What a 190-member troop can teach you about retention

With 190 registered members, Troop 755 of Northville, Mich. — just outside of Detroit — is almost eight times the size of an average 25-member troop.

In fact, it could be the biggest troop east of the Mississippi.

With such an impressive number of boys, what better source for learning how the troop recruits and retains members young and old.

Here are Troop 755’s tips for success:

1. Offer high-adventure opportunities, even if they seem beyond Scouts’ reach.

Troop 755 goes on one to four high-adventure trips every year. From canoeing adventures on the Boundary Waters, scuba diving at Florida High-Adventure Sea Base, backpacking trips at Philmont Scout Ranch and much more, the Scouts must train, plan and fundraise for their experiences.

Robert Niemi, Troop 755 Eagle Scout advisor, says these trips can seem cost-prohibitive for some Scouts, but the key is to — at the very least — offer these opportunities and encourage Scouts to earn their way. These chances to travel and be independent, he says, are among the top reasons for the troop’s continued growth and success.

2. Encourage advancement to Eagle.

High adventure is just as important to Troop 755 as high-achieving advancement, such as earning the Eagle rank. The troop takes this beyond simply inspiring their members to earn Eagle; the troop helps Scouts along the way.

For instance: “We run a program where we have merit-badge sessions every five weeks and two of the badges offered are Eagle-required badges,” Niemi says.

3. Give older Scouts space.

We mean this literally.

“We give the older boys opportunities to camp away from the younger boys at summer camp, where we typically have more than 130 adults and Scouts,” says Niemi. “They appreciate being given their own space and are allowed to be more autonomous.”

4. Don’t compete with extracurricular activities; be supportive.

Supporting busy Scouts’ demanding schedules is critical, Niemi says, because many Scouts are taking Advanced Placement classes and competing on traveling sports teams.

This support can be as simple as reaching out to the Scout during a time when he is absent from meetings just to check in and remind him that the troop is here for him when he can return.

“Their coaches don’t allow nights for Boy Scout activities and it’s the same on weekends, so they have to work a little harder when they go back to troop meetings after the travel sports [season] ends,” he says. “They have to have quite a bit of initiative to get through it.”

Vic Pooler, Scout Executive for the Great Lakes Field Service Council, which serves Northville, said he thinks Troop 755 is an example of what is possible when boys are challenged and inspired.

Keep up the great work, Troop 755!


Story idea and additional reporting from Jane Parikh, Michigan Crossroads Council

9 Comments

  1. I’m involved with a troop larger than this one in Houston. I’d say those four points are on the money.

    At this size, a Troop has to be very intentional about providing small group experience inside the larger group. In the context of scouting, that means of course that you have to be careful to do a good job at patrol method and boy led. We’re not perfect, but we do pretty well.

    We also work on providing small group experience within our Troop by having distinct opportunities to focus on specific activities. A couple of adults who support and champion climbing, canoeing, fishing, sailing and other activities. These do not replace general participation the Troop, but provide a smaller group option for additional challenging outdoor experience.

    With a large troop, we are also able to manage a substantial round of summer activities. This summer, our Scouts will be able to choose from three different meritbadge camp trips, several mid-level adventures, Philmont treks, and other home-grown high adventure programs. We have two patrols of older scouts, who are busy cooking up their own summer adventure.

    Two other things that are absolutely necessary at this size level is that you have to be very focused in reeling in new parents as volunteers. Find small one-off jobs for new parents, before making a larger “ask” for a larger volunteer role. And, you have to be constantly thinking about succession planning. In our troop our main scoutmaster generally serves for about three years. That is by design. By rotating that highly burdensome job, you spread the load, and encourage others to become involved.

  2. I feel bad for the SPL, that’s gotta be one heck of a PLC. I’ve always thought 4-6 patrols of 8-10 scouts is the max that can realistically function — otherwise there is too much adult participation in the workings of the troop.

    It’s great that they have so many opportunities, but I think having 4 troops of 50, that collaborate together on the high adventure trips, would better serve the scouts.

    Just my two cents.

    • Span of control for any leader is 2-5 subordinates. If 19 Patrols leaders are reporting directly to the SPL, I could see some issues. Maybe they have an SPL in between, but it would be interesting to see how the troop operates. We have a troop in our area that is so big that it meets 4 nights a week (Mon thru Thurs) with a separate SPL for each night.

      • If they have somewhere around 20 patrols (maybe a couple more, depending on how many of the 190 might be outside of a “regular” patrol) you could have 5 ASPL positions, where 4-5 patrols report to each ASPL, then the 5 ASPL’s report to the SPL?
        That would keep it in the range you are thinking of.
        Additionally you could have a fairly large group of older Scouts using the JASM spot where one JASM helps with a couple patrols as well.

  3. interestingly, no one has mentioned this: why so BIG?? Three or four smaller Troops could result from this vast number giving more leadership opportunities, units which might specialize ONLY in High Adventure, weekend camping, Summer Camp, Service, to name a couple points.

    Some people, including boys, might not fair well in LARGE GROUPS.

    I wonder how boys drop out of this mega Troop given the vast structure to mobilize such a mass of bodies at a given time…

    • Mike: Some of your same questions came to my mind when reading about this because I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Book, “Tipping Point” several years ago. I can’t remember everything about the book, but the one thing that stands out is Gladwell’s “Rule of 150.” A columnist (Mike Micklewright) wrote about it quoting Gladwell, “‘In order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements.’ This is one detail that explains his Rule of 150. The number 150 represents the maximum number of people that we are able to maintain a social relationship with… and that when a group, organization, or society begins to reach the number of 150, it is beneficial and necessary for a group to divide.” Micklewright’s column on this subject can be found at http://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/quality-insider-article/rule-150.html#.

      Gladwell also discusses the Army in Tipping Point in the context of this rule explaining that an Infantry Company is about 150 Soldiers. This is about the size of an organization where one can recognize all the faces and where one knows where they fit into the organization. During WWI (100 years ago right now), the Army decided to increase the size of their companies to over 250 Soldiers with disastrous results. Right after WWI, the Army went back to 150-Soldier Infantry companies. I won’t bore you with the details, but part of it was leaders not knowing who everyone was in the company.

      It is my belief that the Scoutmaster in a 190-Scout unit could not identify every Scout in his (or her) unit, yet alone remember all their names. We only have 60 Scouts in my Troop and it takes me several months to get the names of all the new 1st year Scouts down so I am not looking at my troop roster trying to put a face with a name.

      That being said if the Troop is actually being boy led and not adult led, then the system is working as the BSA gives troops the flexibility to do different things if that works for them.

  4. Jeff Crump: As the Senior Patrol Leader for this troop, I will say that it is no easy task. There is a lot of work involved in running this troop but everything turns out great. For those wondering we have 19 patrols, so that means 19 patrol leaders. I have 6-10 really good ASPL’s that show up to meeting on a regular basis (they miss a few here and there because high school is so demanding), and with their help we run like a well oiled machine.

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