Story by Kate Jacobs, Marketing and Public Relations Director of the Pathway to Adventure Council
Cub Scouting was the candidate and sign-up night was election day.
The Pathway to Adventure Council ran its membership drive like a political campaign last year and ended up with a 53 percent growth in Cub Scouting year over year (4,891 in 2015 vs. 3,189 in 2014). While politics can seem divisive, especially during an election year, political campaigns themselves can teach us a lot about how to unify supporters and achieve a common goal.
Our council’s success with membership growth in Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana is due in part to the knowledge and advice we received from other councils that had run similar campaigns. To build on that knowledge base, here is an overview of how our council took a page from politics to grow Cub Scouting.
1. Pick a simple message/call-to-action that people can rally around.
Politicians pick a campaign message that resonates with their constituents and then plaster it on every piece of collateral they make.
In 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama ran on, “Change we can believe in.” For our council, it was, “Join Scouting on Sept. 17th and get a free model rocket to build and launch.”
The rocket incentive can be swapped with fishing poles, mini robots, or another item. The important thing is that you pick a message that resonates with your potential new families and garners support from staff and volunteers.
2. Build a website just for the membership campaign.
Political candidates create websites dedicated exclusively to supporting their message, showcasing their value, and ultimately gaining votes.
Our council, along with Blackhawk Area, Northeast Illinois, and Three Fires councils used BlastIntoScouting.org to support our message and give people the opportunity to learn more, find a sign-up location or register online. We kept the website consistent with our campaign materials and used images and short videos rather than text whenever possible.
3. Put your data to work.
Politicians use demographic data to identify areas with the greatest opportunity and determine targeted approaches for different populations.
The National Service Center provides councils with the Council Marketing Analysis Report and Council Planning Data, which are both available on MyBSA and updated every year. These are powerful resources that can save both time and money in your recruitment efforts!
This year we asked the National Service Center to use that data to create a customized map highlighting ZIP codes that housed more than 900 Cub Scout Target Age Youth and had a BSA Market Share of less than 10 percent. The map also included a dot for each elementary school in our service area. This tool helped us identify our sweet spots and allocate resources where we would get the biggest bang for our buck. We also used the mosaic segments to further customize our marketing approach.
4. Equip and mobilize supporters.
Grassroots efforts are key to any successful campaign, political or otherwise.
A membership campaign should include every single staff member and volunteer. To achieve this level of broad support, our council created a web form titled, “Everyone Should Get Involved,” which listed all the ways someone could join the Blast into Scouting effort. We used email and text messaging to send the form to everyone we knew and also posted it to our council website.
We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to help, so we created a resource page filled with all of our Blast into Scouting marketing assets, including a customizable press release for units to submit to local papers/community newsletters, a digital ad, PDFs of print materials, and a training video for volunteers.
This year, we also purchased a vinyl banner for each Cub Scout unit so they could promote Scouting at summer events, parades, etc. prior to sign-up night. We intentionally made them generic enough that they could be used year-round and for years to come.
5. Leverage local connections.
Politicians call on every connection they’ve ever made for endorsements, money and promotion. Scouting should follow suit.
Ask all staff members and volunteers to think about who they know and how each person may be able to assist with the membership campaign. Reach out to local bloggers, print and broadcast journalists, business owners, politicians and community leaders. Also be sure to attend networking events to grow your contact list.
A Chicago networking event opened the door to a partnership with Clear Channel Airports that resulted in our council receiving free ad space in O’Hare and Midway airports valued at more than $200,000. Over 3 million people walk by our ads every month.
6. Take advantage of free, do-it-yourself exposure.
Politicians count on local supporters to spread the word in their neighborhoods and stretch every dollar. This is even more important for organizations like ours.
Find out if your neighborhood has its own newsletter and how you can submit an article. Also, see if your local paper has a community contributor section that allows members of the public to publish articles about local events and people.
Hyper-local news is a growing trend and local platforms like Patch and EveryBlock are popping up all over the country. Do a quick search for what’s available in your area and then take advantage of every opportunity you find.
Social media is another amazing free tool that can help spread your message quickly and effectively. Our council created a Blast into Scouting Facebook cover photo and custom video for people to download from our resource page and post to their social media platforms. Make sure to provide a date for when each social media asset should be used. This coordinated approach will maximize your impact.
7. Promote early and often.
Most people decide which candidate to vote for long before election day and this premise holds true for Scouting.
Promotion should be done in the months, weeks and days prior to sign-up night. By registration day, a parent knows if they are going to join Scouting so there’s no need for a long sales pitch at sign-up night. A digital or print photo board and a few friendly, helpful volunteers are all you need to get a parent’s vote.
Pathway to Adventure’s Winning Toolbox
The Pathway to Adventure council uses a number of resources to ensure that our council is running a successful recruiting campaign. See below the list of resources we use, and be inspired to use them or similar tools in your own council!
- PathwaytoAdventure.org/Blast2016 – Blast into Scouting resource page
- Rocket into Scouting roadmap
- BSA Brand Center (photos and videos)
- GoDaddy website builder
- FormSite – online registration form
- Council Marketing Analysis Report (MyBSA under Resources)
- Council Planning Data- (MyBSA under Resources)
- National Service Center, Research & Strategy Department- custom data map
- Google Forms or smartsheet– web form for volunteer sign-up
- MobileCause – text message marketing
- Patch.com and EveryBlock– hyper local news from community contributors
- Other councils that have run similar campaigns
*Editor’s note: As a council that serves more than 26,000 youth members and 9,000 volunteers, the Pathway to Adventure has the resources to create their own website. Most councils use BeAScout.org to enable families to find packs, troops, crews, and ships.
How Does Your Council Use Recruiting to Boost Membership?
Does your council utilize inventive recruiting strategies like this one? If so, share how your council is promoting Scouting in your communities in the comments below. Want your council to be featured on Scouting Wire? You can submit complete stories to email@example.com for consideration.
Scouting Wire would like to thank Marketing and Public Relations Director Kate Jacobs of the Pathway to Adventure Council for submitting this story. Feel free to reach out to Kate at Kate.Jacobs@Scouting.org with comments and questions.