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.


So how do we get started? Someone in the unit should take on the roll of new member coordinator. While this could be combined with recruiting, it must not become second fiddle. The new member coordinator should prepare an orientation for new members and their families, develop and disseminate materials, make certain that the new member is fully registered with the unit, help the family gain access to unit communications, and help introduce the new youth member to fellow Scouts and parents or guardians to other adults.

Elements of a robust and meaningful on-boarding process include the following.

  • Official Welcome Ceremony – either simple or elaborate, the new member should be officially introduced to the rest of the unit, to the Den or Patrol with which he or she will become a member. Exercises or activities designed to build the new team with the integration of the new member should be included.
  • Parent Orientation – a formal program with materials and an opportunity for families to understand Scouting, unit processes and traditions, and clarify both expectations of families and those expectations that families may have of the unit and its leadership. Orientation elements might include:
    • Structure of the unit; parent committee, leadership, how the unit is organized
    • What is Scouting? Explain lingo, abbreviations, ranks, etc. To someone new to Scouting, what do words like Den, Patrol, Webelos, SPL, PLC, Blue & Gold and many others mean?
    • Communication – does the unit use an online resource and how does a new family connect? Who are the unit leaders and how do you contact them? For what? Is there a directory of unit members and family contact information?
    • Roles for parents. Involvement of siblings in the unit.
    • Youth protection – what is it, how does it operate, what role do parents play?
    • Finances: does the unit collect dues, utilize some form of Scout account, offer fundraisers for either the unit or individual Scout? Are there funds available to support Scouting activities for those with limited means?
    • Uniform expectations: full or partial uniforms, use of handbooks, unit t-shirts or other Class B shirts. Are there used uniform materials available through the unit?
    • Outings and field trips: what is the program plan for the year? Planning ahead for summer camp programming and associated costs, parent participation, transportation to outings, and all of the elements of a robust program should be explained.
    • Meetings and participation: how are youth members expected to participate? What if they have to miss a meeting? An outing?
    • Handling special needs: special dietary restrictions, mobility challenges, behavioral concerns, allergies, medication administration, annual health forms and any other concerns parents may have on behalf of their youth.
  • Advancement is another consideration. Scouts joining at the beginning of a school year often work through advancement together. This is also true of Scouts who cross over from Cub Scouting into Scouts BSA. However, what do you do to integrate those who join at other times of the year, to help them catch up with what may have been missed? It is essential that new Scouts be taught what Scouting is, how a Scouts BSA unit and program differs from a Cub Scout program, and what needs to be done to begin down the advancement trail. For all Cub Scouts under the new program that goes into effect June 1st, each rank will begin with the Bobcat achievement. For Scouts BSA, each Scout should earn the Scout rank within the first few weeks. Den Leaders and dedicated Troop leaders should work with new Scouts to help them down the trail.
  • Service opportunities are a part of most Scouting units. Part of the Scouting experience is learning to be an active member of the community, to understand and appreciate the needs of others, and to lend a hand – doing a good turn both individually and collectively. What does the unit do and what are the expectations for participation?

Helping new Scouts and their families understand how Scouting is organized, how it works, and how to fully participate in the life of the unit is essential to the on-boarding process, but retention does not end there. Den Leaders, Pack and unit leadership, Patrol and Troop youth leadership should all pay attention to new and continuing members. Are they coming to meetings and interacting with others? Are they taking advantage of outings, service projects and other programs? Are they advancing at a rate with which they are comfortable? Are they getting the most out of their Scouting experience, and do they look forward toward future involvement? It is the responsibility of unit leadership to deliver a meaningful and engaging program, and to make sure each and every Scout and his or her family has the opportunity to participate fully.

Rolling out the welcome mat is an important part of the process of integrating new families into Scouting. We need to dust off the mat regularly, extend a welcoming hand and include our families from the beginning, but also need to renew that commitment in an ongoing way. Sharing the Scouting adventure with others will not only benefit them, but will make the experience more robust and rewarding for all of our youth. Thank you once again for entrusting your youth to Scouting and sharing your time, talent and treasure.

Paul Shrode