Scouting reimagined

Our Friends of Scouting theme last year was Imagine… The conversation revolved around imagining not just what Scouting could help your son or daughter realize, but to also imagine what the world would be like without Scouting.

As the Boy Scouts of America proceeds into bankruptcy proceedings as it struggles with the fallout from decades of improperly handling abuse allegations by volunteers, we can actually begin to realize what the world would be like if Scouting – the organization, not the movement – were no longer around. And even though bankruptcy is intended to shield the remaining assets, it’s not inconceivable that Scouting as we know it could diminish to the point where it is no longer sustainable.

The national organization is taking some steps to try to shore up its revenue and its membership. The move to bring girls into the traditional boy-only programs of Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting was hoped to increase membership by essentially doubling the number of youth we could recruit from.

Unfortunately, membership alone won’t quite balance the books, so National, for the second year in a row, has announced increases in membership fees. Last year’s hike in the youth membership fee to $60 nearly doubled the per-Scout charges at the national level. Many, if not most, volunteers regarded the timing as disruptive, for the increase was announced after most Cub Scout packs had done their initial recruiting and program launch based on the then-current $33 fee, and had to scramble to come up with the funds to pay the added cost. Some went back and asked their families, but most packs somehow absorbed the cost, dipping into reserves, doing away with planned program activities, or using fundraising proceeds.

Now, eight months later, we’re hit with another national fee increase. It’s not as much as last year’s jump, but this time packs will be able to plan how to handle it. National registration in Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA, Venturing and Sea Scouting goes to $66 for youth joining after August 1 and for youth renewing after October 1 (essentially, at next year’s charter). Adults and those in Exploring will pay $42. In addition, a new one-time $25 joining fee is paid by youth coming on board, and the annual unit charter fee climbs to $75. (And while National isn’t officially saying, we’re hearing the $66 goes up to $72 in 2021 and $75 in 2022.) The BSA says the money won’t go to compensate past victims of abuse, but is needed to pay for “essential services” which include, among other things, liability insurance, the cost of which has skyrocketed for the organization. We’re told, too, that National has realized cost savings through furloughs, staff reductions and departmental consolidation.

But the national fee increase is just one cost hike that we’re likely to see. Local councils have been given the go-ahead to add a fee of their own, up to the amount of the national $66 or $42 fee, to cover their own operating expenses. Previously, councils could charge for insurance but had to rely upon fundraising proceeds (the one-third split from popcorn sales) and donations through Community and Family Friends of Scouting to cover a large part of their operating budgets.  Here in Michigan, for instance, a new $60-per-Scout fee is being added, bringing the annual total to $126 (plus $25 for new members) – up from $72 last year, $34 the year before and a far cry from the $12 when we first joined. The local fee covers insurance, operating costs (we have a lot of horses to feed) and offsets revenue from Friends of Scouting, which is being discontinued. It also covers basic adult training courses and is said to include campsite rental and what are being called “signature events” for Scouts and families.

Other changes here include eliminating our four field service councils and replacing them with service areas for the east and west sides of the state, closing some service centers, concentrating functions in specific office locations, and improving online Scout Shop order fulfillment.

To make the fee increase easier to handle, many councils including ours are signing on with a new installment program called ScoutPay, which allows a smaller initial payment followed by a monthly recurring payment of $11, which can be paid with a credit card or bank debit. This allows families the flexibility to pay-as-you-go while relieving units of the need to collect fees from families and forward them to their local council.

In most areas of the US, smaller local councils still operate independently, but expect to see more consolidation along the lines of what’s been done here in Michigan over the last ten years.

The fee increases, operational changes and the general turmoil surrounding the BSA are causing us to reimagine what Scouting might look like.

Image: ankris /

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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