This is a common scenario, you want to enroll your child in scouts so you go out and look for a local pack to join. I have seen these situations play out in a variety of ways.
- You show up and you are blown away with the leadership and what they have planned.
- You show up and there is one leader who is obviously overwhelmed.
- You show up and nobody is there (I really hope this never happens)
My hope and naive thinking want me to believe that #1 happens the most. But far too often #2 is usually the way it goes down. And I have even been a part of #3 and just felt lost.
As a leader and a parent, I have been a part of #1 and #2. And the times I have seen #2 from a parent perspective it made me want to run away as far as I could.
Why do Cub Scout packs fail?
In the second scenario above (and third) this is the most obvious reason Cub Scout packs fail.
But how did it get this way?
Surely there were signs?
Well as a leader that has been the one overwhelmed leader trying to do it all myself it isn’t fun.
And honestly, we didn’t ask for it.
Here are some reasons why Cub Scout packs fail:
Lack of support from your district
When I first became a Cubmaster for my middle son’s pack I had a gentleman that was my district executive who was an absolute go-getter. The first two years he helped me with recruitment I barely had to lift a finger. I printed off our flyers and he would go into every classroom (with permission) and talk to any class about scouts and the fun they would have and get them all pumped up and ready to go. I would have more kids than I knew what to do with show up for recruitment night.
Then when he left that position I was left on an island. I had no support because his replacement had no idea how to do recruitment or really even cared to help with recruitment. And since I worked a full-time job I couldn’t go spend a day in classrooms getting kids ready for scouts.
If you find yourself in this situation start a conversation with your district reps. Get them to help you out as much as possible. Or if it works out get your chartered organization to help with recruitment. They may have someone available to help to hand out flyers to the schools and talk to the kids.
Not looking for your replacement
The day you start to become a leader is the day you should be looking for your replacement. As soon as you start scout recruitment you need to start leader recruitment. Sit down with the parents and tell them it is highly encouraged for parents to step up and volunteer.
Don’t scare them with titles or duties just get them to agree to help out in some shape or form. Once you get them invested they will usually step up and become a leader. They will quickly see the benefit of having good leadership and see why they want their kid to be a scout and make it all the way through the program.
If you have people that have been in scouting before those are the ones I would talk to first about being leaders. Most of them will feel obligated to step up because they had a mom or dad as a leader or they remember the impact of their leaders when they were a kid. And if they don’t volunteer remind them how big of an influence a leader can be.
Taking it all on yourself
If you find you are that one leader that does everything in your pack, even if you have other leaders.
I was that leader. I had people that left because their kids aged out or just lost interest or they switched jobs and couldn’t show up. I also had people that said they would volunteer and never showed up. They would drop their kids off and leave.
I know it is hard to find leaders but the more you have the more you can convince them that they don’t have to do everything. If you fill each position correctly the unit should run itself and all you have to do is delegate tasks (if you are a Cubmaster).
Make sure you recruit committee members to help out. Then when they ask what they need to do you give them the assignments needed to make a pack run smoothly. One person can be in charge of awards, another can be in charge of popcorn, another can be an activity coordinator. Then find the right person to manage them to be the committee chair.
Your recruitment process
What do your recruitment events look like? When you have the beginning of the year recruitment meeting do the kids leave begging their mom/dad to sign them up? Or does everyone just kind of leave?
Make sure you have some awesome activities for the kids to engage in that show them what scouts do. Here are some of the best recruitment events I have been a part of.
- Swim party at the local pool
- Built mini trebuchets
- Lego Pinewood Derby (build the car at the event and take it home)
There are tons of ideas out there that make wonderful recruitment nights. You have to make it so awesome that the kids showing up will beg their parents to sign them up.
Understand the demographics of your recruitment area. Is your pack in a lower-income area? If so consider waiving any sign-up fees.
This is one of the biggest show stoppers I see with getting new kids to sign up. I have mostly lived in rural areas where the kids that want to join come from families that don’t have a lot of extra money for scouting.
The fees recently jumped way up and were kind of a shock. But even years ago when they seemed reasonable it was hard to convince a family that was just getting by to spend $40 to sign their kid up and then anywhere up to $100 to get a uniform and book and all the other expenses.
My suggestion to get around high recruitment fees is to drive home your fundraisers and have enough that you can offer scout scholarships. You can do things like have the incoming kids write a story about why they want to join scouts. The parents that need the help will make sure their kid turns it in if they really want to join.
