Ten Simple Ways to Grow Your Group

Courtesy of Garth (scoutleader101).

During my time in Scouting I've noticed something that is discouraging. In my experience most groups sit around each fall waiting to see just which youth will decide to stay in scouting and/or wait to see just who new might happen to come along. If registration numbers end up being low the groups just seem to scratch their heads and make some excuses about sports or video games or cadets. And they really are just excuses.

As scouting leaders we must do better to be anxiously engaged in growing our groups. Our Chief Commissioner has set the goal to double our membership by the end of the 2014-15 year. I have absolute confidence that this goal is achievable…IF we want it to be. If we'll step up, work hard and put forward some effort we CAN grow our sections, our groups, our areas and our councils.

I've put together this list of simple things you can do, right now, to help growth occur.

  1. Make sure that the section meeting place in MMS has the postal code listed
    When a parent is looking for information about a program for their child one of the first things they do is check out a web site. The finder tool on the national web site is an excellent way to make sure members of the public know where your group is. The key to this tool functioning properly is that each of your section meeting places must have the postal code listed in MMS. Without it, members of the public will not know your section exists and if they don't find something immediately they'll probably stop looking right then and there. To go along with this, make sure that there is valid contact information for your leaders and test it! Visit the Group Locator section on the national web site and try it out to make sure e-mail requests are in fact getting to someone.

  2. Talk to your work colleagues
    I cannot tell you the many good things that have resulted from talking to my work colleagues about my Scouting. Tell them what you're involved in, tell them about the camps, the leadership development, the fundraising, etc. I've had work colleagues put their youth into the program because I was available to answer their questions and sell them on the benefits of the program. I've recruited leaders who have seen and heard what I do. Live the Scout Law at work and in all you do be a great ambassador. Show your boss the Wood Badge II curriculum and explain how many of the leadership development, conflict resolution and project management skills are transferable to the workplace and then ask if you could attend the course without having to use vacation time. If you have previously set the stage by living the Scout Law at work, you'd be surprised how many companies will want to support you in your community efforts.

  3. Wear scout themed clothing
    Your local scout shop has great vests, shirts, etc. that are extremely comfortable and look great. If your worksite permits casual wear or golf shirts then this goes along with #2. Let people know what you're involved in! You never know what can happen simply by wearing scout clothing. Recently I was walking through WalMart and I happened to be wearing one of my favourite jackets, a lightweight purple outfit that has the world logo embroidered on the front. As I was walking down one of the aisles in the store one of the workers saw my jacket and logo. Without a word the worker came to attention and gave me the scout salute! It was a fantastic experience.

  4. Support other organizations
    I was recently walking through a local mall (again wearing my world logo jacket) and saw a local Girl Guide group selling cookies. I always make a point of buying some but I didn't happen to have any cash with me. I gave the leader my card and told them that if they'd have someone contact me I'd buy a case. A couple of days later I received a call from somebody just down the street from me. I offered to stop by to pick up the cookies. While at the home the parents asked me about a program for their son, just about to turn five! That gave me the opportunity to talk to them about Scouting and the end result was a new Beaver!

  5. Think positively
    It may sound trite but it really does work. Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do. Being positive is infectious. Instead of grumbling, complaining or putting things down, get involved and be a part of the change. We CAN grow! What a great experience it is to invite someone and see them have a great time in Scouting. As we grow we start to reach a critical mass. Be a part of it. The past is the past and now we need to grow.

  6. Create a plan and work it
    In your groups you need to have goals and a plan that you work towards. In the Voyageur Personal Development badge that Scouts work on they learn to set SMART goals. Your group or section should do the same. Specific: `we will have a net increase in our cub section of six new youth over and above swim ups from Beavers' is an example of a specific target. `We will find some new cubs' is too general. Measureable: can your goal be measured? Your goal must be measureable in order to determine if you've succeeded? Attainable: your goal must be reasonable and achievable. Finding six new youth for your cub pack is probably not attainable if there are only three other cub age youth for miles around! Finding six new youth in a community with hundreds of youth is attainable. Realistic: your goal must be something that your group is willing to work towards. Will your group expend the effort and commitment to obtain the goal. Be honest. Timely: your goal must have a defined time period.

