Troop’s brilliant approach to Friends of Scouting yielded a 37% boost in giving

Need a boost to your Friends of Scouting campaign? Look no further than your Scouts.

Friends of Scouting, the council-level annual giving campaign, attracts the funds that help your council provide vital programs and services to Scouts and Venturers. It’s often a council’s largest source of income — money that goes toward life-changing experiences for young men and young women.

Minnesota Troop 283 of the Northern Star Council has a unique approach to its Friends of Scouting campaign that resulted in a 37.5 percent increase in giving this year.

What’s their secret? As with everything in Scouting, it starts with the Scouts.

Here’s the detailed story, as told to me by Troop 283 committee chairman Mike Lawrance.

The problem

Each year, Troop 283 presents the same Friends of Scouting info at its winter court of honor. Unfortunately, not all of the parents are there to hear the presentation.

“Some years we are lucky to have it be 50 percent” of adults in attendance, Lawrance says. “We then spend the better part of two months tracking down parents and asking for their donation. This consumed a lot of time on the part of our FOS chair and also delayed the funds getting back to the council.”

The idea

With more than 90 Scouts in the troop, gathering 100-plus parents for a formal Friends of Scouting presentation was a fool’s errand.

So “we thought why not let the boys take this to their parents?” Lawrance says.

As you’d hope in a boy-led troop, Lawrance and his fellow Scouters presented the plan to the senior patrol leader and the patrol leaders’ council. The guys agreed to give it a try.

“We then gained approval from our district executive and the council to try this approach,” Lawrance adds.

The game show

Now there’s another problem: Educating the Scouts about Friends of Scouting and council camps. Understandably, the boys are often left out of this process.

To keep the info from being too dry, Lawrance and his fellow Scouters created a version of Jeopardy! tailored to their troop and council. (Play it for yourself here.)

The troop’s district executive hosted the game show, and the boys worked as patrols to answer the questions. The winning team got some nice prizes from the council. And all the boys left with a better understanding of where Friends of Scouting contributions go.

The “ask”

Each boy took home a plastic bag containing a pledge card, a letter explaining what was happening and a self-addressed stamped envelope for returning the pledge cards.

The council printed the letters and envelopes, while the troop provided the stamps. Scouts who didn’t attend the Jeopardy! meeting got the packet by mail.

“It was now up to the Scouts to educate their parents and collect the pledges or at least get a ‘not at this time’ response,” Lawrance says.

The incentive

Each patrol that received 100 percent of its pledge cards returned within 30 days got a pizza party at its next patrol meeting. The patrol leaders were in charge of making sure their patrol got the cards in.

The waiting

“So now we had shared the info and we had nothing else to do but wait and see what would happen,” Lawrance says. “We sent out a couple of reminders to the patrol leaders to check in and get the cards turned in. We sent out two updates showing the progress as the month went along, and we hoped we would at least make our goal” of $8,000 raised.

The results

On March 2, the troop tallied the results.

This time, a whopping 78 percent of families turned in a pledge card. Five out of 10 patrols achieved 100 percent participation (and got that pizza party!). The troop raised more than $11,000 for its council through Friends of Scouting — that’s $3,000 more than its goal.

This happened “all within a month, all with minimal adult effort and nowhere near the effort expended in previous years,” Lawrance says. “This is another great example of boys succeeding when properly trained and educated. ‘Never do for a boy what he can do for himself!'”

What’s your Friends of Scouting strategy?

Lawrance asked me to share this on my blog to encourage other units to reconsider their approach to FOS.

If you have other ideas for boosting FOS donations, please share them in the comments.

15 Comments

  1. A great idea! What we do so well for FOS presentations at Packs doesn’t translate well to Troops. Adults often fear “the ask”. But Scouts don’t.

  2. It’s no secret that our organization is in a financial crunch but at some point, we are really going to need to step back and assess what the impact of fundraising is on our program. Most units are conducting popcorn sales, camp cards and many times, at least one other fundraiser per calendar year. Unlike those fundraisers, FOS isn’t offering a product and, according to BSA policy, a unit would not be allowed to solicit funds directly in this same manner.

