Take a Bite out of Your Taxes



I read an interesting article the other day about this year’s Dirty Dozen tax scams. My favorite: arguing that incomes taxes are unconstitutional and that, therefore, you don’t owe Uncle Sam a dime. (Try this one, the IRS says, and you could pay an accuracy-related penalty, a civil-fraud penalty, an erroneous-refund-claim penalty, a failure-to-file penalty, and a penalty for making a frivolous argument in court. Oh yes, and the amount of taxes you owed in the first place.)

Well, here’s a tax strategy that’s not a scam: Many of the expenses you incur as a Scouting volunteer may be tax deductible. The main stipulations are that the expenses must be:

  • Unreimbursed,
  • Directly connected with the service you gave,
  • Only incurred because of the service you gave, and
  • Not personal, living, or family expenses

IRS publication 526 offers more detail and several examples. Among those most related to Scouting:

  • You can deduct the cost and upkeep of uniforms that are not suitable for every­day use and that you must wear while performing donated services for a charitable organization.”
  • Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses nec­essarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organiza­tion only if there is no significant element of per­sonal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” (The publication goes on to say that it’s okay to have fun, so long as “you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip.”)

See publication 526 for more details. And be sure to talk with your tax advisor. After all, you don’t want your tax strategy to make next year’s Dirty Dozen list!

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.

In Praise of War Stories


Around the Campfire

Now that I’m celebrating another birthday, I’ve officially been an adult Scouter for 30 years. (Yikes!) In much of that time, I’ve been a trainer in one form or another, including serving on two Wood Badge staffs and seven Philmont Training Center faculties (counting this summer, when I’ll be leading the August 10-16 session of Building Stronger Troops).

In all those years and in all those training sessions, I’ve followed a cardinal rule: no war stories! War stories not only kill clock, but they also tend to descend into nostalgia for the good old days, which were neither better nor worse than today—just different.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to repent. Here’s why.

We live in the ASAP Age, when everyone expects quick-fix, microwaveable, three-easy-steps, just-add-water solutions to every problem. This reality shows up in all sorts of ways, from the decline of newspapers and newsweeklies to the popularity of liposuction to the prevalence of one-and-done college athletes.

But here’s the deal. Scouting doesn’t work that way. Its magic takes time, which means newer leaders need to hear the perspective—even the war stories—of those of us who’ve been around a little longer. We’ve seen those Energizer bunnies called Tiger Cubs grow into responsible young men. We’ve seen Boy Scouts who couldn’t get through a night of camping without a meltdown lead two-week canoe trips at Northern Tier. We’ve been to our Venturers’ high-school graduations and danced at their weddings. We need to tell those stories.

In 2012, I had the pleasure of purchasing three “future Philmont hiker” onesies at the Philmont trading post. They were for Scouts who hiked with me at Philmont in 1998 and are now first-time dads. When I return to Philmont this summer, I plan to tell that story to the folks in my conference. They need that perspective so they can hang on and begin to assemble their own set of war stories to tell 20 or 30 years from now.

The Boiling Frog Theory of Leadership



When you see a parent you think would make a good leader, don’t ask him to be in charge of anything important. Instead, invite him along on a camping trip, no strings attached. Then, ask him to plan the adults’ menu for the next trip … and to coordinate the trip after that … and eventually to become assistant Scoutmaster for program. Like that mythical frog, he’ll be in boiling water before he knows it!

More importantly, however, you’ll have plenty of chances along the way to see whether he has the right stuff to be a Scout leader, and he’ll have plenty of chances to bow out gracefully if he decides Scouting isn’t a good fit for him. Chances are, his commitment to the program will grow as he stays involved, ensuring that he’ll be around to serve your troop for years to come.

(Note: the theory works with moms, too. I just couldn’t bear to write “he or she” a dozen times!)