Tooting Your Troop’s Own Horn

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One of my volunteer roles in Scouting is to serve on my council’s marketing committee. At a recent meeting we talked about fall recruiting for Cub Scouts and kept returning to the idea that most packs seem to rely on the council’s fall recruiting program for new members–effectively outsourcing this most critical function.

I think a lot of troops do the same thing, either relying on their local council or not doing any recruiting whatsoever. While it’s true that a strong program will draw new members, you really can’t rely on the Field of Dreams philosophy of “If you build it, they will come.” (In case you’ve forgotten, the actual quote is “If you build it, he will come,” which is perhaps a better indicator of how effective that philosophy actually is for recruiting!)

So how can you effectively market your troop? I’ve seen a couple of great examples recently that you can learn from. Although they mostly focused on Cub Scouting, they could easily be adapted to Boy Scouting.

First, my church’s pack and troop worked with the children’s children’s ministry to run a “what Scouts do” program during the Sunday school hour one Sunday in July. All the children’s classes came to the fellowship hall for a round-robin of activities that included games, crafts, knot-tying, tent-pitching, and fire-laying. The troop’s color guard did an impressive flag ceremony, and Girl Scouts were on hand to talk about their program. (Note that this event was separate from Scout Sunday in February, when our units will have another chance to show their stuff.)

Second, Lisa Fields, a colleague from the American Society of Journalists and Authors just published a first-person essay in her community’s Jewish newspaper about her experience as a Scout mom. In it, she talks a lot about how the Scouting program supports faith development, something that’s important for that publication’s audience. I thought she did a great job of both selling the program and reassuring parents who may be on the fence about Scouting and/or camping.

There are lots of other ways to promote your program, of course, but  these are nice examples of inexpensive, highly targeted efforts to reach potential members.

So what does your troop do to recruit new Scouts. You’ve already built it. Are they coming?


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.

These Are Scouting’s Good Old Days

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Recently my wife and I caught a movie we missed when it first came out. Called “Midnight in Paris,” it tells the story of a contemporary writer who gets to travel back in time to the Paris of the 1920s. When he gets there, he runs into all sorts of famous people, from Ernest Hemingway to Cole Porter to Salvador Dali, and pretty much thinks he’s in liberal-arts-major heaven.

But he also encounters a young woman who longs for the Belle Époque, the period around the turn of the 20th century that her parents and grandparents had lived through. As the two discuss which period is more idyllic, our hero gradually realizes that every generation looks back toward some “better” past. In doing so, they forget the bad things about their preferred time–like no penicillin and no air conditioning–and they fail to look around them at the wonders of the current age.

Which brings me to Boy Scouting.

I had a discussion earlier this year with a fellow Scouter about whether former Scouts or newcomers to the program make for better leaders. We didn’t come to a firm conclusion, but we did agree that the worst leaders may be those former Scouts who can’t stop pining for the good old days.

Of course, the Scouting program back then–whenever then was–wasn’t as perfect as they remember it to be. (Segregated camps, anyone?) Moreover, what worked a generation or two ago would probably not work as well today.

So who are the best leaders? Those who recognize, as Carly Simon once sang, that these are the good old days.


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.

Think Globally But Act Locally

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the 2017 National Scout Jamboree will kick off in just a few weeks. You may have also heard someone complain that the jamboree serves “only” 35,000 or 40,000 Scouts and adults, leaving many times that number on the outside looking in. I hear similar complaints from troops that get shut out of Philmont Scout Ranch or that can’t afford a trip to Florida Sea Base.

What I would remind these people—and you—is that national-level programs can never serve more than a tiny fraction of our Scouts, both because of capacity and cost. You and I must to serve the rest.

Program is the responsibility of unit-level Scouters (working, of course, through youth leaders) not the job of folks who wear silver or gold shoulder loops. It’s wonderful that the BSA provides jamborees and national high-adventure bases, and it’s great that local councils offer summer camps and their own high-adventure activities. But the fact is that those activities can never do more than supplement the unit program.

As unit leaders, we need to look at these supplemental activities as steppingstones to a better unit program—not curse them as stumbling blocks when we can’t get in or when the costs are too high or the distances too great.

Some troops that can’t get into Philmont year after year forgo high-adventure activities altogether. But the smart ones find a local council that offers similar activities … or connect with an outfitter … or simply create their own adventures—perhaps spending a week on the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. Is the planning harder than getting ready for Philmont? Of course. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

So celebrate this year’s jamboree if you have Scouts going. But then get to work planning other awesome adventures for your Scouts who won’t be spending 10 days at the Summit Bechtel Reserve this summer.


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.

Summer Camp and Scoutmaster Conferences

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It’s summer camp season. If you’re a Scoutmaster, that means you’ll probably spend a lot of time this summer sitting around a campsite somewhere.

Summer camp offers leaders a great chance to relax, but it’s also a great chance to hold Scoutmaster conferences with the Scouts in your troop. Unlike at troop meetings, it’s easy to find blocks of uninterrupted when you can meet with each Scout individually. (And a large campsite typically offers plenty of space to have a private conversation in full view of other Scouts and adults, as Youth Protection Guidelines require.)

Of course, most of your Scouts won’t be ready to advance in rank this summer, but that’s okay. There’s a common misconception that the Scoutmaster conference must be the last requirement signed off before the board of review. That’s simply not true. You can hold Scoutmaster conferences at any time, and they don’t even have to be tied to rank advancement. (For example, a Scout who isn’t advancing could benefit from a conference.)

