The latest in a series designed to help Scout families, Scouts and those new to Scouting better understand what Scouting is, how it works, and how to get the most out of the experience. For past articles, see back issues of The Guide.
We are not very far into this new year of Scouting and most all of our units welcomed new members recently, whether first time Scouts and their families joining Packs or Scouts crossing over with their families. Most of our units welcome new families with printed materials, lists of things to purchase at the Scout Shop, calendars of events, perhaps even an orientation meeting. We are pretty good at telling new members who we are and what we do. In a sense, we let them know about our expectations of new members. At the end of their Scouting experience, particularly if they choose not to renew their membership, we might ask them why and even conduct what could be called an exit interview. It is helpful to understand their experience and if they will share, what precipitated their decision.
It is essential to engage new Scouts and their families in Scouting as soon as possible, whether they are first time members or continuing Scouts moving into a new unit. Engagement is the first and most important step in building a relationship and retaining our members. I’d like to suggest a concept I heard about recently, one that makes so much sense and yet is rarely done; conduct Entrance Interviews! We must listen more and share less. Ask new members what they want out of their Scouting experience, what expectations they bring to the unit. We should of course ask the Scouts themselves and work to get to know them, directing them toward activities and settings where their expectations can be met. We also need to talk with parents. We need to understand their past experiences with Scouting or other activities they may have participated in as a family and find out what they expect from Scouting. Do they want to take on leadership roles, help to coordinate an activity or program, or just want to hang in the background until they better understand Scouting? Do they want their Scout to become more independent or do they want to share their Scout’s journey? The real message is that we all need to welcome new people, ask pertinent questions, listen actively and respond with opportunities that will meet their expectations.
Membership in Scouting can be a life-changing adventure in learning, making friends, and becoming self-aware. It affords opportunities for families to spend quality time together. We all have a role to play in recruiting and retaining members. With many activities and outings remaining in the year, this is a perfect time to invite and welcome new members. At the same time, we cannot forget about our current members. Membership recruiting has been a challenge the past couple of years, but retention is also essential. Why not sit down with your members, whether new or seasoned, and ask them what they want from their Scouting experience now and for the future? Try the entrance interview process, it is never too late!