Unfortunately, not every boy scout (or girl) who joins a troop will stay involved in Scouting. In fact, out of every 100 people that join Scouts BSA, an average of 30 scouts will drop out within their first year. Recruiting and retaining scouts is key to a healthy troop’s survival so, in this article, you’ll learn my best tips for keeping the scouts in your troop involved and having fun!
What is The Best Way to Retain Scouts? To keep scouts engaged, it’s important to create a fun-filled atmosphere that encourages friendship and growth. By allowing new scouts to take on leadership responsibilities, and by planning exciting activities, troops can more effectively keep their scouts motivated and coming back.
PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scouts, Kevin A and Cole 🙂
So, how can troops create a fun-filled environment that retains scouts? Great question! Unfortunately, there isn’t one easy answer. Since most BSA troops are scout-led, the best approach to retention will differ based on how your troop is run. However, here’s an important rule of thumb that applies to virtually all troops:
If your troop can retain a new scout for at least 3 years, that scout will be much more likely to stay involved until they turn 18 or Eagle out.
Make sure to keep this point in mind while going through the rest of this article! Your goal should be to retain as many scouts as possible within their first three years of Scouting. While it’s important to also create a great environment for your older scouts, allocating enough time and resources to your younger scouts is essential for a healthy troop.
Troop recruitment and retention are a bit like trying to fill a leaky bucket. You can either increase the flow of water into the bucket (recruitment) or patch up its holes (retention). First, let’s focus on who’s responsible for stopping the leakage and increasing the retention rate of scouts in your troop!
Troop Retention: Who Keeps Scouts Involved?
Membership retention is a problem almost every troop faces at some point. While most troops make it through periods of low membership, it’s entirely possible for a troop to be disbanded if it’s unable to recruit and retain enough scouts. Remember: A troop can’t function without the support of its adult leaders, scouts, and their families. 🙁
Because keeping younger scouts involved is crucial to a troop’s survival, the best way to implement scout retention efforts is for the adult leaders and senior scouts to work together. Both of these parties play a vital role in shaping the experiences of their troop’s younger scouts:
Adult responsibilities: The satisfaction from learning and completing requirements are some of the main benefits that keep younger scouts engaged in Scouting
- Scoutmasters and other adult leaders should make an effort to encourage every new scout to rank up to at least Tenderfoot within their first 3 months.
- Adult leaders should help plan at least 1 fun “outside” event every few months where scouts are encouraged to invite their non-Scouting friends.
- It’s important to follow up with the parents of new scouts to make sure they feel involved, appreciated, and kept in the loop.
Senior Scout Responsibilities: Younger scouts are usually looking for friendship and positive role models when they enter into a troop.
- Senior scouts need to make an effort to help the younger scouts feel included or, at the very least, respected.
- It’s important for the older scouts to help the younger scouts foster meaningful friendships. To do this, pair younger scouts with their friends, when possible.
- Older scouts should explain the “Why“ behind every Scouting lesson taught. If a younger scout knows why what they’re doing is important, they’ll be more excited to stay involved!
In addition to these responsibilities, senior scouts and adult leaders should also take an interest in the opinions of their younger scouts. A fresh perspective is always useful for making things better, so I’d recommend asking newer scouts for their feedback, and putting their ideas into action, when possible. Having ownership in the troop will make any scout more likely to stay and invite their friends!
This shouldn’t mean that the older scouts need to constantly be taking care of the younger scouts or babying them. However, senior scouts should be aware of how their interactions with the younger scouts will impact the future of their troop.
Now that you know who’ll be leading your troop’s retention efforts, it’s time to learn some tactics! In the next section, I’ll be explaining three of the best and most reliable methods of scout retention. Try to include all three in your troop program, as each method could be more or less effective, depending on the types of scouts you’re working with.
The 3 Best Methods For Retaining Younger Scouts:
In the last section, we established that the best strategy for retention is to keep younger scouts involved and having fun. In this section, you’ll learn 3 great ways to make that happen! 🙂
Obviously, there are way more than 3 effective ways to retain scouts. So, in the following section, I’ll be sharing with you some important tips to keep in mind for a more well-rounded retention process! Now, let’s dive into your first method of scout retention…
1) Encourage Friendship-Building between Scouts
For a lot of kids, the outdoor activities we do in Scouting can take some getting used to. While some scouts might not like every aspect of Scouting right away, practically every scout will enjoy building close friendships with their troopmates! That’s why, it’s crucial to encourage teamwork and friendship-building as often as possible.
While parental encouragement, fun activities, and learning useful skills are all good reasons to be a part of Scouting, most young teens continue to show up to troop functions because of the friendships they’ve formed.
If you want to keep the young scouts in your troop involved until at least their 3-year mark, they’ll need plenty of opportunities to form genuine friendships with their fellow scouts. Here’s how to do exactly that!
How To Encourage Friendships in Scouting
As your younger scouts get older, they’ll very likely begin to love the Scouting process and aspire to earn Eagle. However, this often takes time, which is why it’s so important to create a great troop environment for building friendships right from the start! Friendship building in Scouting really only requires two things:
- An activity that scouts can work together on to complete.
- A chance for scouts to have free time.
Encouraging scouts to work on activities together creates an atmosphere for them to open up with one another. Ideally, the scouts should have the chance to work together for at least an hour, or over the course of a few days. During that time, they’ll likely discover that they share common interests, goals, and senses of humor!
This leads me to the second crucial aspect of friendship building, which is giving scouts a chance to have some free time. Having free time will allow scouts to deepen their friendships by practicing skills, playing sports, talking about relationships 😛 , or doing anything else.
