Membership is a hot button in many Councils as they try to find a way to recover from the recent decline in the number of youth served. Nationally, the Boy Scouts of America from May 2013 to May 2014 had a decline of 8.1%. In addition, there was a 4.4% decline over that same period in the number of Units. Nearly half of the decline in membership and units was in the Southern Region where the Southern Baptist Church left the decision up to local churches on whether they would remain a Chartered Organization because of recent membership policy changes.
In talking with various Councils around the country, the second leading reason for the recent membership decline last year was the increase of the annual membership fee from $15 to $24. Units who had boys with limited participation throughout the year had to make a decision on whether to “carry this Scout on the books” or take them off the roster. This decision was easier when the cost was $15 per Scout. It is a more difficult decision if the cost is $24. With just over 100,000 Units nationally, if a Unit had to make this decision on removing just one Scout, the membership decline can be significant.
So let’s dig into the numbers. To take out the implications of the recent decline in membership, I looked at 2012 popcorn sales and membership numbers from a random sampling of Councils around the country. I included various-sized councils and demographics. In an attempt to compare ‘apples to apples’, I concentrated only on Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops excluding Units sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). In 2012, the LDS Church changed their position on their Units selling popcorn. Thus, with the exception of Alaska, the large majority of LDS Units did not sell popcorn. In addition, I excluded all Teams, Crews and Posts so as to not skew the data.
I looked at several factors in an attempt to find a correlation between Units selling popcorn and their membership:
- Average Unit Size
- Percentage of Units who had an increase in membership
- Differences in Units who averaged $200/Scout in popcorn sales
- Percentage of Units Re-chartering
It did not matter whether the Unit sold $10 per Scout or $500 per Scout, the average number of Scouts per Unit statistically was the same in those who sold popcorn and those who did not. To verify these results, I looked at the numbers from 2011 and 2010.
To compare this to 2014, the National average number of Scouts per Pack was 23.4 and Troop was 19.8 ending in May 2014. It seems very obvious Units who sell popcorn have more boys than those who do not.
However, these numbers do not show if a Unit grows in membership. Let’s look at the percentage of Units who had an increase of just one Scout over the previous year.
While there is a difference between the Units who sold and Units who did not, it did not take into effect the amount of popcorn each Scout sold. The more a Scout sells, the more programs are available and less money the family needs to pay out of pocket.
I then looked at Units who averaged $200/Scout in popcorn sales to see if we could tell a better story.
Almost half the time a Unit who averages $200/Scout in popcorn sales has an increase of at least one Scout. Popcorn Sales convert to program participation. The average commission on popcorn sales nationally is 33%. If a Cub Scout sells $200, it equates to $66 to the Unit which in most Councils is enough to cover Day Camp.
Finally, I looked at the percentage of Units who re-chartered the next year. The theory is if the Unit has money toward the end of the year from popcorn sales, they are more likely to re-charter.
I found this number alarming. However, it does make sense. Units need funds not only to operate their program, but pay for the basics like their registration fees.
Based on these numbers, it appears there is a strong correlation between popcorn sales and membership.
As a mentor of mine said, “You can only affect the lives of boys who are in the program.” Unfortunately, it takes money to run the Scouting program. I believe money should never be an issue on whether a boy can fully participate in Scouting. While I worked for a major popcorn company, the best part of my job was knowing I was giving every Scout family this opportunity.
As we gear up for the fall membership drives, do not be afraid to let Scout families know the program is paid through the sale of popcorn. Set the expectation up front with parents and over time watch your Unit grow.