Recruiting – It’s All About Energy

Why does it seem like the big troops always have the luck with big recruitment numbers every year? 
This is something that I always had in the back of my mind whenever I participated in a troop whose numbers suddenly got smaller. The first troop I entered as an 11-year-old had all eagled-out (the scouts quit once they achieved Eagle Scout and the troop folded). I then moved to my best friend’s troop of only 6 scouts when I was 16. Eventually, they all eagled-out and that troop dissolved as well.  Both troops had a great time, but it seemed like we always struggled with mustering a full-size patrol at camporees. We would have the sporadic boy come around, check us out, consider joining, and then not come back after a while. We always wondered, “what happened to that guy?”
Recruiting and retention should go hand-in-hand but in reality they fight to hog all your available energy. You work hard at recruiting but then have problems with keeping scouts so then you focus on keeping scouts and forget to recruit. But guess what? The shiny side to that coin is that your brand new troop has as much potential as the big-numbered troops to not only run a successful program but grow at the same time. To do that, it takes a mixture of “8 magical ingredients” and the ability to adjust accordingly when the need arises.
#1. Mind-Set: You first have to understand that you can still run a successful program with four scouts as you can with 40. If you believe that your troop can have fun no matter what the numbers, then your mind-set will proactively attract and retain more scouts.
#2. Success breeds success: People want to be a part of success. When they hear from multiple sources about a successful program they will feel the pull to join it.
#3. Retention: You got a new scout! YEAH! Now… keep that scout. It can be harder than you think. Don’t spend all of your energy trying to convince that scout or scout’s parent(s) to come back after they have left when all you needed to do was to lay out a simple roadmap of expectations when they are first considering joining the troop.
#4. Team goal setting: This is vital for units just starting out. If you begin with small short-term wins, then you will see bigger, long-term wins down the road. (See #3) 🙂
#5. Team effort:  A “whole team” approach is necessary for accomplishing troop goals.  Don’t leave anyone behind! Your scouts will talk up their troop at school, church, and to other people in their lives if they are having a great time and building confidence. They are your best ambassadors.
#6. Rapid fire marketing: Be in marketing-mode at all times. There are more missed opportunities than you think. Have some material ready. Invite those Webelos to campout out with your troop. (Make sure you stick to BSA rules with Webelos and Cubs if you do this). Show them what they have to look forward to as scouts. Marketing should be planned and executed all year long. If you only focus on recruitment in the spring or just expect your cub feeder pack to simply fill your troop up you could be facing falling numbers quickly.
#7. Ask for feedback: Ask for feedback directly from scouts and parents about how things are going. You may believe that things are great, but it may be a different story through someone else’s perspective. As far as changing your unit based on negative feedback, that is something that the scoutmaster and his/her leadership team will have to figure out. Be careful of second-hand feedback. Sometimes it may be the only thing you have but take it with a load of salt because almost certainly it will be skewed due to gaps of communication or intent.
#8. Be flexible: It will never go your way 100%. Recognizing when things aren’t going your way, laughing them off and then adjusting are the best things to model for your scouts in dealing with those kinds of situations. They will get such an education just by seeing you adjust course with grace.
By applying the right amounts of these 8 “ingredients” for success, along with good timing, you may find yourself–before you know it–leading a successful program that will organically grow!
Good luck out there scouters!


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The author, Tony Zizak, is a long time scouter, Eagle Scout, and the scoutmaster of Troop 119 Ellettsville, IN. He has been to scout camps across the country and was a certified Program Director, Aquatics Director and a Scoutcraft Director. As a youth Tony received his Vigil Honor and served as a Lodge Chief for Tseyedin Lodge #65. Reach out to him for any questions you may have on this article.