I am convinced, through nearly 2 years of running a local BPSA Scout Group, that you CAN get people involved in the program! For our members and lone Scouts nationwide, I hope this post encourages you to put forth just a small bit of effort to form a local group. It’s much easier than you think, and I’ll share my thoughts, experiences about what I’ve learned to help you on your way. We need to push for more local units across the country.
One local Group’s Recruiting Efforts…
What follows is a summary of our efforts at recruiting with our local group, the 10th Daniel Boone Scout Group, here at one of the local elementary schools tonight. Not only am I Commissioner of BPSA-US, I’m also a Group Scoutmaster. We had a small table set up with a 3-panel display board and a large stack of informational flyers. Our display board had some summary information about the BPSA as well as pictures of both our group and some from international events. You can see the flyers we used over on our web site (http://10thdanielboone.org).
BPSA has a great program in place and can provide a real “alternative” to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and the Girl Scouts, USA programs. As BPSA scouters, we always adhere to the 4th point of Scout Law, “A Scout is friend to all, and a brother to every other scout.” However, the differences between our Association and those of the BSA or Girl Scouts does come up in conversation. And rightly so, as parents typically have never heard of our program and have lots of questions. Always stress the benefits and positive aspects of our program ONLY. Don’t denigrate the BSA or GSUSA in conversation with parents. Spark their interest about our program to get questions. Questions are good! You want those. You don’t want to be the “other guy” that just bad mouths the other programs. We’ll hit this point later on; but let’s continue.
With our modest table, and 2 younger scouts to help me — (Shay, an Otter Scout) and (Jada, a Timberwolf) — we were off and handing out flyers to incoming parents at 5:30pm. I wasn’t sure how start off a conversation immediately when handing out a flyer. Some people had already visited the BSA Cub Pack’s table setup across from ours and simply thought we were the same organization. This caused some confusion. Some parents would pass me by saying, “I already signed my boy up over at that table.” After a few attempts, my initial line to parents while handing out the flyers was something along the lines of, “Have you received a flyer for our traditional scouting program yet?” And if they took hold of the flyer, I continued, “We’re part of a larger, world wide scouting movement, with a more traditional program. We are co-ed, and start at age 5 and take ‘em as old as they come.”
Nine times out of 10, this was enough to get them to look at our display board and walk over to the table. I would then introduce them to our two scouts (if they weren’t out passing around more flyers), and our Otter leader (Cheryl) who was working the table with me. Of the many points I made during my conversation, the following were the most useful, in terms of getting their interest and that look of, “Hey, this sounds new and exciting!” (in order of most effective)
- We’re a traditional Scouting program.
- We’re co-ed, girls and boys, youth and adults.
- We start at age 5 with our Otter program
- We’re part of a wider, international scouting movement under the World Federation of Independent Scouts
Let’s take a look at these one by one and get an idea about “why” they have such an impact, at least here in the US.
1) We’re a traditional Scouting program: This sparked a lot of interest for a couple of reasons. Parents who are age 35 and older have a very rustic and Rockwellian view of what the Scouting program is about based on their past experiences with the Boy Scouts of America. What they also see, and this isn’t always the case, is that Boy Scout troops today don’t operate like they did back then and the program doesn’t focus on those same sets of outdoor skills, or use the same methods. What I heard from a number of parents was that they had their son in Boy Scouts/Cub Scouts, but then took him out (or he lost interest) because the program had become so watered down or lacked all those traits from bygone years.
Explaining to parents that we adhere to the program put together by Scouting’s founder, keeping with the Patrol method and the original aims of scouting was exactly what they needed to hear. This is what scouting is about, and has been about since the beginning; and to have an association that offers that opportunity is a key element in attracting both scouts and parents into the organization. Focus on the program, it is the one thing that attracts and keeps scouts and parents alike involved!
