Myths surrounding Friends of Scouting (FOS). Why give?


My last post seemed to ruffle some feathers; and so with over 400 plus views, I thought I would attempt to take on another controversial issue, Friends of Scouting.  Now, before you start laughing, I know! FOS, the words that strike fear into the heart of any and all volunteers. Such a bad 4-letter word they had to make it only 3. I have heard them all.

My goal here is attempt, in some small measure, to dispel some of the rumors, misinformation, and falsehoods that exist around FOS. Specifically, I want to take on 3 myths about FOS.

  1. Friends of Scouting dollars just go to pay for the National BSA.
  2. Friends of Scouting dollars pay for big inflated salaries of professionals.
  3. “I would rather give to my local unit, that way I know the money is being well spent.”

So why would I try to take on FOS, with all of its controversies, frustrations, and unpleasant reputation? Well, maybe because I am a glory hound and just wanted to find a hot controversial topic to drive traffic to my blog. Maybe because I am a glutton for punishment and like picking fights, or possibly it has something to do with helping explain to everyone, as best I can, one of the most misunderstood functions in Scouting. Often misunderstood, but crucial to Scouting’s survival.

First a little history lesson, Friends of Scouting (FOS) was originally called Sustaining Membership Enrollment (SME) or by its more humorous title, Save My Employment. Needless to say, SME was a little cold and not very engaging of a campaign slogan. It also became the butt of many a joke, with people using it to poke fun at professional Scouters. So, some smart professional decided to change it to what we have today.

An important truth about Friends of Scouting, just because Scouting is a non-profit organization doesn’t mean that we don’t make money.  Being a non-profit organization means that Scouting does not sell a tangible product. You cannot go to a store and buy Scouting.  Now, I know what many of you will want to argue, but the Scout Shop is where you can go and buy products that support your Scouting, and the Scout Shop isn’t a non-profit organization. I cannot go to Wal*Mart, and buy some Scouting. You cannot put Scouting in a basket, nor can you place Scouting in a sack and take it home.

You see, Scouting is a concept. It is a set of ideals, character traits, a mission, and a vision all aimed at helping young people to become better. This is what makes Scouting a not-for-profit organization, the fact that we are selling a set of ideals and a mission. But just because Scouting is a collection of intangible ideas, that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful and impactful.

So, since Scouting  doesn’t bring in an income from selling a product, how else do we fund it and keep moving forward with its mission and vision?  That is where our “Friends,” those who like Scouting, find value in the intangible product we provide, and want to see it continue, come into the equation. We want to find those of you out there who we can call our “Friends” and ask you to help fund a portion of the local Scouting program.

That is it! That is the whole campaign wrapped in a very tight and compact nut shell.

There is no requirement or demand that anyone give. There just isn’t. If you don’t believe Scouting is a worth while endeavor, that its mission and values don’t match up with the same values that you believe are important to a high functioning society; then don’t give. That is your right.

I believe Scouting would rather have a gift given out of love of the program, admiration for its outcomes, fondness for the memories made, trust in the movement, or because of personal involvement; than a gift given out of distress or perceived compulsion. We want people we call “friends” to feel invested in our mission and in our success.

I say that, and in the same breath, I will tell you that we do work with our Charter Organizations, or Charter Partners, to establish goals to help spread the need to support the program across our entire scouting family. But those goals shouldn’t come across as some sort of edict from the council.  It is a discussion. It is a chance to come together and figure out the best way to support Scouting. We should come together to figure out how best to approach the situation and to raise the much needed funds.

Our Charter Partners are the backbone of the Scouting movement. They are what make the BSA, the BSA. The title we give these entities that sponsor Scouting was done so, I believe, with a measure of purpose. A partnership is suppose to be a two way relationship where both parties are concerned with the health, well-being, and overall success of each other’s organization.

Scouting wants to see each of our charter partners be successful in their stated missions and goals; and in return, we ask that these sponsoring organizations help us be successful in our mission and vision and assist us in raising funds to keep the Scouting movement alive and moving forward.

With this partnership also comes the request that Charter Partners take an active role in helping us set our vision and execute our mission, but THAT topic we will save for another blog post.

My point here isn’t to convince you to give to Friends of Scouting, or to not give to Friends of Scouting. I just want to help dispel the rumors that are out there. Knowledge is power, and if you ever remember playing the telephone game as a kid, the message can get distorted the more people who tell it. I figure this way, you have at least one primary source that you can site. Plus, if I believe in the Scout Oath and Law, I should have no motive to lead you astray.

It is also important to note that the National BSA does not make a dime from a council’s Friends of Scouting campaign.  The only money that national receives comes from membership fees, both youth and adult, national high adventure base profits, National Jamboree fees, income from national council’s endowment, and the council’s annual charter fees.  That’s it. There revenue stream is fairly small, and very specific. They do not collect a single penny of local funds raised.