  7. Get out of the gym/hall/church basement
    We spend far too much time inside, hidden from sight. When you hold your weekly meetings make sure that you're going outside whenever possible. Riverbanks, Grand Howls, flag breaks…have them outside. Skill sessions, games, crafts…do them outside. Get out in your community and be seen…regularly and often. Allow the community to see your youth participating in the community. Help them see that the youth are giving back. Don't allow your group to only be seen when you're trying to sell popcorn or collect bottles. Your fundraising, as well as your recruiting, will have much better success if people can see what you're doing. Youth want to be a part of fun, exciting things so let the world see you doing them.

  8. Do big things
    When your location and circumstances permit, have larger scale events with many groups involved rather than just your own. Doing great things brings great results and attracts greater attention. Have you ever seen a news report when five protestors gather? Probably not. Similarly, a Kub Kar rally with 25 youth may be a fun event but a Kub Kar rally with 250 youth becomes a community event that is newsworthy. Set the bar high and stretch to get over it.

  9. Run compelling programs
    One of my favourite videos is a Scouts Australia television ad created in 2008, when they were celebrating their centenary. It shows scouts participating in a variety of excellent activities and then focuses on a young lady covered head to toe in mud. She states, "I joined Scouts to have fun, get dirty, and do stuff I can't do anywhere else." Make sure your programs have that kind of drawing power. If your youth are doing the same things they can do elsewhere, they'll probably end up doing them elsewhere. Make sure that each of your sections has an increasing level of excitement and adventure so the senior Beavers can't wait to get to Cubs, and the senior Cubs to Scouts, and the senior Scouts to Venturers and your senior Venturers to Rovers.

  10. Try new things
    According to the classic definition, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If what you've done in the past hasn't worked…STOP DOING IT! Take some risks, try new ideas, make a change. Does your group end its program year at the end of April because `we just can't compete with soccer (or baseball or lacrosse or whatever)? Create a pack or troop team and make that your program focus for six to eight weeks. Does your group stop running for the summer? Change this. I was recently at a meeting along with the Area Commissioner for the Northwest Territories. They have a camp every September within days of their registration night. This might seem like their first camp of the year but in reality, it's the final camp of the previous year! Many parents are looking for activities that their children can participate in during the summer. Help them out and gain some members!

  11. Stop making apologies
    OK...I know the article is named 10 Simple Ways. Consider this one a bonus!
    Don`t apologize about our fees as we have nothing to apologize for. Our program has a LOT to offer and provides significant value. Just five months of soccer in the North Toronto Soccer Association will run you $295. Want a year of lacrosse in Grande Prairie, Alberta? Expect to pay from $175 to $300. I could go on and on with a myriad of examples. Our fees are entirely in line and are a great value considering the benefit that is received.
    Don`t apologize when asking a parent to step up and be a leader. Scouting is a fantastic family program. Instead of just dropping their kids off somewhere and picking them up later, instead of sitting on the sidelines while their child does activity X, instead of letting other people interact with and raise their children, Scouting allows parents to play a huge part in the lives of their children. This is NOT something we have to apologize for.

Another 10 Simple Ways to Grow Your Group

So, you didn't find anything you could possibly use in the first list of 10 Simple Ways to Grow Your Group. Or maybe you tried all of them and you're ready for some new ideas! As mentioned previously, you need to be anxiously engaged in finding new members because, for the most part, hordes of youth are probably not going to be beating a path to your door unless they know something about your group.

With this list, together with the previous one, you've received 21 suggestions describing ways to increase your group's membership. Every community has something unique about it and so do you. If you have an idea or suggestion of something that has worked in your group, you're invited to send it to the author at scoutleader101@gmail.com. We're all in this together and it's only together that we'll achieve the goal of doubling our membership by 2014-2015. You, the individual leader, CAN make a difference. Be a part of bringing Scouting to even more youth in your groups, areas, and councils.

Without further ado, on to the list!

  1. Use youth leadership
    Baden Powell said that the Patrol System isn't one way to run a scout troop, it's the only way. As leaders within Scouting we need to be making sure that our youth have the opportunity to develop their leadership potential. It's important to remember that our role as leaders is not to become one of the youth or to be their buddy. Our job is to help train our youth and bring them up to our level. To this end we need to be ensuring that an active and functioning pack Sixer Council, troop Court of Honour, and company Executive are operating. As leaders we need to let the youth have the opportunity to plan their program and make the decisions. Our role is to make sure that we create an environment where they can do this safely within the bounds that have been set for the organization. It's their program so let them plan it.

