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Ideas that click: 11 ways to improve your unit’s website

If first impressions are everything, your unit website better be good.

These days, many prospective Scouts and their parents will research your pack, troop, or crew online long before they pick up the phone or visit one of your meetings.

An easy-to-navigate, well-designed, regularly updated website can mean the difference between recruiting a new Boy Scout and watching him join the troop down the street.

With that in mind, here are 10 ways to improve your unit’s website: 

1. Consider your audience

When creating or improving a unit website, the first question you should ask is: Who is this site for? You probably will come up with four distinct audiences:

  • Current Scouts
  • Current Scouters and/or parents
  • Prospective Scouts
  • Parents of a prospective Scout

All decisions about content (and organization and design) should include an analysis of how each of those audiences would be affected. Think like a member of each of these customer groups, and consider why they’d be taking the time to visit the site. What do they want, and do they have an easy time finding it?

2. Consider the motivations of your audience

You know who they are, but what do they want? Here are a few ideas:

Current Scouts:

  • Check the calendar of meetings, campouts, and troop events
  • See photos of past events as a reminder of how much fun was had
  • Find a packing list for the next campout (usually accessed the night before departure)

Current Scouter and/or Parent

  • Check the calendar of meetings, campouts, and troop events
  • Find out when to pick up/drop off for the next campout
  • Find a packing list for the next campout to make sure their Scout isn’t forgetting, say, a flashlight or sleeping bag
  • Get contact information for other parents
  • Find answers to questions about advancement, including where to sew patches, etc.
  • Pay dues or register Scout for jamborees, summer camps, or other events

Prospective Scout

  • See photos and videos to learn what Scouts in this troop do
  • Find out what cool places the troop is headed off to in the coming year (or places recently visited)
  • Learn when to come visit a meeting
  • Print off a flier to hand to Mom or Dad

Parent of Prospective Scout

  • See meeting times/location to determine whether it’s convenient for family’s schedule
  • Find a calendar of upcoming and past events to make sure the troop’s active
  • Get contact info for the Scoutmaster to schedule a visit or ask questions

3. Make it easy to navigate

Don’t make it difficult for current or prospective members to find what they need. A navigation bar at the top of the page or along the left side can make information easy to find in a hurry.

4. Tell them when and where you meet

One of the first questions a potential new member will have when visiting your site is, “When and where do you meet?” Make their life easy by providing that information “above the fold,” meaning it’s visible on the home page before scrolling down.

5. Include a calendar

Modern moms and dads plan their calendars months in advance. By including meetings and outings on a detailed online calendar, you’re giving parents and Scouts fewer excuses for missing activities down the road. But if you’re going to prominently display a calendar, be sure it’s updated. Speaking of …

6. Keep it updated

If the most-recent activity on your unit’s online calendar is from 2010, that sends one of two messages to potential recruits: (1) this unit has stopped operating or (2) this unit is unorganized. There’s some work involved in keeping a website up to date, but it’s one outward-facing sign of a vibrant, active pack, troop, or crew.

7. Appoint at least two webmasters

Many hands working on a website make everyone’s job easier. So giving admin powers to multiple users makes sense, especially if someone goes on vacation or gets swamped at work. For troop or crew websites, at least one of the admins should be a youth to keep their needs and interests in mind. After all, “youth-led” applies to the online realm, too.

8. Upload your packing lists

Consider this scenario: It’s the night before summer camp, and, of course, Chase hasn’t even started packing. That’s not a huge problem, except for one thing: Chase can’t find the packing list he was given at the troop meeting on Monday.

Sound familiar? Alleviate this headache by including last-minute details right on your homepage. I’m thinking departure time, meeting location, emergency numbers, and, yes, the all-important packing list. But this sensitive information shouldn’t be publicly displayed, which brings us to …

9. Protect sensitive info

Create a verified login system that prevents unauthorized users from seeing certain parts of the site. Unregistered visitors should be able to see the time of your weekly meeting, an email address or phone number for the Scoutmaster, a summary of your unit’s recent successes, a few photos, and other key information.

They should not see Scouts’ last names, trip itineraries, members’ contact info, or anything else that could be used maliciously.

Read more about unit website guidelines at this official BSA page.

10. Be brand-compliant

Let’s call this one a Level 2 tip. After you’ve completed Level 1, which is building a website that’s functional and easy to navigate, think about branding your site using official BSA logos and colors. I blogged about this earlier this month, but it’s worth repeating that the BSA Brand Identity guide includes exact specs on official Scouting colors. The goal: a consistent look and feel to all the ways a Scout and his family interact with the organization.