    If you go back and read the delegate information that was distributed prior to the membership standards vote, it’s clear that this financial crisis was, at the least, predicted. We knew this was coming. We knew that other organizations were not going to rush to fill the gaps left by previous donors. We knew membership was going to take a huge hit, especially in the southern region. We knew the loss of adult volunteers and charter organizations would be significant. It’s time we own up to the consequences of the decision. FOS is one of those.

    I won’t allow the Scouts in my unit to deal with the burden of FOS directly. They can sell a product and make a profit and learn quite a bit about “making ethical and moral choices over a lifetime”. But, sending them home to put the squeeze on mom and dad at the behest of council doesn’t accomplish our mission.

    • When the raises money for the local council, they are helping to ensure that the council has the needed funds to supports its facilites and staff that in turn, support your scouts. None of the $24 dollar registration fee goes to the local council, so the council has to pick up the costs associated with providing your unit support (District Executive, Camps, scholarships ,etc.) that would be less available if the entire staff had to raise enough money every year to support these programs. Is one time a year where we ask our members to contribute too much to ask?

  3. Our troop of about 40 active scouts actually has a really great turnout at the quarterly Courts of Honor (we make it a potluck so it’s a fun social where the families get to know each other). So for us, FOS has been effective at a CoH with the presentations from our DE (also a great speaker, which helps!). But really it comes down to the families knowing the leaders and all they do for their scouts, the boys knowing and having a good relationship with their scoutmaster and other leaders, and having that personal connection throughout the program. In our case the “ask” is more like helping out your family. This year we met our goal with no follow-up calls needed.

  4. It actually does accomplish our mission of building future leaders with values. They get to choose whether they think its important, whether they are willing to something that is less tangible but no less important and take part in the process of having their say in a challenging peer situation (incentives to give and disincentives if they don’t) and they learn a skill that is necessary throughout life in business or not-for-profits like church or other similar charitable organizations.

    Through this process they come to understand that they are part of a bigger organization and that there are benefits to that and costs. It also teaches them that even fund raising can be fun and successful when it is taken seriously and given proper energy and excitement.

    • But popcorn, camp cards, and other unit fundraisers already accomplish that with the added benefit that it teaches Scouts plenty about business itself.

      Scouts, I think, should remain in the business of rendering service to others for free and when necessary, selling a product at a price the market will bear. It’s our job as adults to facilitate the rest of the program for them. The barriers to entry in the Scouting program are almost exclusively related to cost. Why in heaven’s name would we exacerbate that by sending a Scout to make “the ask” at the risk of losing the affirmation of his pals? Isn’t his presence, with $100 uniform and equipment, proof that he has already asked enough?

      Simply put – FOS money ends up in adult paychecks and Scouts shouldn’t bear any more of that burden than they already are. I will gladly make those asks myself (and have for the last few years).

  5. Why would you run this game for just the scouts? That’s not getting the information to the parents directly so that they, the people with the money to give, know the fun of scouting and the importance of their support. At least invite the parents. Parents need to see their sons interacting in this game, or better yet, interact with them in this endeavor. Make it fun for all, and the result would be even higher.

  6. One year, nobody from the district could be found to make the SME/FOS pitch. Sooo, the task fell to the young new SM (me). After gathering a few facts on “where does it go” etc., I made a presentation at a Court of Honor. The council’s “suggested gift” was $10 per boy. One dad, ith two troop members, immediately wrote a check for $20. Others pitched in something during the next couple of weeks. But the one that really caught my attention was Jesse’s father, a poor laborer with a large family to feed; the next week I was surprised that Jesse was not present at meeting time. But he and his father walked in a little later, they came to me and handed me a few coins, explaining that they’d talked it over and had walked to the meeting. The coins represented what it would have cost for gasoline to drive to the meeting. I drove them home that night.

  7. As the District FoS Chair for the past 2-3 years, I find organizing the FoS campaign to be difficult at best About half of our 28 units are very responsive and pitch in eagerly, while the other half pretty much ignore us. I have been told neither the DEs should participate (it’s like they are begging for their salary) nor the unit Commissioners (a possible conflict of interest (?)). I prefer to not directly involve the Scouts (as I don’t want them to feel a need to put pressure on their parents – I tried it once with zero results).

