The number one challenge faced by leaders of youth-serving organizations is having too little help from other parents. But why do some organizations seem to have no shortage of volunteers, and meetings and campouts always run smoothly? Here are some tried and true pearls from seasoned scouters:

Set an expectation that everyone volunteers. A soon as new members join the group, let parents know that they will be asked to volunteer for at least some position. List in writing on a handout which positions have known vacancies with a brief description of what duties are involved. Not sure what the job descriptions are? Here is a list of volunteer positions with job descriptions for a typical pack and troop. Your unit might have different positions, so customize your own list according to your unit’s need. Let everyone know that by pitching in with some volunteer role, no one gets all the work dumped upon him or her.

Use a family talent survey and require every family to fill one out. The BSA’s family talent survey for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts is a perfect way for each family to let you know where they might fit in to the volunteer corps. Download the document at the links above, and have each family fill one out.

Fit the job to the personality. Some folks love to be in front of kids, leading songs and teaching skills. Others are terrified of public speaking and would rather give service in the background, handling equipment, managing advancement records, camping reservations, or the group’s treasury. Do you best to read personalities and suggest jobs that you think are a good fit.

Do the ask in the most personal, relaxed forum you can. The worst way to ask for volunteers is with a broadcast email. That approach almost never works. Also, try to avoid complaining publicly about a lack of volunteers. Nothing scares off recruits faster. A one-on-one conversation with a positive tone in a private setting works best. Campouts are a perfect time because parents tend to be relaxed and not stressed about their other obligations. At a campout, parents are enjoying seeing their sons having fun and learning in Scouting, and many parents secretly wish they could be more involved. Also, at a campout they see how much work the unit leaders are doing and feel indebted to them.

Once the volunteer says yes, follow up. As soon as you can, contact the volunteer to give him or her a link to youth protection training and a registration form. Encourage him to take on-line training appropriate to their position. If you have not done so, have a face to face conversation about the duties expected.

Recognize the volunteer right away. At the next opportunity in front of a group of parents, announce the new volunteer’s role and ask everyone to thank him or her for stepping up. This makes the newcomer feel great about volunteering and makes it quite a bit tougher to back out!

In future blog entries, we’ll explore tips for recognizing volunteers, how to tactfully replace a volunteer who is not working out, and how to plan a succession of volunteers as existing ones move on from your organization.

Dr. John Hovanesian
Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America, Dr. John Hovanesian, M.D., is a seasoned Scouter and blogger who shares tips and tricks to help your family get the most out of your Scouting experience.

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