11. Start a blog

Perhaps I’m biased, but I’m a big fan of blogging as a way to share news and updates in a conversational format. Ideally, these posts would be mostly written by Scouts and include photos and perhaps video from recent trips. Other thoughts:

  • Trip recaps should be short and written in the mindset of “look what we did last weekend.”
  • There could also be a Cubmaster’s/Scoutmaster’s Minute blog post where the top adult leader can share some weekly or monthly words of wisdom.
  • To be a viable blog, I would suggest posting something no less than once per week. Any less and the thing would become stagnant.
  • I would suggest having one adult and one Scout be primary administrators of the blog, with the Scoutmaster and other youth and adult leaders having the ability to post to it, as well.
  • A blog post doesn’t have to contain many words at all. It could simply be four or five photos with fun captions.

Share your successes

Does your pack, troop, team, ship, post, or crew already have a phenomenal website? Share the link in the comments section below so others can learn from your example.

50 Comments on Ideas that click: 11 ways to improve your unit’s website

  1. http://www.ScoutTroop51.com – Longhouse Council’s oldest unit, now working towards our 101st anniversary.

    • Very nice! I like the countdown feature.

      • Thanks, Bryan. The tabs at the top of the page direct Scouts, parents and leaders to valuable resources and we use a lot of pictures, videos and links to national BSA pages and resources. Parents especially have found it very useful. I’ll be adding a Jamboree Blog page as I will be on the BSA National Media Team.

  2. We’ve been using a site called myroadtoeagle.com for the last couple of years and it has worked great for our troop. Now, in full disclosure, I actually developed the site, so I’m definitely biased. But, aside from that, the scouts and parents in our troop are continually telling me how much they appreciate and love the site. I don’t want this to sound like a sales pitch so I’m going to stop there.

    • I guess the link doesn’t get included. Here’s our troop’s site:
      https://www.myroadtoeagle.com/troop556

    • https://www.myroadtoeagle.com/troop556 – Sorry, forgot to add the link.

      • David Stevens // June 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm // Reply

        Enoch, you’ve done a great job on the site. It’s fast and easy to use. The premium features, including the troop website, are great resource for scouts and parents.

        • Lorianne Rowley // July 5, 2013 at 10:42 pm //

          Our troop has been using My Road to Eagle for a couple of years now and I find it to be very helpful. I upgraded to the premium service and really like the group tracking feature because it save a lot of time entering information. As a parent I like that I can log on and see my older son’s progress even though I am not his scout leader and I get automatic progress updates. I can also update all of the parents at the same time when an event on our calendar changes. My Road to Eagle is a great product and I would highly recommend getting the premium service.

          Lorianne Rowley, Assistant Scout Master

  3. kylepalzer // June 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm // Reply

    http://www.troop524.org we have had 3 known scouters join our troop after visiting our website, and we’ll be having our 50th anniversary next year!

    • I see packing lists! Great!

  4. Did you use anything from my “Web Site 101″ PowerPoint training that I send you late last year

    • I must have missed that! Can you resend or post a link here, Steve?

  5. Great information here. When our Crew does trips with other Troops and Crews and we write our “trip reports”, I like to link to the other Unit’s web site. Unfortunately some are non-existent or neglected. Your Unit’s web site is like the front porch of your house. Everyone going by judges what’s inside by what they see outside.

  6. http://www.GalwaySeaScouts.com – New Irish Sea Scout Group

    • Very informational. I like seeing the email address so prominently displayed, Alan.

  7. Nice website Scott. We have a similar site utilizing WordPress. Boy Scout Troop 282 is part of the Blue Elk District in the Heart of America Council. http://www.bstroop282.com

    • Nice design, and good organization, TJ. The intro paragraph is informative and clear.

  8. Jon Paulson // June 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm // Reply

    http://www.cubscoutpack1203.com – San Pedro, CA.
    Just celebrated our 10-yr marker, and have been building our current WordPress site for the last couple of years – always in motion it is. “Borrowed” a lot of good ideas from other Pack sites on the web and tweaked them to fit us (the “UNIFORMS” page is probably my favorite). It’s still not perfect, but we’re getting closer. We get a lot of new recruits from this site every year, so I highly encourage Packs to not only have one, but make it organized.

  9. http://www.pack95homewood.com. It’s our main communications device within the pack even though we still use emails and flyers.

    http://www.woodbadgealabama.com. This site was setup to recruit for the upcoming S9-113 and as a historical site for Greater Alabama Council courses. Focus will shift this fall to recruiting for the spring course, S9-114.

    Both sites are built using WordPress and Thesis theme. Very clean and simple structure so the non-designers can focus on content, not pretty pictures.

