Traditional Unit and Membership Growth

The focus is not just growth, but smart growth:
establishing a secure base of participants on which to build.

Under the guidance of pastor and Judge Johnny L. Williams, the Pine Burr Area Council has experienced phenomenal growth in urban and minority membership.

The Pine Burr Area Council in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, attributes much of its continued membership growth in 2001 to its quality units, a strong financial base, top-notch camping programs, and urban emphasis. Traditional membership numbers in the council jumped 6.9 percent during the year, with the number of units rising 5.8 percent. The council has experienced growth in all of its programs for eight consecutive years and achieved the designation of Quality Council each year.

In Maryland's Baltimore Area Council, membership was also on the rise. Traditional membership rose 2.3 percent in 2001, and units were up 6.5 percent. Especially good gains were achieved in the Venturing program, and five new professional Scouters were added to the staff to keep up with the growth. Council members say the keys to their success include an outstanding professional staff, recruitment events that turn into traditions, and influential people on the council board.

"We have very visible people helping to promote the program," noted Tom Neale, chairman of the Baltimore Area Council membership committee. "A real key to growth is getting the community involved."

"An effective School Night for Scouting effort to recruit Cub Scouts, our largest membership base, is an especially important traditional event for us," added J. D. Urbach, Chesapeake District membership chairman in the council. "We also work with each Cub Scout pack to develop a membership goal based on their prior year's performance. Many packs take pride in topping their own performance from last year."

Denny Urbach of the Baltimore Area Council pitches Cub Scouting to prospective members. An effective School Night for Scouting effort is an especially important traditional event for the council. Cub Scouts make up its largest membership base.

Coordinating new unit growth is also very important.

"When I took over as district membership chairman, one of the complaints I heard from our unit leaders was that we were starting up new units too close to other, sometimes struggling units," said Urbach. "The perception was that the council was more interested in numbers than in having successful units. Every member of our district committee has worked to overcome that perception by making sure future growth is 'smart growth.'"

Smart growth means striving to get existing units fully staffed, well serviced by professional Scouters, and delivering the absolute best program possible to members before more units are started. This strategy is working well in the Chesapeake District, but it is also playing a large part in the success of the Pine Burr Area Council's urban emphasis program.

Scoutmaster and board member Rae Turner knows that when kids in the Pine Burr Area Council have fun in Scouting, they will likely recruit friends.

Members of the Pine Burr Area Council took a big step toward serving more urban and minority youth in their area when they approached Judge Johnny L. Williams to start a unit in his church three years ago.

"Boy Scout participation in the African American community was really down," noted Williams, a respected chancery court judge and pastor of Truelight Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. "Our church was one of the first to start a unit, and as that unit grew, we began to put units throughout t he community."

A year after the first unit was started at Williams' church, the Pine Burr Area Council recruited him to join the council's executive board and head up the urban emphasis program.

In the Baltimore Area Council, membership committee chairman Tom Neale never discounts the influence of community involvement on Scouting's growth.

"We have had really phenomenal growth," said Williams. "From the 50 or so kids we started with three years ago, we now have close to 2,000 urban and minority kids in Scouting."

And the council's urban emphasis program isn't even growing as fast as it could be. Rather than starting urban emphasis units as quickly as possible, the council is working to make existing units stronger, more attractive, and better able to retain their youth members. It is slower growth, but it is smart growth.

By working to retain existing members, councils establish a secure base of participants on which to build.

"We make sure the kids are experiencing the best Scouting can offer," said Rae Turner, a Scoutmaster and executive board member in the Pine Burr Area Council. "When they're having that much fun, they not only stay in Scouting, but get their friends to join as well."

J. D. Urbach, the Baltimore Area Council's Chesapeake District membership chairman, found inspiration in the BSA's two-year national Unit Growth Emphasis.

So Urbach and fellow volunteers located a large map of their district, contacted the public school board for current boundary maps for their 27 elementary schools, and got to work with colored pins marking the location of each existing unit.

"We were surprised to find that nine elementary schools did not have a Cub Scout pack that met within their boundary," Urbach said.

District volunteers set about contacting community organizations close to the underserved schools. The results?

"We now have five new packs serving boys that previously would have had to travel some distance to be a Cub Scout," he said. "The national Unit Growth Emphasis has been a success in the Chesapeake District."