Each year, when we recharter, we may find that there are a handful of Scouts who, for various reasons, don’t return. Often, these are boys we haven’t seen active in some time; usually they are first-year members who crossed over the previous winter or spring, but sometimes they’re older boys who have been flying under the radar for some time and finally decide to quit.
The recharter process requires that we indicate a reason why each dropped member is leaving. The answers to some are obvious: A move out of town, age-out or transfer to another unit or program are among the better reasons, and they don’t count against retention figures because these boys aren’t necessarily lost to Scouting.
However, the broad category “lost interest/stopped coming to meetings” needs a lot more digging in order to get to the real reason. Most of the time, either a boy or his parents say “no thank you” at renewal time, and that’s that. We are left to figure out just what happened. Sometimes the reasons make sense:
- Increased involvement in sports, church, band or other youth groups
- Changes at school that require more attention to studies or homework (such as starting high school)
- Driver’s education classes
- A part-time job
We sometimes have to accept the loss, but can take some comfort in knowing that Scouting’s values have been imparted, and hopefully the boy is better off for his experience. Others are more troubling:
- Frustration with inability to advance in rank
- Feeling “left out” or not actively involved in the troop
- Not enjoying the outdoor aspects of Scouting
- No new challenges – the troop is just doing the same things they’ve always done
These reasons implicate the troop and its program. While a given troop’s program can’t be all things to all boys, there are some common features that need to be there in order to interest and retain our members.
It’s important, when Scouts leave,to find out the real reason. Sometimes, we just can’t help it, but we can’t afford to drive boys away because our troop is not serving the boys the way the Scouting program intends. A chat with the departing member and/or his parents will help you to find out if something is lacking in your troop program. (Of course, the best way to stay on top of things is for the patrol leader to keep in touch with the Scout, and through ongoing informal interaction between the Scoutmaster and all the boys.)
A troop won’t ever reach maximum engagement and retention unless it truly operates by the patrol method. Not just organized into patrols for administrative purposes, but really making sure the boys are running their own troop, leading themselves, and that you, the adults, don’t usurp their authority, but provide appropriate support and coaching. It takes a big leap of faith by some adults to realize that the goal of Scouting is not so much to go camping and enjoy the outdoors as it is to provide the process by which boys experience personal growth through leadership. Much has been written about using the patrol method; see the books and online resources listed on the right side of these pages for some excellent information.
With all the distractions and alternative activities available to our youth, and Scouting’s membership declining, we need to make sure we are doing everything possible at the troop level to have a program that appeals to the boy’s sense of adventure and the parents’ sense of purpose.