Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Some Thoughts on the BSA Announcement: What does this mean for other nonprofits?

This is a post with no real resolutions, suggestions, or ideas.  It’s just a few thoughts and some questions for consideration. In the interest of disclosure, I am a Cub Scout volunteer and a parent of a Cub.

My initial reaction to the announcement by Boy Scouts of America (BSA) this week was sadness. Not because I’d pick one side or the other, but because it didn’t really resolve anything and an enormous amount of resources have been expended. I think there are some valid points on both sides of the issue. The Scouts are in the unenviable position of trying to maintain a delicate balance between three different constituent groups.

Scouting is an organization that depends on its volunteers who in most cases are parents or also former Scouts themselves. Obviously families and former Scouts are representative of our society as a whole and will come from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Volunteering with Scouts is a major commitment with time spent training, preparing for meetings, and being there with your troop or pack. Retaining committed, trained, and enthusiastic volunteers is a key element to the success of BSA.

Scouts also need the Charter Organizations to sponsor troops. They can be anything from churches to local businesses. Troops and Packs are organized via Charter Organizations which truly represent the full spectrum of groups and perspectives from Catholic Churches to local fraternal organizations. Not every charter organization subscribes to the same doctrines and some may even have non-discrimination policies in their own organizing documents. The Charter Organizations are also another layer in the child protection process BSA has in place. Again, retaining Charter Organizations is another element to the Boy Scout program.

Scouts ultimately need parents who will support the Packs and Troops by registering their sons, bringing their kids to meetings, camps, and special events. They may pick a troop with a charter organization that they trust. Again, the parents are representative of our society as a whole and opinions will fall on both sides of the argument. The same parents will pull their boys from Scouts if they feel they can no longer support the organization. Ultimately, Scouts doesn’t exist without boys to serve.

Before you judge too harshly, remember Scouts are balancing the boys, the volunteers, and the charter organizations. Does your organization have that many key constituents to satisfy? How do you maintain it?

So what does this mean for other nonprofits as we watch this unfold with BSA? Does your organization have a hot button issue that has been bubbling below the surface for years? How will yours play out in the soundbite wars of modern media? Is there any step you can take today to proactively deal with the issue rather than waiting until it comes to you?

Ultimately, Scouts is about raising good men who respect the people and world around them. I believe both sides are committed to this goal in a safe, healthy environment. Personally, I don’t know where that balance lies. Scout Founder Robert Baden Powell said, “It’s the spirit within, not the veneer without, that makes a man.”

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