  10. I am a Cubmaster for our pack. When I set our site up, I just used Facebook. Most parents are on Facebook already and it was a good fit for us. We can upload images, post stories, post information, and share other scout activities with the Pack. As for the Calendar, I just use Google Calendar, which is linked in our Facebook about information in a couple places.
    https://www.facebook.com/CubScoutPack51

  11. I’m the Web Developer for Troop 101, Warren, Ohio. http://troop101.net/

    The site is constantly being updated by the Scoutmaster, Troop Webmaster, and myself. I’m most proud of the Photo Gallery and Video Gallery. There are a ton of features that I’ve secured for Members including content that can be managed by the SPL, Librarian, Quartermaster, and Patrol Leaders.

    Thanks for the ideas. For other units looking at adding a Calendar to their website, I recommend going with a Google Calendar. They can be embedded on your site, and members can link it to their Google Accounts and Phones.

    • Forgot to mention that a Mobile version of sites can be very useful. Our site is setup to redirect to http://m.troop101.net/ when visited on a cell phone or tablet.

  12. david shouse // June 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm // Reply

    Bryan I have not seen anything on the revise Cycling MB that was supposed to be out in May. I am leading a Troop “Cycling Saturday” on July 20. Beginners in the AM and advanced in the PM. When can we realistically expect this? Thanks. David Shouse, ASM T204, Occoneechee Council, Cary NC. Dsandmr@gmail.com

  13. http://pack29auburn.com – we started with a Google template that someone in Ohio did a great job on. Easy to use and is a big hit.

  14. troop26greatfalls.com – pack26greatfalls.info – lcdistrictcommittee.wordpress.com – mtjambo.wordpress.com — I don’t manage all of those (anymore).

  15. When my son was almost old enough to join Cub Scouts, I went looking for the local pack and found nothing. They weren’t on the web, they weren’t at the school. Well, they were at the school, but they distributed their invitations to join-night just a couple of days before the event, and I missed it. I finally found them because a girl in my daughters Girl Scout troop had a brother in the local Cub Scout pack, and their mom was a den leader. Anyway, here’s the links for what I’ve come up with so far. I will be using your tips to improve them over the next couple of weeks. http://pack294scappoose.ScoutLander.com
    https://www.facebook.com/CubScoutPack294ScappooseOr

  16. http://www.troop172.com – Troop 172 in Montoursville, PA
    Hosted and created using Squarespace.

  17. I was dismayed to find that our TroopWebHost site precludes a public calendar for the goofy, alarmist reason of “pedophiles might use the information,” which is contrary to what we know about how the vast majority of pedophiles operate (within relationships, not out of the blue), and the equally red herring reason of “parental abductions” in heated custody battles. Somebody watches too much Lifetime TV.

    • We have similar rules in Girl Scouting…

    • MN – I’m fighting this same battle with our troop committee. The website tells where to find us in our greatest numbers – at our troop meetings. I’m told I can put dates and “what” – but not “where”. Dispite the fact such information is posted by other troops, for district events and council events! Any school team? Our church’s own youth group posts when and where they’re going – even down to the hotel! “…but that doesn’t mean WE should do it”.

    • I like TroopWebHost’s implementation of our Troop calendar. I think it’s sufficient that the public can see the what and when of upcoming activities; only registered users need to see more detail of the event.

  18. John Pinchot // June 23, 2013 at 10:34 pm // Reply

    You say one of the webmasters should be a youth. There has been much debate in my troop as to how much control the youth should have and how much adults should have. The BSA handbook states “The troop webmaster is responsible for maintaining the troop’s website. He should make sure that information posted on the website is correct and up to date and that members’ and leaders’ privacy is protected. A member of the troop committee may assist him with his work.” Based on this, the primary admin should be youth(s). An adult may be a secondary admin.

    • If that position gets filled. Since it is a relatively new position, I suspect most units don’t have one. We just got one this last cycle of elections and I’m working on getting him up to speed on what is out there.

    • We have 3… and I’m the adult in charge. I need to re-group sinc e the last election. Training is a hurdle, and if they don’t update on a regular basis, they lose the training. Sure, I can do it all, but that defeats the purpose!

    • Our troop has given a few of our scouts the ability to add content to our site based on their role (SPL, Historian, Webmaster, Scribe). Overall it is less than 10% of the overall content that gets added and updated. Our experience has been that the site itself would become too stale if only the scouts did the updating. http://www.troopwebhost.org/Troop85OFallon/

  19. texasaggie94 // June 24, 2013 at 2:12 pm // Reply

    We use a Joomla-based website ( http://www.troop451.org ). After writing our own for years, moving to a content management system has allowed a lot more flexibility. It also allows less tech-savvy people to more easily contribute. We also used other pieces to make it easier to distribute updates – Google calendar for the calendar, SmugMug for photos (who gave us great deals being Scouts), MailChimp for our mailing list, etc.. The site shows public information only. Scouts and parents can login for more information such as packing lists, Troop handbook, etc.

