Traditional Membership and Unit Growth

Combined events such as this Klondike derby give Webelos Scouts in the Patriots' Path Council a chance to see what Boy Scouts do. About 70 percent of the council's Boy Scouts come from the Webelos program.

The Patriots' Path Council of Mountainside, New Jersey, practices a threefold membership approach: retention, transition, and marketing. According to Membership Marketing Chair Lori Fabisiak, the council's "goal is to retain any member from Tiger through Eagle/Venturing, instilling in them the values that Scouting is all about." The council views retention as a response to quality programs, something the council strives both to provide and promote. Key to quality programs is ensuring that the event calendar includes a large number of engaging activities. Serving more than 22,000 youth, the council offers more than 100 different events at any time. Cubmaster Jack Valente, whose 90-member pack recently took on 32 new Cub Scouts due to his recruitment drive, comments, "When you provide a good program with opportunities for lots of involvement, boys bring their friends on board."

Offering a number of programs geared toward older Boy Scouts and high adventure, the council also supports youth participation in other quality programs and events, including Philmont Scout Ranch and the national jamboree. The council consistently has one of the largest Philmont delegations and awarded over $50,000 in adventureships in 2002.

As part of its Webelos-to-Scout emphasis, the Patriots' Path Council promotes targeted events like Webelos Woods, a councilwide overnight camping experience designed especially for transitioning youth. Fifth-grade Webelos Scouts are invited along with an adult family member to Winnebago Scout Reservation in Rockaway, New Jersey. Boy Scout troops operate the "showando" event that introduces the Webelos Scouts to boy-led as opposed to adult-led programs. Throughout the event, Webelos Scouts are involved in outdoor skills activities that show them first-hand what awaits them in the Boy Scout program. Providing a natural bridge from Cub Scouting to Boy Scouting, Webelos Woods reinforces Boy Scouting values, methods, and skills and helps to foster the desire to advance in the program.

The council also focuses on Webelos-to-Scout efforts. Since historically 70 percent of the council's Boy Scouts come from the Webelos program, the council takes steps to ensure that leaders and youth are educated about the benefits of Boy Scouting through roundtables and special programs. According to Fabisiak, the council "wants to inform them and show that Boy Scouts do things differently. We build up the perception that Boy Scouts are action-oriented and involved in outdoor and sports activities." To emphasize this perception, opportunities are provided throughout the council for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts to interact. Webelos Scouts are able to see first-hand what Boy Scouts do through special combined activities such as camping and the Klondike derby.

Webelos-to-Scout efforts dovetail with the council's overall membership marketing efforts, which include the development of marketing pieces that target Webelos Scouts. Each youth receives a personalized letter from the council Scout executive with an Adventures of Boy Scouting book introducing them to the program. Beyond this target audience, the council puts together a welcome packet for each new Scout. The packet includes a customized 18-month calendar with stickers and a membership CD-ROM with games, which also directs the new Scouts to the council's Web site. These items inform new members and build their excitement. Another membership marketing strategy is supplying parents with extensive information at School Nights for Scouting. Youth are occupied at the event with game sheets they can take home and use to learn about Scouting.

Council membership marketing involves more than organized events and their related materials. Anita Erickson, traditional membership district chair, says one-on-one marketing is especially effective. She describes a special initiative taken on by a district executive and several volunteers to work closely with inner-city prospects. These people visited various sites, including a community recreation center that offered day care, and involved the children in Scouting-related games and activities. As a direct result, a new unit was formed.

Cubmaster Jack Valente and Membership Marketing Chair Lori Fabisiak, standing, center, follow the Patriots' Path Council's threefold membership approach: retention, transition, and marketing.

Similar dedication to membership growth can be seen in other councils. Whether it's calling a church pastor or facilitating leadership training, the Buffalo Trace Council of Evansville, Indiana, answers Scout Executive Bob Hopper's call to "do something every day to organize a new unit." Leaders in the council from the executive board to unit level contribute to making membership growth a year-round activity.

A 13-year Quality Council, Buffalo Trace has established a plan for steady, quality membership growth. Using football as a metaphor, the council has devised a "membership growth game" approach to its annual activity calendar. The first quarter concentrates on membership through retention with rechartering. The second quarter emphasizes transition. Halftime—while camps are in operation—involves preparing for the second half. The third quarter focuses on a wide variety of fall membership activities. The fourth quarter is spent tying up loose ends. Hopper is proud to report that overtime is not necessary.

In addition to this game plan, the council's membership success comes from strong resource support from its executive board and district committees, whether in the form of finances or time. Board and committee members regularly check membership goals and suggest new-unit opportunities. Members do not hesitate to explore the service area themselves to make these determinations. According to past council President Brian Williams, a section of Evansville was lacking in units, so board and committee members "went for a car ride around the area and scoped out churches to talk to and set up meetings."

Yvette Payne, vice president of Scoutreach with the Buffalo Trace Council, works with churches, the United Way, and other organizations to support Scouting.

Such personal involvement and commitment isn't limited to the council's top leadership. To promote these strengths throughout the organization, the council emphasizes training on every level. Well-trained unit leaders know how to give youth good Scouting experiences, which leads to retention. Williams adds that leaders also try to "cater to family needs, urging people to find units that fit their schedule and personality. Acquainting members with all the chartered organizations means less member slippage at transition." Preventive maintenance also plays a part in membership success. Volunteers keep in close contact with professionals, alerting them if a unit is struggling.

To deal with inner-city and rural challenges, the council emphasizes traditional units with meetings convenient to the youth, whether they are held after school, in school, or at housing projects. Council President John Wright reports that Vice President of Scoutreach Yvette Payne is "plugged in to the inner-city community, working with churches, the United Way, and other organizations." The local housing authority also supports Scouting efforts with facilities and funding.

Scoutmaster Bobby DePriest, who works for the housing authority, comments that inner-city membership poses a unique challenge since the "kids tend to be transient. I've kept my units going by being a big brother and mentor to them. Membership grows from word of mouth of kid to kid." DePriest also sees the council's technique of activating inner-city leaders with a history in Scouting as key to membership success. With a 43-year Scouting history himself, DePriest remarks, "What keeps me in it is knowing that the kids need somebody."