There is no magic formula for success in Scouting. But year after year, successful units find that clear and timely communication with leaders, Scouts and parents is crucial.
The best-planned program can run into trouble if you’re not communicating effectively with parents and Scouts in your pack, troop or crew.
Everybody needs to understand what’s happening, when it’s happening and where it’s happening – as well as their roles and responsibilities. Sometimes it’s even helpful to explain why it’s happening – the purpose or objectives of a particular activity.
In short, everybody involved needs to be on the same page. It’s almost impossible to over-communicate. People want to feel like they’re in the loop. They hate to feel like they’re being left out. Good communication can stop problems before they start.
MAKE A COMMUNICATIONS PLAN!
By late summer, all units should have planned and budgeted for the upcoming year of Scouting. That plan needs to be communicated to everyone in the pack, troop, or crew by the end of August.
Getting that information out gives the unit both a need and an opportunity to develop a communications plan that can be used throughout the Scouting year.
You’ll need to determine what tools you’re going to use for primary communication with adult leaders, Scouts and parents. And you’ll need to decide who’s responsible for making that communication happen in a timely fashion.
Having a single person responsible for communications is essential. Shared responsibility just doesn’t work. And it should be a person without too many other responsibilities – otherwise communication tends to get lost in the shuffle.
For packs, that person needs to be an adult. But for troops and crews, the responsible person could be – should be, if possible – an older youth. An adult should give advice and support, certainly, but a Scout can take the primary responsibility.
HOW TO GET STARTED
You can break it down into five simple steps:
- Gather contact info for everyone in the unit.
- Choose one or two communications tools (methods).
- Decide who will be responsible for unit communications.
- Communicate consistently and frequently (depending on your program, this could be weekly, biweekly or monthly.
- Ask parents and Scouts if they're happy with the quality and timeliness of communications.
SOME RECOMMENDED TOOLS FOR COMMUNICATING
For basic, nuts and bolts communications, e-mail and text messaging are usually the first choice. Almost everybody has access to either or both, and they’re relatively simple to use. Phone calls can augment texts and e-mail as needed, but they’re much more labor intensive.
Once you’ve got a working system for basic communications, there are other possibilities, including specialized apps like Scoutbook, social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, unit websites and newsletters.
For more detailed information on using these tools, choose a tab above.
Practically ubiquitous, most people are familiar with using email but tracking lists and creating enticing messages is another ballgame. It’s still best to master this essential communication though as most members we work with say it’s their preferred method of receiving information.
Definitely stick with a cloud or web based email solution. Think gmail or Outlook.com. These services keep everything (both messages and addresses) stored online instead of on a local computer. That means it’s easy for multiple members of a unit to share or have access, instead of handing a laptop around!
Creating a unit email account, like Pack123@gmail.com is one way to go. If you do, use that one address for all unit communications instead of a personal address. The more tech savvy may prefer to set up the account to forward on to their personal accounts, which is fine too.
What to Use Email For
Use email to reinforce and remind members of almost everything. Upcoming meetings, when dues need to be in, and last second changes.
What once was fad is now the norm. While not as essential as email, texting does offer some unique benefits – it’s practically instant and most people carry their phones with them always. It is more difficult to keep and track a send list though.
You may choose to have one person be the “texter” and keep a list of everyone’s cell phone numbers. Or, you may do a “trickle down” technique (example: Scoutmaster texts Assistant Scoutmasters, who each text specific parents, etc.). Neither method is perfect. There are paid services out there, like websites, that make this easier but it’s up to your unit to decide if it’s best for them. Hint: ScoutBook can send texts!
Scoutbook is a web-based youth advancement tracking tool. It’s also great for unit communications! Owned and operated by the Boy Scouts of America, Scoutbook is constantly updated with new features and should be part of any great communications plan. We recommend your unit get a subscription, which keeps costs low and gives everyone access.
What It Can Do
In addition to tracking and recording advancement, Scoutbook helps units, districts, and councils communicate with each other.
- Plan activities and events, show them on a calendar visible by your entire Pack, Troop, or Crew
- Send messages to your leaders, Scouts, and parents while still following electronic youth protection.
- Text or email
- Upload photos and videos to share
- Works on almost any computer, tablet, or smartphone
A Central Tool
Because Scoutbook takes advantage of so many mediums, we think it’s practically an essential tool for units. Whether your group prefers email over text, or you need help keeping track of everyone’s contact information, Scoutbook can do it.
Everyone and everything has a website, right? Does it make sense for your Pack, Troop, or Crew to have one too? The answer is: maybe.
If you’re already using social media, have a good email system, and take advantage of Scoutbook, you might just find a dedicated website is redundant. Let’s take a closer look.
- Often completely customizable
- One-stop shop where you can put everything, then link to outside sites
- Good for putting unique materials
Initial setup is time-consuming
Requires someone(s) dedicated to maintaining
Often requires some level of html knowledge or at least a tech savvy individual
Potential cost for hosting and domain
What To Choose
If your unit decides a website is necessary, there are lots of choices. From building a website completely from scratch and self-hosting to using a third-party service with ready-to-use templates. We can’t test them all but have heard good things about.
- MyPack/MyTroop: A third party service with templated unit websites
- WordPress.org: A free content management system with both self and free hosting options