2) We’re co-ed, girls and boys, youth and adults: By far, this is the second most important point in talking about the organization. In talking with parents over the years, and tonight at the Open House, there are a few things I heard surrounding this topic:
- “My daughters would LOVE to do the camping, hiking and canoeing – they don’t get that in the girl scouts.“
- “That makes a lot of sense, they need to know how to communicate and work with the other gender.“
The first one is the most common. A number of mothers have told me that their girls just aren’t interested in the homemaking, crafts and other activities that Girl Scouts offers. A lot of girls, and their mothers, are really into roughing it in the out of doors. This is a common thread from parents who have both boys and girls in scouting and the girls see their brothers doing all these amazing and fun outdoor activities. They [girls] want to participate in a real outdoor, scouting program just like the boys – and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do so. Like my wife would tell you, don’t ever tell her there’s something that a guy can do that she can’t. And she’s absolutely right.
The second point wasn’t brought up as much, but the fact that some parents expressed this seemed to me to show a very pragmatic approach to how children learn. Adults have to work across gender, so why wait until kids grow up completely before they understand how to do it? Having a co-ed program allows for this kind of learning and growth. It’s important for boys and girls to know how to work together, in a small unit like a patrol, to accomplish great things. Now, there are many ways to organize boys and girls in our co-ed program, and that option is left to the local group to implement; but either way, being co-ed means that boys and girls get to participate in the same program and interact with each other in meaningful ways to learn.
3) We start at age 5 with our Otter program: This was important, if only because the youngest age you can start in the BSA is 7, with Tiger Cubs. A handful of mothers, when offered a flyer, noted their son was too young according to the other scouting table. Once I explained that we were a different organization, and we started at age 5 with our Otter program that changed things. This also afford us the opportunity to grow our youngest section of Otters and prepare them for Timberwolves. This also kept the parent interested so that I could cover the points above, which almost always went over well once at this stage. The Otter program is provisional at the National level here; but in my local implementation, it is a very valuable program and it gives us a bit of an edge in recruiting efforts. Having an Otter at the Open House helped out a bunch too!
4) We’re part of a wider, international scouting movement under the World Federation of Independent Scouts: This is usually what helped in setting us off as a different organization than the Boy Scouts of America or the Girls Scouts, USA. It also gives us a credibility point with the parents to know that there are MANY other BPSA and traditional scouting programs out there in the worldwide scouting movement. This opens up the door to talking about international opportunities like the WFIS World Jamboree, EuroCamp and more. And, oddly enough, a lot of parents’ interest was peaked when I mentioned we weren’t the BSA or GSUSA and were a separate organization under WFIS. This is new and exciting stuff that most parents in the US have never even heard about. Tell them all about it!
Some more points to bring up…
Some other items that came up, but typically after the initial conversation, that are important to stress are the following:
- We are open and inclusive – we don’t discriminate for any reasons on our membership. This is BPSA-US policy, and part of our policy of inclusion. I didn’t hear anything about this at the recruiting event tonight, but I have in the past. This is important for some parents to know that they are volunteering and participating in an organization that understands diversity and wants to reflect that.
- Low cost barrier to entry – This is another good point. For local groups, there is only a yearly Charter fee ($35/yr). This means that there is no individual registration fee if you are registering with a newly chartering (or renewing) group. The only real costs for entry into the program are the uniforms. The handbooks and other resources are freely downloadable from our web site. This makes a difference to parents with more than one child.
Overall, we had lots of interest tonight. I talked at length with a number of parents; and even had a mother sent back to the school to get a flyer by the father! I’ll stress again, that the 4th point of the Scout Law needs to be kept in mind. We make no headway as an Association by bad mouthing or stressing any negative points about other US scouting organizations. They are, after all, our brothers and sisters in Scouting. And, if an opportunity should arise, we welcome them to participate with us in any national or other events we might put on in the future. What we, and those of you interested in recruiting, want to stress are the above mentioned points and the positive aspects of OUR organization and program. Catch their interest. Draw them into a conversation; and let THEM ask the questions. Answer all you can and provide a simple informational flyer and enough contact information so they can follow up. A bit of effort in putting things together and working the open houses, school nights for scouting and other events will be rewarded by enthusiastic interest and continued (or new) growth for your local group!
Get a flyer together (see our previous blog post) and a couple other interested Rovers or parents and start recruiting. With school beginning it is an opportune time to talk with parents about the positive aspects of the BPSA’s traditional program, it’s history and the opportunities their children can have with us.
Yours in Traditional Scouting,
Group Scoutmaster, 10th Daniel Boone Scout Group