Why it's all about adults
An initial question on Escouts challenged my assertions regarding joining lists. As so often in such forums one or two people have gone off at a tangent or jumped on familiar hobby horses, but there are many more serious questions and suggestions posed which are worth exploring.
Keep it all in context and celebrate our success
Firstly we should acknowledge that, while we need many more adults, this is because we are successful and growing. More impressive as the latest government statistics suggest that volunteering across the UK declined again last year.
I know also that many Groups are successfully recruiting adults and tackling joining lists, and it is nice to see some people sharing how they are doing this. We know however that sadly very many more are not, and don’t yet see their role in growing the Movement by thinking just a little differently.
So what’s HQ doing to recruit adults?
Recruiting and retaining adults has been a national priority for the past five years and more. The primary focus of our actions is to achieve this.
We have conducted extensive research and undertaken many projects and pilots to try different approaches. We have evaluated advertising campaigns, conducted social media campaigns, targeted groups such as students and universities, and worked with employers and the Government.
While each has brought a little success and we have learnt much, the simple fact is that 40-45% of our volunteers come from parents of existing members (or prospective members on a joining list). A further 40-45% come from recent youth members (typically Young Leaders).
This shows that we already know who the vast majority of our prospective new volunteers are, and that our most successful recruitment is achieved locally and by personal invitation.
The role of HQ, Regions, Counties and Areas is to create the right environment (public image, credibility) and to support Districts and Groups by providing the tools to do this (training, tactics, practical support, materials).
The Member resources area of our website, contains a wealth of information and ideas to make this happen.
HQ support also includes initiatives such as 'The Big Adventure'. Research shows that parent volunteers (and indeed other adults on the edge of a Scout Group) are often recruited at camp, where they have been invited to be part of the leadership team. The Big Adventure is a method of promoting, encouraging and supporting exactly that type of recruitment.
Additionally locally-based staff are available across the UK to help where appropriate.
Should we use the surplus reserves we have to recruit more adults?
We intend to do that in part, as well as providing a membership system that lightens our load, but there is no evidence yet of a magic wand that using the reserves will allow us to wave.
The suggestion is often made that we should undertake a national advertising campaign. There is no evidence that this would work (I can assure you that if there was, we would jump at it), however we are investing money to improve support locally on creating positive media coverage, which we know does make a difference.
We have also had much success with national media coverage, and careful placement such as the bus adverts in popular TV soaps is helping to improve the image of Scouting in the UK.
But isn’t putting the emphasis on busy leaders unfair?
I fully understand this point, which is why we are focusing on recruiting and supporting GSLs who are well-placed to do this and to support leaders.
Districts also have a key role, and in particular their responsibility for ensuring the strength and success of the Young Leaders' Scheme is vital. Not only does research show that former youth Members make up a significant percentage of new adult volunteers, but they contribute more time and over a longer period (on average 20 years) than volunteers from other sources.
Districts also need to engage with and influence the local community, which may have several Groups across it.
- Our Leadership and Management initiative focuses on improving support for leaders
- We are building on media successes
- The Big Adventure; support material such as the Think You Know DVD; pop-up banners and posters; vacancy boards; lobbying of Government and employers to value volunteers; revamping the Want to Join website; a focus on the Young Leaders' Scheme and targeted staff support are all aimed a helping recruitment and are all being worked on.
The fact is though that, like it or not, the six step approach remains one of the most effective ways to recruit new leaders, the greatest barriers are the hurdles we often create ourselves, such as being too cliquey, or being inflexible in accepting Section Assistants. Let’s build on the examples of where we are successfully recruiting adults, growing our Groups and opening new sections.