What you need to know about legal liability

Note: I am not a lawyer and I am not giving legal advise. If your troop does not have a lawyer as a resource please, please, please find someone who is local and willing to donate their services.

In Scouting, which is three-quarters outing, there is a lot of opportunity for people to become injured and for leaders to make errors in judgement. When mistakes happen that result in injury you, other leaders, the chartered organization, and the BSA can be sued. Civil suits are about money so the people doing the suing (typically parents and guardians) will go wherever the money is. Fortunately there are some simple ways to reduce the personal cost of such a situation by reducing legal liability.

The first thing to know is that the BSA will spend its time and treasure defending you as a leader if you were fully trained and you followed the training at the time of the incident. If you were not fully trained, you are on your own. If you did not follow the training you received, you are on your own. This is why the BSA spends so much time promoting and requiring training. Further, the BSA training programs are adjusted and improved each year based on the court cases brought against the organization and its leaders. The best way to limit your liability as a leader in Scouting is to get trained and to follow that training.

The second thing to know is that we are a contract-heavy society and it is straightforward to require parents and guardians to sign an activity consent form for every activity a Scout participates in. This contract can and should include a waiver of liability for the leaders and chartered organization. These documents will hold up in court so long as they were complete in describing the various aspects of the outing. For example, if the troop decides to go swimming during a bike-ride and a scout drowns, the activity consent form is useless if it does not include swimming as part of the activity.

In creating or improving the activity consent form for your troop you can search for what other units use and start there. I strongly recommend you have the document reviewed by a lawyer on a periodic basis and implement any recommendations. Even if the unit must pay for this service, it is money extremely well spent if there is ever a need for the document in court.

YIS, Jeff

Scoutmaster Succession Planning

The day will come when your unit needs a new Scoutmaster. If your unit has done little planning and preparation a Scoutmaster search can be really painful. I think all Scoutmasters and Committee Chairs have heard of (or experienced) some really trying times when it was time to find a new Scoutmaster. I, personally, was contacted and asked to become Scoutmaster of the troop I was a member of as a young man and, at the time, I had no adult scouter experience, which shows how hard it was for that troop.
If your unit is prepared, the transition will go something like this:
  1. The Scoutmaster let's the Committee Chair know of his retirement plan
  2. The Committee Chair and Scoutmaster review the preparedness of the candidates they have been groomed for the position (generally Assistant Scoutmasters)
  3. The Committee Chair reviews the list with the Chartered Organization Representative to make sure he or she is comfortable with the adults on the list
  4. The candidates are asked in order of priority
  5. One of them, feeling prepared for the job and having considered it before, accepts the position
  6. There is transition time since the replacement was already ready
  7. The transition is rather seamless since the new Scoutmaster is trained and ready
With some work ahead of time, the horror stories are easily avoided and the unit reaps the benefits of volunteer development year-round, not just when the Scoutmaster is ready to leave.
Now you are probably wondering how to achieve this ideal experience, since so few troops actually get an experience like this. A basic process for succession planning is below. Note that succession planning is the responsibility of the trifecta: The Chartered Organization Representative, the Committee Chair, and the current Scoutmaster.
  1. The most important step in an easy succession plan is to plan for succession starting on the first day a new Scoutmaster is in the position... Be Prepared, right?
  2. Identify the adults with the right qualities and characteristics for the troop
  3. Determine what skills those candidates have and what skills they need to develop
  4. Create a simple development plan for each adult
  5. Give each adult the resources and experiences they need to develop the skills in the development plan
  6. Every year, review the candidates on the list. Add new adults if appropriate and remove those that are no longer considered a good fit.
  7. Review or create development plans, and start again to give the resources and experiences needed for development
  8. When a candidate reaches a certain level of skill proficiency and dedication to the troop, it is worthwhile to talk to them about whether they have ever considered being a Scoutmaster. This will get them thinking about it should the day come when they are asked to step up.
You are probably thinking that this looks rather easy though the work is really hidden in numbers 4 & 5. If so, you are right. Here is an example development plan for Joe Scouter who is an ASM.
Scoutmaster Development Plan - Joe Scouter
What makes Joe a good fit: Joe has strong values that are aligned with scouting values. He has been an Assistant Scoutmaster for a year and is enjoying the position. He has some basic, positive rapport with the scouts and we can imagine him being successful in the Scoutmaster position.
What skills does Joe need to develop:
  • Presentation skills: he can be really "long winded"
  • Outing leadership
  • Mentoring scouts in leadership positions
Resources & experiences plan:
    • Joe should create and deliver some Scoutmaster Minutes
    • Joe should be the leader in charge of an event like Camporee, Winter Camp, or another multi-night outing
    • Joe should act as a patrol adviser to gain experience coaching scouts in leadership
    • We should encourage Joe to go to Woodbadge this year
As you can see, this development plan is really simple and easy to figure out. If you can follow through on it, there will be huge benefits to the troop, regardless of whether the Scoutmaster decides to step down. Congratulations if you are already in this position with your troop. If your troop is not in this position, I encourage you to start succession planning or to refocus on it in an upcoming month. Getting started and investing over time pay huge dividends.
If you would like more information, ideas, tips, or help with this succession planning system add a comment below or use the Contact Me page.
YIS, Jeff

Committee Tools to Improve Behavior

Running a troop committee can be difficult at times. The purpose of the committee is to support the leaders and scouts. Unfortunately just about everyone has different ideas about what that means. By figuring out the framework for decisions before they become a fight, a lot of work, emotion, and bad blood can be avoided.