Uniforms are another cost that is hard to get around. We all like to see our scouts in a Class A uniform but it can be a deterrent for many reasons. The first reason is unless you buy them online you may not live close to a place that sells scout uniforms. And of course, the cost is the second and main reason most kids will either not get one or just drop out.
Encourage existing Scouters to donate their uniforms to the pack. Then you can have a “closet” for new scouts to get a gently used uniform. Our current pack also has a really good strategy to deal with this. They buy the uniforms ahead of time and give incentives on fundraisers that if the scout raises X amount of dollars they earn the uniform at no cost.
Just figure out a way to help these families get a uniform and not make it a burden.
Too many cliques
When we first went to join scouts with my oldest at his school I was blown away with the pack. It was thriving and had great leadership and everyone seemed to get along so well. But I soon realized why everyone seemed to get along so well.
Every single leader was friends before scouts and all of their kids were the same age. Guess what happened when all of their kids aged out of cub scouts? Yep, all those leaders were gone. And since they were all friends they were not the best at pulling in new leaders to help them out.
I got thrust into the position of Cubmaster and really I had no idea what I was doing. It went ok the first year but after all those leaders left I struggled to find leadership. I was seen as an outsider because we had moved into this small school district. People didn’t trust me.
And I understand that. Here is a new guy that no one knows and we are trusting you to lead our kids. In this situation, I would recommend breaking down those walls. Do something to get to know the existing leaders really well and get everyone to talk together. Build trust so people will want to work with you.
If you have been around scouting long enough you will notice the up and downs with your packs. One year you may get every kid from an incoming class to sign up. The next year you may only get one or none to join.
These things happen for a variety of reasons. If there are a bunch of kids that are close and one of them really wants to play soccer or basketball then all of them may want to do that and the parents don’t have time to do sports and scouts.
It could also be that there just are not that many boys in the incoming class. Yes, I know girls can join too but a majority of your recruits will still be boys. If there are only two boys in the incoming class you will more than likely have a small recruitment class.
In the summer when I was a Cubmaster we had one activity. We would participate in a Cub Scout day camp. It was great and fun and most kids that were not on vacation would participate. But it was the only activity we did. It was hard to do summer activities because leaders were busy or on vacation during the summer.
This was a big mistake.
By not keeping the kids engaged and excited all summer a lot of them lost interest. With our current pack, they always have a great summer program. We do something every month to keep the kids going and they use that time to pre-recruit.
That’s right instead of waiting until normal August/September beginning of school year recruitment they recruit in May. They get the kids in have an awesome time with things during the summer and it works wonders for retention.
Typically they do a family campout the first month. A pool or splash pad party one month. And then we still have our day camp that we highly encourage all to attend. This strategy shows the kids how much fun they get to have in scouting without some of the more mundane items that your average meeting can burn out a scout.
Yes, camping is typically reserved for when they get older and are in Boy Scouts but a lot of kids love the idea of camping and want to go any chance you can give them. Our current pack goes camping probably a minimum of four times a year. And the Webelos get more opportunities because they get invited to go with our Boy Scouts troop.
My son is ready to be done with Cub Scouts because he sees the Boy Scouts going camping every month. I have to encourage him to attend meetings and make sure he is prepared when he makes the jump to Boys Scouts.
Somehow he even convinced me to go camping with him and the Boy Scouts in January when it was 13 degrees and snowing. Yes, that is how much he loves camping.
If you decide to push camping just make sure you give options to come only for the day. Our pack is always upfront with the parents that camping is optional but available and the bulk of the fun will occur during the day.
All of the above reasons are why Cub Scout packs fall apart and fail. In most of these scenarios, you have a few hard-working individuals that want their kids to enjoy Cub Scouts so they try to take on all of the roles that should be spread out.
This leads to people not wanting to join because they are afraid they will fall into that same trap, or the program just isn’t enticing to keep new recruits.
Above I offered some suggestions to mitigate those reasons why your Cub Scout pack might be struggling. In the worst-case scenario, you can see if your pack can merge with another pack or disband your pack and join another pack if you are the only leader volunteering. In small towns and rural areas, this might not be an option. But if push comes to shove then this might be your only recourse for your kids to enjoy scouting.
I hope this post doesn’t discourage you. I have been around scouting for years so I have seen a thing or two and experienced a lot of what makes a pack fail and what makes a pack succeed. Scouting is a great activity for your kids and I really hope they get to enjoy being a Cub Scout and everything that comes with it.
Do you have any more reasons that you have seen a Cub Scout pack fail? If so add them to the comments or let us know on our Facebook page.