    The only approach that has worked is (1) to have a well-prepared volunteer “presenter”, preferably someone with a strong connection to the unit, make a brief pitch (less than 10 minutes) for FoS at either a CoH or B&G (where both Scouts and extended family members are present), asking for donations and fully explaining why they are needed to support the Council, and (2) then having a a member of the unit parent committee take responsibility for following up with all unit families. Having Scouts hand out flyers and pledge cards helps. (Even with this approach, some parents still refuse to turn-in a card saying “no thanks”.) This approach has resulted in an average donation of $71 per registered Scout (ranging from an average of $118 to $0).

    All-in-all, perseverance is the only approach that works.

    • What you state here is exactly like it is in our district. I serve as our FOS chair as well, and I’ve found what you’ve stated is exactly what works for us as well.

      I have a great group of district committee members who present 90% of our FOS presentations…they work hard, and get great results!

    • Dave,

      What you describe is the model for an FOS Campaign. As a former DE, in the beginning I found it difficult to do FOS presentations for the same fear of the feeling of ‘asking for my salary’.

      Fortunately, this is to my advantage now as a volunteer. I remind people I made $36,000/year in Southern California (with a wife and a child on the way) working for the Boy Scouts almost 20 years ago and salaries for starting executives have not gone up much since then. Add in the 80 hours work weeks and most people understand the sacrifices a new DE makes by taking a position with the Boy Scouts.

      Today, when I do FOS presentations for a Unit I require three things.

      1. A letter is sent from the Unit leadership two weeks in advance of the presentation letting parents know there will be a FOS presentation and please be prepared to make your decision that night on the amount their family plans to give.

      2. There is a Unit FOS Representative. They have a couple of duties. This person hands out the pledge cards as people arrive the night of the presentation. I prefer the cards to be pre-filled with the family information on the card. This way if a family decides not to give, when we ask for the cards at the end of the night we know they have been asked. This person also introduces me. When they introduce me, they hand me their pledge in front of everyone. This subconsciously lets families know they should do the same thing. In addition, the FOS collects every card at the end of the night.

      3. My final requirement is as Dave suggested is follow-up. The Unit leadership is required to send out a letter with pledge card to all families who did not show up the night of the presentation. This is usually done two days after the presentation. In the letter it states they will receive a phone call in two weeks if the Unit has not heard from them. To avoid the call, please drop off your pledge card at the next meeting. This typically reduces the phone calls to just a handful of people.

      The entire campaign should take no more than two weeks. This method has proved very successful for me as every Unit where they use this method and I have made the presentation had reached Gold Level or higher. In my council this year, that level is $140 per Scout.

  8. One word.. WOW! This sure beats doing phone calls. Love how it shifted to scouts as leaders are already overwhelmed. Also one month fundraising beats a year!

  9. Eh. Back when I was the service chair for an exploring district in the 90’s, we just took exploring’s list and instead of presentations a company gave us phone banks to use in the evening. Six of us, one evening a week, three weeks, and we not only had contacted every parent of explorers, previous donors, and post leadership, but we always beat the districts goal. No committees, no presentation outside of our talking points, no slides/tapes/videos, just honest facts got us the money required. The exploring exec was there and tallied the results each night and splashed things if someone got mad. No pressure on the phone people, accepted no with a “thank you for your past gifts”, no time lengths for calls so you could talk for a while if you needed to explain something or the person you called needed to explain something (one guy had just lost his job and was wanting to bend my ear and in exchange offered a few dollars. I told him he needed it, call me or the council when he got employed again. And he did with a $250 donation).

  10. Gee, it’s a couple decades ago now, but I remember DEs telling us we COULDN’T let youth do FOS fundraising. That it was against the rules, that it had to be adult to adult, etc., etc. we retched that and let explorers do it.

    So what’s the real truth here? Is this even something the troop should have done? Or does it violate some FOS rule someplace?

Join the conversation