There are three groups of people who need reminders about how to behave, from time to time: 1) Scouts, 2) Adults, and 3) Guests. Most people from young to old will make reasonably sound decisions, however, we humans are not so good at making good decisions when we are tired, frustrated, or feeling particularly competitive. These are three situations that come up in Scouting a lot. When tempers get heated or bullying breaks out or a meal is ruined after a long day, behavior decisions can deteriorate. Troop Committee policy needs to deal with at least three aspects of behavior for everyone:
  1. The standard for behavior
  2. The consequences for bad behavior
  3. Who has authority to enforce standards and consequences
Fortunately for all of us, Scouting provides three standards that can be used for behavior: The Scout Oath, the Scout Law, and the Outdoor Code. Committees that adopt these three aspects of scouting as their behavior standards make a clear statement of what is expected from everyone, including adults and guests. Once everyone knows the standard, it is time to make the consequences clear.

Behavior consequences are the result of failing to follow the behavior standard. In general, there should be a lot of room for applying consequences and nothing should be considered a necessary consequence. All situations are different and all the people involved are different so the consequences need to be considered carefully by those with authority to implement them, which leads us to the third aspect.

Who has authority to enforce behavior standards and apply consequences in your unit? If you are not sure, there is room for improvement. Generally, senior scouts and any trained adult should be considered an authority. By empowering trained leaders as representatives of the behavior standard they know that they can take serious action when it is needed, and use softer approaches when those are warranted. 

Here is an example motion to consider:
MOTION: I move that the Guide to Safe Scouting, Scout Oath, Scout Law, and Outdoor Code be adopted as the standards of behavior for all scouts, adults, and guests at troop activities. The consequences for poor behavior may include coaching, a Scoutmaster Conference, removal from an activity, and other scout-appropriate consequences. Though the entire troop community is expected to contribute to making the troop a safe place for everyone, the authority and responsibility to address poor safety and poor behavior is given to the Senior Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and all Registered Adults. Parents and guardians are expected to accept (though not necessarily agree with) the decisions of those in authority with regard to maintaining safety and behavior standards and to support troop leaders as needed in this regard.

I am sure many of you reading this have similar (or very different) policies for behavior. Please take a minute to dig them up and add them to the comments section so that we can have a hearty discussion on this topic.


5 Ways to Support Scouts in Need

Scouting attracts families from all backgrounds and situations. When a family is struggling financially scouting can be an extra stress on the family and the scout or family may or may not ask for financial assistance. Regardless of a request, here are five ways the troop can help the scout.

Teach the scout to run personal fundraisers

Fundraising opportunities are all around us, folks just do not look for them. A simple Google search for "individual fundraiser ideas" brings back a ton of results. With a little effort your scout can be receiving donations for themselves, separate from any troop fundraiser. 

Here are some personal fundraising ideas:
  • Collect aluminum and take it to a recycling center that pays by the pound
  • Send letters to friends and relatives asking for a donation (Google can point you to a lot of great tips for this sort of letter)
  • Invite the neighbors to dinner in return for a donation
  • Bake cookies and give them to neighbors for a donation
  • Run a corner lemonade stand for a donation, don't forget to make large, readable signs
Note that while fundraising as an individual Scouts cannot wear the scout uniform since they are not fundraising for the Boy Scouts of America.

Teach scouts how to make money

This is the "go get a job" item on the list. There are countless ways a young man, even an 11 year old, can earn money around the neighborhood or in their communities. With a little effort the scout will see the results of their work and know exactly what it will take to get to their goal. This is very different from fundraising... this is income.

Some ideas for younger scouts:
  • Mow lawns and complete yard work
  • Have a garage sale
  • Sell unused stuff on EBay
  • Be a TaskRabbit
  • Do other people's (and neighbor's) chores
  • Sell something like first aid kits, fire extinguishers, CO2 detectors, or the like
Note that while working as an individual Scouts cannot wear the scout uniform since they are not acting on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America.

Provide for some activities in the troop budget

I know a troop that provides for one significant activity each month that is free for all scouts and registered adults that want to attend. They make this happen by fundraising or by dues that support the troop general fund and then adding a line item to the annual budget. The line item covers all participation fees, food, equipment rentals, and transportation. This method lets everyone in the troop participate in one monthly activity without needing to pay.

This is a great way to support the troop community through the normal course of business.

