Leadership: Volunteers With Vision

Setting the Pace

Under the leadership of an extraordinary board, volunteers in the Denver Area Council are making the promise of Scouting a reality.

The Denver Area Council's leaders inspire volunteers and Scouts alike. Left to right, Scout Executive Dan Gasparo, Aaron Will, board Chairman Pete Coors, Edwin Gaffney III, and Jonathan Will.

When you talk to volunteers and professional Scouters in the Denver Area Council about leadership, the conversation turns quickly to vision - vision set by the board and used to make Scouting happen in Denver.

And it's happening in a big way. In 1998, the Denver Area Council experienced 3.5 percent growth in Cub Scouting, a 3.4 percent gain in traditional units, and a 4.2 percent increase in total membership. And in 1998, for the first time, every district in the council achieved the Quality District Award.

In the words of Jim Terry, assistant regional director/operations, "Denver is a Council that does everything right."

Doing everything right begins with a council's executive board, whose leadership style sets the tone for the entire council. What is exceptional about the board in the Denver Area Council, says Scout Executive Dan Gasparo, is its hands-on approach and its commitment to the ideals of Scouting.

Strong leadership on the board, like that provided by board Chairman Pete Coors, enables the council to raise the dollars to implement and grow programs, opens doors to new resources, and significantly influences the council's ability to attract quality volunteers all the way to the district level, says Gasparo.

"Most people measure their success by the numbers," says District Director Jeff Cozart, "but we aim toward our vision and the rest takes care of itself." Dr. Joe Roller, district chairman, left, Jeff Cozart, right.

"Pete Coors has a deep commitment to organizations that improve the quality of life in the community, particularly youth," says Gasparo.

Coors' dedication doesn't end in the boardroom. District Director Jeff Cozart recalls that last year, Coors made a surprise appearance at a court of honor for a Scout who had earned all the merit badges.

"Nobody expected him to come, but he was there," says Cozart. "It really set a positive example. It was very motivating."

In Coors' view, it's up to the board to set the leadership direction for the council.

"I've worked in a family foundation and other philanthropic institutions for a number of years. The board is the 'family,' and they get an inside look at what the organization is doing - they set the pace," says Coors.

The success the council has experienced over the past several years also stems from the council's leadership environment, says Director of Field Service Richard Fisher. "District executives are empowered to perform their roles without a lot of micromanagement." says Fisher. "The Key 3 - district executive, the district chairman, and district commissioner - they set the vision for their district."

Visionary leadership, provided by professionals and volunteers like Director of Field Service Richard Fisher, left, and district committee member David Nester, helps set the tone for the entire council.

Unit-serving executives - professional Scouters who work with district volunteers - are a vital part of leadership in a council, says Gasparo. "The unit-serving executive may offer the first impression a Scout leader or the parent of a Scout is going to have of the Scouting movement. A unit-serving executive is someone who provides confidence and someone who can establish trust within the community they serve."

One unit-serving executive can have an amazing impact on Scouting in a community. Experience has shown that the addition of just one unit-serving executive can add 50 new Scouting units and 350 volunteers to deliver the promise of Scouting to 1,100 youth.

For Cozart, delivering that kind of leadership begins with sharing a vision with district volunteers. In fact, you'll find the district vision statement included on every communication going out in the Gateway District: "A cohesive community living the ideals of Scouting."

For Gateway District Commissioner Bob Knudson, the vision statement isn't a set of step-by-step directions, but a tool that helps the district focus on its priorities. "It gives us context in the community in which we live," he says. "It's not just plans on how to execute the program, but it gets at the heart of what we are about."

Kids learn leadership skills from their first day in Scouting. Many of those same youth go on to provide the leadership and vision it takes to keep Scouting strong for the next generation.

Their efforts have paid off in the recruitment of volunteers, increased membership, and in fundraising. Knudson says the district used to have only 10 to 12 unit commissioners, but now it has 30 to 40 fully uniformed commissioners show up at every commissioners meeting. It has also surpassed its district fund-raising sales goal by more than $40,000.

The district's main objective remains the realization of its vision. Knudson points to several successful Scouting units that were established in an underprivileged community as a direct result of using the vision statement as a guide.

"If we didn't have the vision statement, and if we didn't have strategic objectives, we might not have paid a lot of attention to this community," says Knudson. "Today those kids are getting positive reinforcement. They are hungry for Scouting, you can see it in their eyes."

For Knudson and Cozart, providing leadership in the Scouting movement is about more than just day-to-day operations; it's about a brighter future for the youth of the Gateway District.

"Most people measure their success by the numbers," says Cozart, "But we aim toward our vision and the rest takes care of itself."