The Problem: Membership Decline

The headline of Scouts Canada's annual report exclaimed in big letters ``Membership is Climbing!''. The report went on to praise the exciting program Scouts Canada offers and to thank Scouters and others for making it all happen. That was in 1996, when membership rose to 231,042 members, an increase of 1% (Scouts Canada 1996:17). Scouts Canada's membership is now 188,312 (Scouts Canada 2000b:16; see Table 1.1). (In an interesting bit of presentation of self, the membership numbers in the 1999/2000 annual report are provided in a small box next to the financial statements with no comparison with previous years. In the 1996 annual report, a page and a third was devoted to membership numbers and graphs, including comparisons with the previous two years.)

Table 1.1: Scouts Canada Membership
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The 18% decline between 1996 and 2000, however, is not nearly the full story. The 1961 Wolf Cub handbook, Tenderpad to Second Star, reports a membership of 270,000 Cubs, Scouts, and Rovers (Scouts Canada 1961:5). At this time, the age group that is now covered by Venturers was covered by Scouts and Rovers. Beavers did not exist; kids had to be eight years old before they could join Scouting. In 2000, youth membership minus Beavers was 91,170, a decline of two-thirds since 1961.

The membership decline, both long-term and in recent years, is a pressing concern for Scouts Canada. Since Scouting's mission is to provide a form of education to young people, fewer members means that Scouts Canada is further from achieving that mission. On a more practical level, Scouts Canada spent $75 per youth member on staff salaries and benefits during 1999/2000 (Scouts Canada 2000b:18). Since it is largely funded by membership fees, it faces the possibility of being unable to afford its bureaucracy as the number of fees collected diminishes. However, not all is dark. While membership is falling in general and groups are closing, some groups are growing. Approximately 900 groups (about one-quarter of groups in Scouts Canada) grew during 1999/2000 (Newsome 2001). This indicates that it is possible to run a Scout group with growing membership, but that few do so.

This study will provide a picture of how Scout programs look in real life and it will identify what characteristics of Scout troops lead to high levels of retention of members. My hope is that the findings of this research will be used to bring growth to Scouting.

Liam Morland