Imagine you’re a parent in a family with no Scouting experience.
You see a flier for the local pack, inviting anyone who’s interested to visit their next pack meeting on Monday night. Fun — and snacks! — are on the agenda.
When you show up, everyone is in uniform. You see lots of adults in tan shirts, assuming most are paid professionals. You think, “wow, there’s a lot of staff here tonight.”
Everyone knows exactly what to say and the right way to raise two fingers aloft in what you later learn is called “the Cub Scout sign.”
The meeting looks fun, but you can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by it all. That’s when someone hands you a registration form.
Ashley Steigerwald spends a lot of time thinking about moments like these. As a Scouting mom, Cub Scout leader and communications chair of the Scouts BSA committee, she spends a large chunk of her volunteer time devising ways to introduce Scouting to busy families.
When she learned her church didn’t have a Cub Scout pack, she started one, quickly growing it to 60 Cub Scouts in just a year. Instead of recruiting at a local school, she used a method called “Normal Friend Activities.”
What are Normal Friend Activities?
Normal Friend Activities (NFAs) are low-pressure pack or troop events where units invite non-Scouting families to join them for an afternoon or evening of fun.
An NFA might be a hike, a picnic, an ice cream party, a service project, a trip to a local sporting event or anything else you can dream up.
At NFAs, Scouts and adult volunteers should dress in normal “street” clothes instead of uniforms — a tactic that will help visitors feel more included.
Speaking of, the focus of an NFA should be on Scouts (and their families) getting to know one another — not on high-pressure recruiting pitches. And be patient. It might take some families a few NFAs before they feel comfortable and ready to join.
In Steigerwald’s pack, past NFAs have included backyard movie nights, picnics and barbecues. By removing recruiting as the primary focus, she instead worked on building relationships.
“We got to know them as people, and they got to know us as people,” she says. “And when they joined the unit, they got to know us as Scouters.”
NFAs helped Troop 219 grow
Mike Matzinger is the Scoutmaster of Troop 219, a Scouts BSA troop for girls in North Carolina.
When Troop 219 holds an NFA, the Scouts don’t gather in their chartered organization’s church building wearing uniforms to say the Scout Oath and Law and sit assembled by patrols.
“Instead, we wear our troop T-shirts and meet out in the community with only one agenda: fun,” Matzinger says. “And, we refer to ourselves as a sisterhood rather than a troop to accentuate that we are an open and welcoming community.”
The NFA technique has been an important component of Troop 219’s unit membership plan since the troop began in February 2019. Matzinger and his fellow volunteers credit it as the main reason their troop grew from six to 35 Scouts during the pandemic.
Why NFAs make sense
- They’re inherently fun and inclusive to all — even those without any Scouting experience.
- They’re easy to plan and generally low-pressure.
- They allow families to get to know you and your fellow leaders as people first.
- They remove elements that may be seen as a barrier to joining, such as uniforms.
Let’s talk about uniforms for a moment. Steigerwald is pro-uniform but believes they should be introduced at the right time.
“The uniform is important,” she says. “Just be cautious leading with it, especially with a family that’s new to Scouting.”
When a non-Scouting parent sees another parent in a uniform, they might assume, “Wow, they’ve been doing this for 25 years, they know what they’re doing,” Steigerwald says.
“But we had no idea what we’re doing. We figured it out,” she says. “We got good training. We got good support.”
At an NFA, where uniforms aren’t worn, that non-Scouting parent will see themselves as equal to everyone else.
“And because they knew us as people first, they can see themselves in that tan shirt later on, taking on the leadership opportunity,” Steigerwald says.
Best practices for NFAs
- Hold NFAs monthly.
- Ask each of your pack or troop families to invite three other families to each NFA.
- Use a multichannel approach to promoting your NFA, such as email, Facebook, text messages, printed fliers and word of mouth.
- Check with your local council to see if they are hosting any NFAs and invite families in your network to join you at them.
If you’re interested in other fresh ways to market Scouting in your local council, check out the free Marketing Webinars available on Scouting Wire. You’ll find some incredible resources designed to help busy people (like you!) grow Scouting.