The key here is giving scouts the free choice to hang out, as forcing anyone to do an activity together can only go so far in deepening a friendship. Once a new scout feels accepted within your troop and develops some close friendships, they’ll be *that* much more likely to keep coming back (and even invite their friends!).
2) Empower Young Scouts To Act As Leaders
The more responsibility and power a scout is given, the more they’ll be invested in your troop’s success. This doesn’t mean to push extra duties onto every new scout, but instead to provide them with fun opportunities to test their limits! One of the best ways to create an exciting challenge for new scouts is to encourage them to participate in troop leadership.
However, most troops don’t allow scouts to hold central leadership roles until they reach First-Class. The problem is, new scouts could drop out long before then if Scouting doesn’t continue to challenge them! This is exactly why creative, small leadership opportunities are so useful for retaining younger scouts. 🙂
How To Include Young Scouts In Non-Leader Leadership Roles
While it may be a Patrol Leader’s responsibility to plan and lead a patrol outing, there are still plenty of ways to involve other scouts. I’d recommend encouraging your Patrol Leaders to involve a couple of new scouts in the planning and execution process of their patrol outings! There are a few ways this can look, depending on the new scout’s level of competence:
- Passive Leadership: The new scout can shadow their Patrol Leader during an activity, and be included in the decision-making process.
- This allows the new scouts to get a taste of leadership and feel listened to, without fear of failure.
- As a bonus, this also helps the Patrol Leaders to think more carefully about their choices and to review them later on!
- Active Leadership: The new scout can lead a small group in carrying out important tasks assigned by their Patrol Leader.
- This could be completing a small section of a service project, setting up a flagpole, or even doing some routine camp-cleanup.
- By giving the new scout an opportunity to lead a few older scouts, they’ll receive great feedback and begin to envision their future in your troop!
The important thing here is to make sure that your new scouts feel that they’re growing and contributing to the success of your troop. If a scout feels like they’re valued and relied upon, they won’t only stay in the troop, they’ll also give back as much as they can! 🙂
3) Hold Fun and Interesting Activities That Are In-line With Scouting Values
While a huge part of Scouting involves advancing in rank and developing a strong character, that doesn’t mean you need to focus on those aspects all the time! Remember, most scouts join for the new experiences that Scouting offers. Making your troop activities fun and creative is one of the best ways to retain new scouts!
Some of the most interesting activities for new scouts are activities that they haven’t had the opportunity to try before; things such as zip-lining, rock climbing, snorkeling, and other high adventure activities. I’d recommend your troop hold at least one “crazy” activity every 3 months, and really encourage the new scouts to attend!
It’s also a good idea to spice up the topics that young scouts might find to be boring. For example, setting up a tent can get repetitive for some. But, if you were to make it a competition where scouts compete to set-up their tent the fastest, it would make the process much more fun and exciting to do!
Kevin here — Having interactive presentations is also a great way to discuss important subjects without having them be too boring!
In my troop, one of the most memorable presentations I remember was when a nutritionist came by to present the types of preservatives that were in the foods we were eating.
Prior to the presentation, she put a fruit, a potato, and hot Cheetos inside a Ziploc bag and let it sit out in the air for several weeks. She brought in these samples so we could see that the fruit was moldy, the potato had little spuds growing from it, but the hot Cheetos looked exactly the same as they did when she initially put them in the bag!
This showed that we probably shouldn’t be eating foods that can last for several weeks, like hot Cheetos, as they’re full of preservatives that aren’t great for our bodies.
It’s the little things that can add up to a scout’s decision to stay in their troop or leave. If your troop activities aren’t interesting to your new scouts, that’s something to work on, ASAP! By making an effort to keep things exciting and new, your retention rates will skyrocket and you’ll create a much better program for all scouts. 😉
Additional Tips For Scout Retention
While using the 3 methods we just covered will get you 80% of the way there in terms of retaining your troop’s younger members, I wanted to share with you a few more useful tips from fellow ScoutSmarts readers! Hopefully, with these tips, you’ll be 100% prepared to retain your members (and even encourage them to recruit their friends!):
- Make it a point to remember every scout’s name (and their parents’ names too if you’re an adult leader).
- Strongly encourage earning merit badges and advancing to Eagle. Make it a consistent part of your troop’s program.
- Allow scouts to have a bit of scheduled free time and free space. IMO, this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Scouting and is crucial for retaining scouts.
- Follow up with scouts if they miss a few meetings. Being concerned about whether a scout is enjoying the program, and supportive when they miss meetings is crucial if you’d like for them to come back.
- Take troop photos during fun campouts to gift to scout families. If a scout hangs a picture of their troop on their fridge, that troop is doing something right!
- Hold exceptional, well-planned scout ceremonies (especially Eagle Scout Court of Honors). This will give young scouts something to strive for.
- Try to involve the parents of new scouts in the committee planning process. Parental communication and support are vital for keeping scouts involved.
For more information on scout retention, I’d highly suggest checking out the PDF Guide To Scout Retention, created by the Great Trail Council. It’s a lengthy but valuable resource that’ll be a great read after you put the tips you’ve learned here into action!
The more scouts your troop retains, the more valuable Scouting and life experiences get passed on to future generations. That’s why, it’s crucial to keep your scouts involved, engaged, and having fun! By putting into action the tips we went over in this article, your troop will be on the right path to retaining its members and creating an even better program!
As mentioned earlier, retention is only half of the equation. I’d encourage you to also check out my article on BSA Scout Recruiting to learn 3 simple, tested methods for bringing new scouts into your troop!
I’m wishing you the best of luck in improving your troop’s retention efforts! Also, thanks for trying to create a better program for the scouts in your troop. Retention is a crucial aspect of Scouting that doesn’t get talked about much, so I’d really encourage you to share this article with your Scoutmaster or whoever else you think might benefit from it! 🙂