  20. As a parent of 3 cub scouts (a webelos 2, a webelos 1, and a bear), I am currently looking at all of our area troops’ sites in order to narrow down the choices for my boys. I have to agree that a troop’s website makes a huge difference in whether they are on my list of troops for my boys to visit. A well run site gives the impression that it is a well run troop. I agree with all of the above from a prospective parent’s point of view. Sites with an up to date calendar, pictures, information on meeting day/time/location, and contact information is the minimum I would like to see on a site.

  21. Doug Liles // June 26, 2013 at 6:50 pm // Reply

    Bryan, have you seen anyone offer a really good, brand compliant WordPress theme for Boy Scouts? I have been trying to find a good standard theme (Think of the great PowerPoint themes on the Scouting.org ScoutSource DocStore). I use WordPress all the time and connect NextGen Gallery, MailChimp and All-in-One Event Calendar for public sites (There’s the issue of managing privacy policies for Scouts). WordPress is free and the hosting is really cheap, so for a local Troop that wants some control, I’d love to have a WordPress workbook and a strong template that matches National’s solid brand guidelines….

  22. We use Scoutlander for our Pack & Troop pages we also use Facebook.

  23. I think our site, http://www.njtroop83.org works well and hits most if not all the recommended bullets. Built using Google Sites (A Scout is Thrifty) and have published it as a template as well if others want to use (A Scout is Kind).

  24. I designed a theme for our Pack’s website (http://cubscoutspack46.org) a couple of years ago. The theme is pretty sloppy with too much hard-coded to our Pack. But, I’m planning on revising it (and making it responsive so it works on mobile phones and better on tablets) this fall (maybe as a Wood Badge ticket?). When I get it done, I plan to release it as open source. I also hope to do a Troop version, as well, for release.

    • I like your Who, When and How on the bottom of your Home Page.

  25. John Bellemare // August 23, 2013 at 4:14 pm // Reply

    #5 Calendar: keep it private. Do you really want to let the world know when your house will be empty (or your wire home alone)?

  26. Our little pack is almost 5 years old. I built our site using iWeb on an iMac. Still an ongoing process, but seems to serve our pack well, and we have had several new scouts join after finding our site!
    http://www.mypack88.com

  27. We integrate Google Calendar right on our home page, but in a way which blends with our design. Families can sync with their calendar application of choice, and have last-minute changes automatically populate on their devices.

    Our Google Apps email system also allows private information to be kept within the troop, restricts who can send emails to our group, and we’ve used “@troop526.org” addresses for almost 10 years.

    troop526.org

  28. Can you get the template that National uses? I noticed our Council has the same one and I see variations of that used in many of the sites people have mentioned.

  29. Tip #12: For ease of maintenance, segment your site into areas that are frequently updated (calendar, upcoming event info), updated every so often (packing lists, ), and evergreen (the about or “history of” page can be written so it won’t go stale). By concentrating the updates to certain areas it will reduce the work for the webmasters and the number out of sync pages due to missed updates.

  30. Jim Kangas // June 8, 2014 at 11:08 pm // Reply

    I’ll blow the horn for our website, http://www.bsatroop569mn.org, which is a vast improvement over the site we used to have.

    I will have to side with adult website control. We have a youth Webmaster, but I have rarely seen contributions from any Scout in the position. If we left it to the Scouts to update, we would be out-of-date very quickly. I have tried submitting items for our Webmaster to post — there are many photos I have yet to see posted, and information has expired before it is ever posted despite a note it is time-sensitive. Not just the current Webmaster, but all of them so far. To the Scouts the website is a low priority.

    • I took over our troop Website (1.5 yrs out of date) with the express purpose of employing Scout Webmaster(s) – as a Woodbadge ticket item. I meet with the Webmasters periodically at the library for 2 hr working sessions. I still end up doing most of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to website/nav changes – mainly because tech expertise and understanding takes a bit of more understanding and experience than our webmasters have. You do have to keep on top of the kids – even for simple updates. I find that after our working sessions, the ‘homework” tends to get lost. But if it’s going to be “Boy led” – you need to step back where appropriate, and let it reflect what they create.

  31. I have a couple free WordPress themes available for Scouts.
    http://goo.gl/TlA8Rz – for Troops
    http://goo.gl/kio2iw – for Packs

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