ Life (if they haven’t already), and more. (Of course, their pack leaders probably shared most of that information at the signup night or orientation meeting, but much of it probably whizzed right past their heads as they tried to decipher all the jargon and acronyms they were clouding the air.)

The BSA isn’t doing the same thing for troops quite yet, but there’s no reason your troop couldn’t adopt and adapt the idea. Simply think about what new families need to know, pre-write a series of short emails, and create a system to send them out automatically. For example, the person in charge of processing applications could schedule the emails to go out, using the “delay delivery” feature in an email program like Microsoft Outlook. (If you use Gmail, Boomerang for Gmail might be a viable option.)

If you live in the corporate world, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the concept of onboarding, which companies are spending a huge amount of time and money on improving these days. One oft-quoted study says new hires who complete a well-designed onboarding process are 69 percent more likely to still be on the job three years later (than, I suppose, new hires who are left to find the bathroom and breakroom on their own.)

Would you like to increase the odds that your new Scouts will still be around in three years? Onboarding emails might help.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at

Hot Off the Press: Girls, Scouts, and the Eagle Scout Award


Since the BSA announced that girls will soon be able to join what will now be called Scouts BSA (formerly known as the Boy Scout program), many enthusiastic Scouters have been calculating how long it will take until the first girl becomes an Eagle Scout. Some have dreamed of their daughters reaching the peak first. Others have been disappointed that their daughters won’t have enough time to complete all the requirements.

Both groups can now step back and take a deep breath. Or two. First, the BSA has announced that it won’t be publicly identifying the first female Eagle Scout. Instead, it will honor the inaugural class in the fall of 2020 (although it encourages local units to celebrate their first female Eagle Scouts). Second, the BSA is offering time extensions to any youth who are 16 or 17 on Feb. 1, 2019–the first day girls can join–and who register as members of Scouts BSA by Dec. 31, 2019. These extensions, which must be approved by the National Council, will allow both girls and first-time-joining boys to become Eagle Scouts after they turn 18.

I’m excited about both these announcements. I like that all new Scouts will be able to earn Scouting’s highest rank if they so choose, and I especially like that there won’t be an unseemly race to be first, where the destination, not the journey, would have inevitably seemed to be the only reward.

For more information, including the details on how to request time extensions next year, visit the Eagle Scout rank page on the BSA website. Details of the temporary transition rules are in this PDF document.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at

Putting Out the Unwelcome Mat–Take Two


Not long ago, I blogged about troops that put out the unwelcome mat and then are surprised that the world doesn’t beat a path to their doors. I neglected to mention one way they do that, and that’s by having bad information on their Be a Scout pin.

In case you’ve just returned from a trip to a remote island without internet access (if such a thing exists anymore!), Be a Scout is a BSA website that lets potential members find packs, troops, crews, and ships by simply entering their ZIP code. Search results for each unit include the chartered organization, meeting place, contact information and–if the unit specifies it–the unit’s website (which could be a Facebook page.)

Recently, I was trying to track down a volunteer for a Scouting magazine article I’m writing and ran into a dead-end. Her pack’s Facebook page was listed on Be A Scout, but the Facebook page was for a closed group, meaning only members could see anything on the page. In the past, similar searches have sent me to dead websites or one of those pages telling you the URL is up for sale.

So what you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you. Three things, I think. First, update your troop’s pin based on the information in this helpful guide from the BSA. Second, do a search on Be a Scout to see how your troop’s information appears. Third–and this step is essential–have a friend who’s not involved in your troop do a similar search. That will ensure that critical information visitors need is accessible to people who visit your website or Facebook page.

These days, the BSA is increasingly promoting the Be a Scout website as THE place to go to get started in Scouting. That’s a great thing if your unit’s pin is updated. And if your pin’s not updated? Then it’s a great thing for the troop down the street.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at