Five words — that’s all that fundamentally separates an Eagle Scout service project from a standard Scouting service project.
Five words make all the difference. I’m referring to these: “plan, develop and give leadership …”
All service projects fulfill a Scout’s oath to “help other people at all times” and “Do a Good Turn Daily.”
But an Eagle Scout service project — considered by many to be the toughest of all the Eagle Scout rank requirements — takes things up a few levels.
And it all hinges on those five words.
The five words in context
Requirement 5 of the Eagle Scout rank reads as follows, with the bold added by me:
While a Life Scout, plan, develop, and give leadership to others in a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community. (The project must benefit an organization other than the Boy Scouts of America.) A project proposal must be approved by the organization benefiting from the effort, your Scoutmaster and unit committee, and the council or district before you start. You must use the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook, BSA publication No. 512-927, in meeting this requirement.
Why these words matter
For an Eagle project, the Scout is responsible for every step from start to finish. Planning the project, recruiting volunteers, gathering materials, leading the project, documenting the work, and more — it’s all on that single Scout’s shoulders.
It’s tough work. And, to be frank, it’s not for everyone.
Those who complete an Eagle Scout service project are rewarded with more than just a tricolor medal and badge. They gain an experience that remains with them for life.
For proof, just ask anyone who became an Eagle Scout in the last 50-plus years. The Eagle Scout project in its current form became required in 1965, and if you ask any Eagle Scout from that year or later to describe their project, they’ll do so without hesitation.
Memories from those teenage years will fade over time, but that one will not.
What the Guide to Advancement says
Sections 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 of the BSA’s Guide to Advancement cover this topic in detail.
188.8.131.52 “Plan, Develop …”
Planning and development require forethought, effort, and time—sometimes more than for execution. Thus, for the most part, they are considered part of the project and are detailed further once a proposal is approved. It is inappropriate to expect a Scout to invest the time required for detailed planning, only to face the prospect of rejection. See “Proposal Must Be Approved … Before You Start,” 184.108.40.206.
It is important not to categorically reject projects that, on the surface, may not seem to require enough planning and development. Consider, for example, a blood drive. Often rejected out of hand, this project, if done properly, could be acceptable. Few would question the beneficiary. Blood banks save lives—thousands of them: maybe yours, maybe that of a loved one. If the candidate proposes to use a set of “canned” instructions from the bank, implemented with no further planning, the planning effort would not meet the test.
On the other hand, there are councils in which Scouts and advancement committees have met with blood bank officials and worked out approaches that can comply. Typically these involve developing marketing plans and considering logistics. People successful in business know how important these skills are. Some blood banks will also set a minimum for blood collected as a measure of a successful plan. To provide another valuable lesson, they may require the candidate to keep at it until the goal has been met.
A good test of any project is to evaluate its complexity. In the case of a blood drive, for example, elements
of challenge and complexity can be added so there is a clear demonstration of planning, development, and leadership.
220.127.116.11 “Give Leadership to Others …”
“Others” means at least two people besides the Scout. Helpers may be involved in Scouting or not, and of any age appropriate for the work. In cases where just three people are not able to conduct a project to the satisfaction of a beneficiary, then more would be advisable. It may be, however, that a well-chosen project conducted by only three provides an impact not achievable with those involving more.
One of the purposes for the project is to demonstrate leadership, but this could be considered a more important element, perhaps, for Scouts who have not yet established themselves as leaders. It is for reasons like these that every project must be evaluated, case-by-case, on its merits, and on lessons that will advance the candidate’s growth. Councils, districts, and units shall not establish requirements for the number of people led, or their makeup, or for time worked on a project. Nor shall they expect Scouts from different backgrounds, with different experiences and different needs, all to work toward a particular standard. The Eagle Scout service project is an individualized experience.
What two longtime Scouting volunteers say
For an even deeper dive into this meaningful phrase, I talked with Jim and Sandy Rogers, two longtime Scouting volunteers who have three Eagle Scout sons.
Jim is the former CEO of KOA and a Distinguished Eagle Scout. Sandy is a past president of the BSA’s Nevada Area Council. Together, the couple served as the host couple for the BSA’s Report to the Nation trip earlier this year.
“Plan, Develop …”
“Advance planning is essential to the success of any endeavor,” Sandy says. “Planning gives you the map and helps you find the best trail for your journey — whether it be alone or with others.”
“Give Leadership …”
“Great leaders lead by example and possess personal attributes essential to leadership success: optimism, ambition, civility, persistence and a sense of humor,” Jim says. “In Scouting terms, it means instead of lighting a fire under someone, help to light the fire within. Enthusiasm is given. Not taught.”
To hear more about the trail to Eagle, don’t miss the March 2019 episode of Scouting magazine’s ScoutCast, the BSA’s monthly podcast for adult leaders.
After listening to that episode, be sure to subscribe to ScoutCast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.