Build it and they will come

Field_Of_DreamsAbout four years ago, our community voted on itself a tax increase to build a new library. Even though it was only twenty or so years old, the former library building was way too small. There was hardly any space to hold the burgeoning collection of materials and provide room for modern technology such as computers and DVDs. Though it had lots of programs and regular users, there just wasn’t enough room. A committee of dedicated volunteers and professionals designed and built a beautiful new building so big that six of our former libraries could fit inside. There are quiet areas, conference rooms, a coffee shop and a large conference room, plus room to grow. The amazing thing to note is that in this day and age of being able to look up just about anything online, the parking lot is packed every time I drive by, seven days a week, and it’s difficult sometimes to find an available study room when I meet Scouts there to go over merit badges.

Another success story nearby is the opening of a new skatepark. Several years of planning and grassroots fundraising went into the project. A relentless group of volunteers hired one of the top skatepark designers in the country. Construction began last fall, and the park opened this summer with a grand opening bash and contest with over eight hundred in attendance. Tony Hawk, Andy MacDonald and several other nationally-known professional skateboarders were there. Every time I visit the skatepark, it’s packed with skaters having fun, trying out new tricks or just hanging out. The skatepark committee frequently posts pictures showing the park in use as early as sunrise. For being open less than two months, it’s an overwhelming success and it makes me wonder where did all these people skate before the Ann Arbor Skatepark opened.

These are examples of the phenomenon we mostly know from the movie Field of Dreams, in which a young farmer has a vision to build a baseball park in his cornfield. If You Build It, He Will Come is the mantra that drives the young farmer to build the diamond. A new library was built, and people come to use it in droves. A skatepark is enjoying constant use and provides clean, safe activity for young and old alike. These are solid, well-designed facilities and the level of usage reflects the quality and planning that went into building them.

We are approaching a crucial time in the Scouting year. It’s the time when school starts again and we make plans to put Scouting on display for our young people and encourage them to join. At elementary schools all over, we’re holding Boy Talks and parent nights and meet-and-greets at school information fairs and PTA events, explaining what Cub Scouting is all about to a new crop of first-graders and those in other grades besides. As we do, it’s important that we make a big “bang” with our program. I’ve been involved with packs that put on a terrific program and with those that don’t have any particular plans, and can tell you that those with solid programs are by far the most successful.

How can we do our best to present Scouting to boys and their families? There are many key steps to take, and the time to start is now.

  • Make sure you have good leadership in place. Unless you are a brand new unit just starting, you should already have a Cubmaster, a committee chair, and den leaders for each grade level except perhaps Tigers. While it’s up to the committee chair to recruit adult leaders, the Cubmaster or other leaders can help. Confirm that everyone’s returning this fall, and if you have any openings, be sure you recruit a leader as soon as you can. Draw from your returning parents from last year. New leaders need youth protection training, of course, and also need to take Fast Start and position-specific training online before den meetings start.
  • Use your district’s resources for program planning and recruiting. Most districts have had or will be having special training or orientation for Cub Scout leaders in the coming weeks. As many leaders as possible should attend from your pack, but at least someone should attend in any case. You’ll find out about council and district events for Cub Scouts, camping and training opportunities, your council-sponsored unit fundraiser, and many more. You can also meet your Unit and District Commissioners and get hooked up for any help and resources they can provide.
  • Plan your year’s program – now! If you haven’t already done so, set up a meeting with all your leaders and draw up the year’s calendar. At the pack level, you must have at least a schedule of pack meetings set. Include dates for your Blue & Gold Banquet and Pinewood Derby. Don’t forget a family campout or two, and some fun outings besides. Include some activities for next summer as well. If each den leader takes charge of having his or her den organize one activity, you’ll be able to cover everything. Print the calendar of events and give it to anyone who asks for information.

Exciting activities, backed by proper planning, is what draws boys in and keeps them active. By taking the needed steps to planning a solid, well-designed Scouting program, you’ll have a lot to offer new boys and their families as well as hanging on to your returning Scouts. Just like a new library or skatepark, a solidly planned and executed program will attract membership. If you build it, they will come!

Image: lindseywb / Creative Commons 2.0 license

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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One Reply to “Build it and they will come”

  1. A few years ago, Jerry Schleining Jr. (Scoutmaster Jerry) of the Scoutmaster Minute blog, wrote a series of articles like this one. Jerry told us to build a great program, and boys and their parents would see it and join in. As proof, Jerry told of the success of his troop, a growing forward troop that has a dynamic program that attracts boys and their parents. Although he did not use the phrase “If you build it they will come.” he expressed the sentiment.

    But then he described how he and the scouters in his troop went to all the Cub Scout packs in his district and touted his troop and his program. He was able to talk to Webelos scouts and their parents and describe the program of his troop, their outings and the character growth of his scouts. He was able to recruit many new Boy Scouts from the ranks of the Cub Scout Packs.

    This leads me to a different conclusion: “If you market it, they will come.” Jerry not only built a good troop program, but he identified the boys who might be interested, and presented (read advertised) the compelling aspects of his troop to the Webelos and their parents, so that they visited, and later joined. Jerry described a marketing campaign that succeeded in selling his troop and its program.

    Any business man knows that it is not enough to create a fine product, but you have to sell it. Which means you have to market it. I don’t care how fine a program the unit leadership produces, if they do not tell boys and parents about it, they will not recruit them to their troops and packs. I think every unit struggles through this process. And we do not do a good job at all of teaching scouters how to.

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