Operate a clothing and gear bank

Scouts grow, a lot. They also go through gear, fast. The side-effect is that families must find uniforms, clothing, equipment, and personal gear several times throughout a scouts career. A great way to reuse the stuff already in the troop community is to operate a clothing and gear bank. This is really, really, simple.

Here is what you need:
  • An adult to operate the bank
  • Scouts to staff the bank while it is "open"
  • A place to store the items in the bank
  • A pen and paper system to track inventory (this isn't really necessary)
Here is how it works:
  • Scouts and families with clothing and equipment are encouraged to donate it to the troop when the scout is too big or leaves scouting
  • Donations are considered and either accepted or rejected by the adult in charge
  • Scouts that are in need of new clothing or gear come to the bank when it is open and can take what they need
  • There is no need to track "deposits" or "withdrawals"
If you want to be able to provide a tax-deductible receipt for donations, work with the chartered organization representative to determine if they will accept items that are donated to the troop and, if so, how they want records to be kept. This will add paperwork, though also provide a benefit to donors.

Directly support a scout in need

As a troop, some budget can be set aside to support scouts in need. This method of supporting scouts has a variety of benefits and considerations. The primary benefit is that the community is supporting its members. Some of the considerations are:
  • What policy will be used by the committee to determine need
  • What amounts and terms of sponsorship will be followed
  • How will the privacy of the family be maintained if they ask for privacy
  • Does the full committee discuss the situation or does a sub-committee handle these requests (think about privacy considerations and logistics)
  • How are the policy and expectations communicated to the troop community

Wrap Up

Enough cannot be said about involving scouts in budgeting and figuring out how much troop fundraising should go to scouts in need is an excellent topic for discussion as part of that process.

Notice that the personal fundraising and get-to-work items both will require support from the parents as the Scout works to pay their own way. Notice I didn't say that the parent will need to help... Scouting is about the Scout so make sure to take the opportunity to teach the scout how to get results. Parents working harder for a fully capable young man is not what this is about.

Regardless of how your troop or organization decides to support scouting families that need financial assistance, be aware of the human part of the situation. When money is tight it can be very stressful on adults. It can also be very hard to ask for help.


3 Considerations For Making Money

When it comes to what your troop can do, nothing is as empowering or limiting as the ability to raise funds. Money and finance and accounting are topics that our young men generally do not get trained on in school or at home, so Scouts is a great place. From my perspective there are three things to consider when evaluating a troop fundraising portfolio:

  1. Is it repeatable
  2. Does the payoff justify the effort
  3. Is it diversified
I'll take just a couple minutes to cover each.

Repeatable Fundraisers

The reason this makes the list is that Troops need ongoing funding, not just one-time shots in the arm. A one time gig here and there isn't so bad for specific fundraising (to support Philmont, Seabase, and treks) needs but this will not help the troop create an ongoing budget that is sustainable. I know a troop that runs three annual fundraisers that each bring in a couple thousand dollars and one quarterly fundraiser that brings in about $300 for the year. Now that latter one leads us to the next topic.


The ideal fundraiser takes a little effort and has a lot of profit when considering percentage of sales and the time required to execute the fundraiser. This is a page out of business 101 where as a business person you should focus on what makes the best money and drop the rest. I'll cover a good and bad example next.

First, a bad example: A troop runs a quarterly aluminum drive. The scrap price of aluminum is historically low and so a truck full of aluminum results in about $75. The effort required was not too bad but when considering time and cost to collect the aluminum, get to the recycling station, and get the bags ripped open and such, this really only results in about $10 per hour. THIS IS NOT WORTH IT!

Next, a good example: A troop executes a Mother's Day plant sale. The troop has a good relationship with a local grower who sells by the flat and gives a 45% to 50% commission depending on the item. Scouts canvas the community and the people they know to generate sales, by the flat (to get a higher purchase price). All orders are paid in advance. All customers pick up their order on a specific day and time. Now, this is a good fundraiser due to the item price, and return on time. Also, if the troop or individual scouts find new ways to get customers, the fundraiser can easily grow. 

Now these two lead us to the next topic which is diversification, which, as you will see, is important.


A troop that does a single fundraiser is in a precarious position. I know of a troop that executed one fundraiser each year, a coupon book sale, and one year the supplier decided to stop providing the books. This caused a decent amount of chaos for the adult leadership since they had to find another fundraising option in time to keep the troop operating. 

I strongly recommend that your troop operate at least two fundraising ventures. Even if you have worked the troop into a great position with a monthly fundraiser that generates all the funds you need. Diversification is food for:
  • Handling change
  • Teaching scouts multiple fundraising options
  • Giving scouts varied money experiences


So there you have it. Hopefully you have some things to consider when it comes to the fundraisers executed by your troop. Do not be afraid to start new fundraisers in search of better ones. Also, be brave enough to stop the fundraisers that are not worth the time. Feel free to add your comments on what works and what doesn't. I really enjoy hearing about your troops and situations and I am happy to provide ideas if you want them.

YIS, Jeff