Now, the other elephant in the room, the professional Scouter’s salary. People tend to get excited when they see a Scout Executive’s salary.

Okay, let’s talk about it.

I, and about 45 other people, get paid to work for the council.  Actually, we work for YOU and our VOLUNTEER board of directors, but that is just arguing semantics. Of the 45 or so employees of the council, about half of them are hourly administrative staff who are here to help you navigate the admittedly large bureaucracy of Scouting.  A hand full are part-time employees, and about 20 or so of us are what we call commissioned professionals.

Commissioned professionals are salaried employees, which means we basically work anytime, any day, and for however long our volunteers need us, for the same pay.  Think about that for just a second, we often work more than 40 hours a week, there is no overtime, and our work day can be as long as 10 to 12 hours sometimes. In most jobs, people are paid for every hour they work, and if they go over 40 hours in a given week they are often paid handsomely. No such luck in what we do. Please don’t take that as complaining, because I am not. I am just trying to frame my explanation.

The starting pay for an entry level District Executive is around $40,000, and can then go up based on performance, tenure, position, promotion, and relative cost of living. There are no crazy perks, I drive my own car, I pay for my own cell phone, I buy my own uniforms, and I have to ostensibly raise my own salary, and then some, every year.

Again, I am not complaining, far from it actually. I love what I do and I know that I chose this profession. One of the points I am trying to make is that no one is getting rich being a professional Scouter. Now, there are some professional Scouters, those in high leadership positions or in the role of CEO of a Scout Council, that can make a 6-figure salary.  I guess the question there is, so what? So what is wrong with a person who operates a company, non-profit or for-profit, that manages over 70,000 youth customers, about half that in adult volunteers, an administrative staff of 50, and 6 multi-million dollar properties? In a for-profit company, you would be looking at possibly salary in the low 7 figures.

Doing some quick math, a Scout Executive, or CEO, might be making around $1.50 per registered youth and adult in their council. That isn’t too crazy of a salary, when you put things into the greater perspective.

The final myth, “I would rather give to my local unit, that way I know the money is being well spent.”  This one has always been an interesting argument, because it goes against, I believe, people’s basic belief and understanding about charitable giving. Question for you: Do you give tithes and offerings to your church, and yet demand that the money only be spent according to your wishes? Do you go into your pastor’s office and tell him where and which ministries your gift is to go towards?  So you put money into a Salvation Army red kettle, but only after you have secured a written agreement that your gift will by used for the things that you feel are important? Usually not.

Now, if the pastor rolled up in a brand new Mercedes or Audi, I might start to question how the tithes were being spent, and I might ask for an accounting of funds. Interestingly enough, you can do the exact same thing in Scouting.  Every year. each Scout council goes through a mandatory audit.  We have our books looked through meticulously, and the findings of that audit are published and accessible to public.  There are a couple of ways of finding that info.  The first way is to simply ask the Scout council for a copy of the audit; and the second option is to look for the council’s 990 tax form, which is filed every year. That is a public document, and available to anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, your unit will also need funds to operate, but don’t allow flawed logic to sway your decision.  Giving only to your unit could lead to the council not being able to support the program, which your unit is a part of.  By not supporting the council, you are actually not supporting your own program, and what would your unit be able to do, if the council didn’t exist? Nothing. That is what.  The unit only exists because the council exists. No council = no units = no youth = no FUN.

Plus, a Scouting unit is not, by national bylaws and the tax code, a 501c3; and can therefore not accept tax deductible donations. Basically, if you give to your local unit, don’t plan on claiming that gift on your taxes. The IRS doesn’t really like that.

To end, the amount of money we raise through our family, LDS, and business campaigns doesn’t fully fund a council for the year.  We raise the remainder of the funds needed to support the program through very generous high level givers, special event revenue such as our holiday auction, golf tournament, and sporting clay shoot, we also raise funds through the income off our council endowment, we also take in about 30% of the overall popcorn sale, and any net income, after expenses, we make from camp. All of this gets put right back into the upkeep and support of the council.

I hope this post has helped, in some small way, to set the record a little more straight. I also hope that the next time you hear the word FOS, you don’t immediately start to shake because of fear and break out into a cold sweat. We, your council staff, want to do right by you, our “Friends,” and put the funds we raise to the best possible use. Personally, I have always believed what my first Scout Executive told me: “A Friends of Scouting gift is a monetary thank you for the perceived service that a volunteer feels they have received from the council.” I am always grateful for the gifts we do receive, and I hope to be able to count some of you in that ever expanding circle of “Friends” who support Scouting.


Author: theprofessionalscouter

I am a professional Scouter, having worked for the BSA for 12 years. I started my career in 2006 as a District Executive with the Nevada Area Council headquartered in Reno, Nevada. In 2009, I moved to the Chief Seattle Council, in Seattle, Washington to serve as a Senior District Executive and then as a District Director. In January of 2016, I transferred to the Great Salt Lake Council to serve as a District Director.

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