  2. Make noise
    Whether your group is planning an activity, a fundraiser, or a camp make sure that you let the outside world know about it. Create a press release and send it out to all of the media outlets in your area while at the same time recognizing the target audience of the media organization. The National Post is probably not the best recipient of an announcement about an upcoming bake sale! You will have more success with community league newsletters, smaller weekly newspapers and television stations that concentrate on community programming. As an extension to this idea, consider offering to write a weekly or monthly column for your community newspaper or perhaps suggest a weekly cable TV show that highlights outdoor education.

  3. Keep up a constant presence
    Most buildings where large numbers of the public congregate, such as supermarkets, libraries or malls, will have informational bulletin boards. Make sure that that you are posting information on your group's activities so that the public can see what you're doing. This is why running a compelling program (see #9 from 10 Simple Ways to Grow Your Group) is so important. Make sure that you are creating something visual and dynamic. A poster full of words will just get lost in the clutter. Going geocaching? Or rapelling? Or building a catapult? Help the public feel invited by posting your calendar letting them know when and where your group will be. Make sure you are changing the information regularly and double check that the contact information is correct.

  4. Attend information nights
    Local malls or other businesses will often sponsor public trade shows or other types of awareness events. Whenever you can link the purpose of the event to something that Scouting is involved in, ask to have a booth. Emergency preparedness fairs, environmental awareness campaigns, community registration nights, and outdoor sportsmen type shows are all examples of events where having a booth could be beneficial. If you do so, fight the temptation to just sit at a table that has a few brochures placed on it. Give out samples of popcorn, have posters printed showing the exciting activities your youth are involved in, or set up a kub kar track and have impromptu races…just make sure that your booth is exciting and dynamic and inviting. Set up your table at the back of the booth area and don't sit at it. Have your members staffing the booth smiling, saying hi, and offering brochures, popcorn samples or "coupons" for two free meetings! Work with your local council as they have a lot of promotional items to use as give-aways.

  5. Be seen at large public events
    From the Caribou Carnival in Yellowknife to the PNE in Vancouver to the Nova Scotia Multicultural Festival in Halifax most communities have some type of annual celebration or fair. These events are full of opportunities to be seen and to highlight your group's activities. Host a lost children booth, run a concession, or simply provide a day of fun program activities for members of the public to participate in.

  6. Look the part
    In all that you do, wherever you go, make sure that your youth look like they belong to Scouting. Could somebody walking by know that your youth are something different from any other group of youth? Wear the uniform smartly, correctly and with pride.

  7. Be experts in the field
    Does your local school have an outdoor education course? Is there any kind of continuing education or community extension program in your area? Offer to run a program by teaching a course on GPS navigation, or building a shelter, or Leave No Trace camping, or planning a backpacking trip, or any of the numerous other topics that are Scouting related.

  8. Contact past members
    There are a variety of reasons but sometimes people need to step away from Scouting for a period of time to concentrate on other priorities. When you know in advance that this is going to happen, keep the avenues of communication open. Send regular updates on what the group is doing or send along a picture of a recent activity. Write a short letter asking how things are going and offer assistance as appropriate. To locate previous members try looking within MMS. Check the Inactive Members tab to find a potential source of leaders and youth. Hey! There's Bob's name! Whatever happened to him? Well, this is your chance to find out, get caught up and invite them back.

  9. Incentive Program
    There's nothing like a little cash to motivate people! Consider setting up an incentive based program so that people who refer new members receive a financial reward. For example, existing members might receive a $10 coupon for purchases at their local Scout Shop, or receive $5 off their next year's registration fee for every new member they refer. Remember that new members will sell popcorn and participate in other fundraisers so the extra money they raise may more than make up the discount they received. Another option is to consider canvassing local businesses to see if they might offer coupons or other gifts for distribution as incentive prizes.

  10. Stop holding annual Bring a Friend nights
    Yes. You read that right! Stop holding your annual Bring a Friend nights. Instead, make EVERY week a Bring a Friend event. We need to stop teaching our youth that they can only bring a friend once a year! Be ready though! If you're going to be making pop can stoves or carving a new woggle, make sure that you have extra supplies in case new people happen to visit. Do your risk management and be prepared with appropriate paperwork for parents to sign (see BP&P 13012.3).