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