One More Time–Building Connections at Eagle Courts of Honor


When I first became Scoutmaster, our troop had a neat tradition: the reception at each Eagle court of honor was hosted by the previous recipient’s family. The troop paid for the cake, punch, etc., but that family took care of ordering everything, serving, and cleaning up afterwards.

Using this system relieved the troop leaders and current recipient’s family of some work, but more importantly, it served as a bridge from one Eagle to the next and kept previous Eagles involved in the troop—at least in a small way.

Now, I have to say this scheme didn’t always work perfectly; occasionally, for example, a family would quickly disengage from the troop after their son became an Eagle Scout at 17 years, 11 months, and 29 days. But it worked well enough that we kept it going for years.

Consider establishing a similar tradition in your troop. But don’t limit yourself to the reception. Perhaps the previous honoree could serve as master of ceremonies or as part of the honor guard. Perhaps he could deliver the Eagle charge. (Think how powerful the charge could be when presented by a young man who comes back from college for the occasion.) Perhaps all past Eagles from the troop could sit up on stage in an Eagles’ nest. Whatever you decide to do, find a way to get your previous Eagles involved. After all, the Eagle Scout trail never ends.

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



Mike Surbaugh on Girls in Scouting


In between eating turkey, watching football, and reconnecting with family this week, I hope you’ll carve out a half-hour to watch a new video posted on the Bryan on Scouting blog. In it, Scouting Magazine Senior Editor Bryan Wendell interviews Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh about the upcoming inclusion of girls at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels.

Wendell doesn’t ask his own questions, however. Instead, he asks questions submitted by Scouts and Scouters from across the country (and beyond, in the case of a Lone Scout who lives in South Africa). The questions cover everything from how the decision was made to what uniforms will look like to whether advancement requirements will change. (You’ll also find information on a separate video I blogged about before in which Surbaugh talks more about the background behind this historic decision.)

I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from the new video, but I was again impressed by the amount of thought that went into the decision. Assuming that same amount of thought goes into implementation, I think we’ll look back in a few years and say this was the best decision the BSA in generations.

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

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

A Great Source for Court of Honor Backdrops


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 and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and

A Tax-deductible Tropical Vacation? Sort Of


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




Cupcakes in the Parking Lot


I did an interview this week for an upcoming Eagles’ Call profile and heard an interesting story. The man I was interviewing was home-schooled, started taking community classes at age 15, and had his Eagle board of review the night before he moved away to attend a four-year college. When he emerged from his board of review (held out of town at the council service center), his three best friends from Scouting were there with cupcakes, and they held an impromptu Eagle court of honor.

Now, many Scouters would say that was the wrong thing to do: his paperwork hadn’t been submitted to the national office, his parents and Scout leaders weren’t involved, and there was none of the pomp and circumstance that most Eagle courts of honor feature. (And those Scouts certainly didn’t buy a copy of my book, The Eagle Court of Honor Book!)

But this new Eagle Scout got just the sort of ceremony he wanted. He was not interested in being in the spotlight, and besides he had already shifted to college mode. A good alternative might have been to do a ceremony when he was home for the holidays (something like the College and Career ceremony in The Eagle Court of Honor Book), but that’s not what happened.

My point here is not that you should do the same sort of thing with your next Eagle Scout. My point is that you should think about his unique situation, personality, and preferences before you set a date and write a script. Make the ceremony fit the Scout–whatever that ends up looking like–and he’ll still be talking fondly about it 14 years later like the man I interviewed this week.

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

One Thing Every Fundraising Project Must Avoid


Scrolling through my Facebook feed recently, I spotted the graphic shown above. It made the rounds on social media a couple of years ago and even earned mentions on the websites of the Today Show and Parenting magazine.

As you can see, the apparently legitimate form gives parents alternative fundraising options at various levels, such as:

  • $15: “I do not want to bake, so here is the money I would have spent on those cupcakes.”
  • $50: “I do not want to walk, swim or run in any activity that has the word ‘thon’ in it. Here is the money I would have spent on my child’s ‘free’ t-shirt.”
  • $100: “I really wouldn’t have helped anyway, so here is $100 to forget my name.” (My favorite!)

The point of the form, of course, is that many parents are tired of endless school fundraisers where most of the funds come directly from their pockets or from the pockets of friends, family, and co-workers. They’re also smart enough to know it’s better to make a $10 donation than to spend $20 on a fundraising item that nets the PTA $10 or less.

Good troop fundraising projects don’t work like that. While parents may be customers, they shouldn’t comprise the bulk of the customer base. Instead, most of the money should come from people outside the troop family, including members of the chartered organization and the general public. And those customers should receive a decent value for their money. As the BSA’s Guide to Unit Money-earning Projects says, “All commercial products must sell on their own merits, not the benefit received by the Boy Scouts.The principle of value received is critical in choosing what to sell.”

If your fundraisers are robbing Peter to pay Paul’s camp fees, it’s time to rethink how you earn money. Otherwise, your troop families might start using that PTA’s alternate fundraising form–or stop supporting your fundraisers at all.

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