In The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I suggest that Scoutmaster conferences have five purposes:

  • To make sure the Scout is ready for his next rank—not in terms of retesting or reviewing but simply checking that he’s completed each requirement and that the requirements have been signed off in his book. For the higher ranks, I also like to write in what leadership positions he held and what service projects he completed.
  • To sign off on Scout spirit and participation requirements. Many Scoutmasters reserve the right to sign off on these two requirements as part of the Scoutmaster conference.
  • To build rapport. Find out how he’s doing in school, what his family is like, and what his hobbies are.
  • To explore problems. The Scoutmaster conference is a good opportunity to discuss behavior and attendance problems, as well as any problems the Scout sees in the troop (e.g., boring meetings, hazing by older Scouts). You need to keep the conversation positive, however.
  • To set goals. Scoutmaster conferences used to be called personal growth agreement conferences, and they were supposed to include the formal setting of some sort of goal that the Scout would work toward before his next rank. Try this in your Scoutmaster conferences—but be sure to check on the Scout’s progress the next time around.

You can accomplish these purposes back home, of course, but at this time of year the best place is probably at camp.


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.

Avoid the Temptation to Skip Summer in Your Troop

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The BSA has struggled for years to get Cub Scout packs to maintain a year-round program. There’s even an award, the National Summertime Pack Award, that recognizes packs for doing what they should have been doing anyway.

Troops don’t get the summertime blues quite as badly as packs—probably because of summer camp and high-adventure trips—but some troops are still tempted to take most of the summer off. My advice: Resist the temptation. Taking an extended break over the summer slows advancement, interrupts your momentum, and makes starting up again in the fall difficult.

That’s not to say that your August program must look just like October’s. Far from it. In keeping with the season, your summertime program should probably take on a more leisurely feel. Here are a few ideas for adding interest to your summertime meetings:

  • Meet outdoors, perhaps at a local park. (This is actually something good to do year round!)
  • Switch to activity uniforms (Scout T-shirts instead of uniform shirts) while school is out of session.
  • Plan purely fun meetings instead of emphasizing advancement. For example, you could hold a bike rodeo or a patrol Olympiad.
  • Meet earlier in the evening than usual and fix dinner.
  • Take a field trip to a minor-league baseball game or a water park.

One of the biggest concerns with summertime activities is adult-leader burnout. This is a great time to encourage less-active parents to step up so some regular leaders can catch a break.
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.

Steppingstones to a Lifetime of Service

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One of the cool things I get to do for Eagles’ Call magazine is write about Eagle projects that have won the Adams Award at the national, region, and council levels. Some of the recipients put far more time, money, and effort into their projects than I can imagine having done when I was 16 years old!

I do worry sometimes, however, whether the pursuit of the Adams Award–and of the Eagle Scout Award itself, for that matter–gives some Scouts the mistaken impression that service projects always have to be big and bold. It’s important to remind them (and ourselves) that it’s also valuable to do small, impromptu acts of service that don’t require troop and district approval, fundraising applications, or extensive final reports. In fact, I’d rather see a Scout embark on a lifetime of informal service rather than do one huge Eagle project and then turn his back on the needs of his community for the rest of his life.

As adult leaders, we can play a vital role in inviting Scouts into a lifetime of service. How? By making service as integral a part of our programs as capture the flag and Dutch oven cobblers. Imagine the lesson you would teach if you made sure every campout included a small-scale service project, perhaps one that you don’t even plan ahead.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my wife and I went hiking in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge (which is, by the way, an awesome destination for hiking, backpacking, and rock-climbing). On one of our hikes, we crossed a stream with dry feet thanks to a series of steppingstones someone had thoughtful placed in the water. But we also crossed a stream where there were no steppingstones and our boots got soaked. Had I had a bunch of Scouts with me, I could have pointed out the difference between the two stream crossings and suggested that we take half an hour to place stones at the second crossing. If I’d been on my game, I probably could have even convinced them that the project was their idea!

Think about your last campout. If it didn’t include a service component, what opportunities did you miss? Looking ahead to your next campout, what could you do to leave the place a little better than you found it–and your Scouts a little wiser for the experience?


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.

Re-congratulate Your Eagle Scouts

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I received a Facebook message this week from one of my long-ago Eagle Scouts. Patrick told me that the day before had marked 15 years since he and five fellow Scouts received their Eagle Scout badges (in what was my favorite court of honor to plan and participate in). He was looking for the group photo from that day so he could post it on Facebook, and I was happy to oblige.

Thinking about that brief exchange reminded me that I’m not very good at remembering anniversaries–I remember my own wedding anniversary, of course, but not the dates of other important events. Had you asked me two weeks ago when that six-Scout court of honor had occurred, I couldn’t have told you the date–and I would have had to do some mental math to come up with the year.

But I am good at using Microsoft Outlook. And it occurred to me this week that Outlook like other calendar programs offer Scoutmasters a great way to remember important anniversaries. Wouldn’t it be neat, for example, to put a tickler on your calendar to mark the one-year anniversary of each new Eagle Scout in your troop (or the one-year anniversary of when each Scout turns 18 or goes off to college). Rather than let that day go by unnoticed, that tickler would give you the chance to drop each Scout a note to check in and to remind him of the promises he made when he repeated the Eagle Scout Promise or the Scout Oath.

We never stop being parents to our children–even when they’re old enough to have children of their own. And the best Scoutmasters never stop being Scoutmasters–even when their Scouts grow up and sew on their own Scoutmaster patches.


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.