Mike Lanning says the secret to recruiting Scouts boils down to three simple words: invite, invite, invite.
What if every Scouting family invited one other family to join their Scouting adventure? Even if just a quarter of those invited families joined, we’d have half a million new Scouts.
Lanning, who has been a Scoutmaster for 67 years in the Western Los Angeles County Council, has seen this method work for decades in Troop 223 for boys. Last year, he began applying those same lessons to Troop 223 for girls.
It has worked. He’s seen the troop grow from 24 girls about four months after the launch of Scouts BSA in February 2019 to more than 50 girls today.
“The question we ask every mom and dad is, ‘Can you see your son or daughter with your grandchildren leading them skillfully, teaching them to make good choices, and helping them to experience the joy and fulfillment of serving others?’ They literally light up!” Lanning says.
So what’s the secret? I asked Lanning for his top tips.
1. Make a list of prospective Scouting families
Families are busier than ever these days. So Lanning knows that simply getting these prospective Scouting families to your events is an important first step.
Every spring, Lanning and his fellow volunteers begin building a list of families of fifth graders located in a 10-mile radius.
“The list comes from parents, several private schools where we have access, Eagle alums (we have over 800) and a few from our Scouts,” Lanning says.
The leaders send emails, post on neighborhood social networks like Nextdoor, distribute flyers and contact local newspapers for free publicity about their joining events.
Each message is designed to invite families to an orientation meeting in October. The parents are asked to “hear about our program,” Lanning says. “We don’t use the word ‘join’ until much later.”
2. Nail the parent meeting
At this October meeting, Lanning shares with prospective Scouting parents what he calls the Big Five. These are five outcomes, honed through hundreds of conversations with moms and dads, that parents might want for their child when joining Scouting.
- Better fathers or mothers
- Better husbands or wives
- CEOs, owners of their own businesses, professionals or managers
- Community leaders, coaches or youth group leaders
- Eagle Scouts
Lanning and his fellow volunteers turned this Big Five into the vision statement for both troops: “Young people, leading skillfully, making good choices, serving others!”
There’s also a version of that vision statement for the youth: “Scouts having fun, enjoying adventures, making friends and achieving.”
Lanning then introduces his assistant Scoutmasters, talks briefly about the patrol method and has the senior patrol leader say a few words.
Because showing is always better than telling, Lanning shares photos from recent troop activities — trips to Idaho, Alaska or Catalina Island, “and of course pictures of Eagle courts of honor.”
Lanning also shares how Scouting coexists with sports.
“Scouts might miss a couple of campouts a year or come late and leave early,” he says. “They might miss a couple of sporting events a year, too. We bend!”
3. Hold a hands-on open house
At the meeting mentioned above, families get invited to an open house in December.
This event, which is entirely led by the Scouts, gives visitors a chance to rotate through a series of activities: fire-building, games, knot-tying, cooking and a campfire with skits.
“Kids love to practice and be in a skit,” Lanning says. “Incidentally, this is a big selling point for adults, too.”
Lanning says the open house is effective. Now that they’ve seen what kind of fun and adventure awaits, many families (usually about two-thirds, Lanning says) sign up that night.
Scouts who join are given troop T-shirts and neckerchiefs immediately after handing in their application. That requires advance planning, but Lanning says this instant gratification is worth it.
4. Make the first campout count
At campouts, visitors form a temporary patrol and rotate with the regular patrols through a series of Scout skills and games. They even begin working on advancement, such as learning the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
“They eat with our patrols, put on their own skit at campfire, and spend time with our Scouts sharing fun and adventure in Scouting,” Lanning says. “Meanwhile, parents are shown Scouting, have a lot of one-on-one with our leaders answering questions, and share the experiences and results they are seeing for their children.”
5. Emphasize that your troop is youth-led
“We point out that our girls and boys are leading songs and performing in skits in front of 100 people,” Lanning says. “No wonder they are no longer nervous in school presenting a paper or project in front of 25 or 30.”
Sports teams have captains, and after-school groups have presidents. But Scouting delivers on the youth-led experience in ways that deliver visible results.
6. Require that everyone go to summer camp
This might not work in every troop, but Lanning swears by it.
Both Troop 223 for girls and Troop 223 for boys require every member to attend summer camp.
“We have done this for 67 years and lost maybe one prospect a year from the boys’ troop and none so far from the girls’ troop,” Lanning says. “If you sign up for a club team in sports, you go to the tournaments. Period. So why would we require less?”