Four Boy Scout councils consolidating to increase membership, donations

Groups consolidate to boost membership, fundraising

Updated 8/31/2014 6:37 AM
  • A plan to consolidate four Chicago-area Boy Scout councils won't affect local Scout operations, officials say, but they do hope the merger will lead to an increase in membership and donations.

      A plan to consolidate four Chicago-area Boy Scout councils won't affect local Scout operations, officials say, but they do hope the merger will lead to an increase in membership and donations. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Four Chicago area Boy Scout councils are consolidating as the organization tries to find ways to increase membership and ramp up fundraising efforts.

The merger brings together the Northwest Suburban Council, headquartered in Mount Prospect; the Des Plaines Valley Council, headquartered in La Grange; the Chicago Area Council, headquartered in Chicago; and the Calumet Council, headquartered in Munster, Indiana.

As many as 25,000 youth are currently registered within those councils.

The Daily Herald reported in May that Boy Scouts of America officials were considering the restructuring plan in an effort to make the delivery of programs to local youth more efficient and sustainable.

Mike Duffee, area president who oversees 11 Boy Scout councils in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, said leaders of the four separate councils are holding regular meetings to discuss particulars about the new council structure, which they hope to have in place early next year.

"It's a challenge," Duffee said. "But the purpose to doing this is to enable us to have more funds and more of an intelligent use of our resources to bring more kids to programs and bring in demographic areas where we're underserving, and make programming bigger and better."

Officials say the merger won't have any effect on the individual operations of local Scout programs at churches and clubs.

"For Scouts, Scoutmasters and troops and dens, it means nothing," said George Krempel, president of the Des Plaines Valley Council. "They'll all have the same programs, the same summer camp, the same popcorn (fundraiser) … For the average Scouter, I don't think it has any effect.

"Just like industry, Scouting will consolidate resources to provide better programs because of declining dollars," Krempel said. "All of the council presidents felt status quo wasn't an option."

Council mergers aren't new to Scouting. Most of the Boy Scout councils in the suburbs have gone through some type of consolidation in the last 20 years, officials say.

In 2008, the Girl Scouts of America consolidated some 300 councils nationwide into 112 councils. The Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana council is made up of seven formerly separate councils.

For the last 10 years, the Boy Scouts' Des Plaines Valley Council has had a joint venture agreement with neighboring Three Fires Council, headquartered in St. Charles, covering joint camp usage and programming. Those two councils had discussions on a potential merger of their own, but those talks are off the table.

Duffee said the new, larger Boy Scout council would bring administrative staffs together to develop a unified marketing plan and raise money. Oftentimes, the four separate councils have targeted the same sources for dollars.

"You're fighting for money with everybody else," Duffee said. "Times are tough as we know over the last several years. Fundraising for not for profits is always challenging."

Staff members at the four councils "will in all probability be recruited and employed by the new entity," Duffee said. And, he said the new council will likely hire more people as "boots on the ground" to do recruiting in areas with low membership. Scout councils across the country have started "targeted recruiting" initiatives to increase membership of Hispanic and African-American youth and adult volunteers.

Due to declining membership and participation, Boy Scout officials have discussed closing summer camps in the past -- most notably the Chicago Area Council's proposal to sell its Owasippe Scout Reservation in Michigan to developers in 2008. The deal later fell apart in a court challenge.

Does the council consolidation mean camps could be on the chopping block again?

"There's no chance on God's green earth," Duffee said.

What's more likely, he said, is that officials will take stock of all the properties, then determine how the camps could be used for different purposes, whether as Boy Scout summer camps, training facilities or camps for members of Order of the Arrow, Scouting's national honor society.

The existing office locations of each council would remain in use for now, with a decision still to come on where the new mega-council headquarters will be.

A still-to-be named Scout executive will oversee the new council and report to a volunteer board of trustees.

The name of the new council will be determined in a contest among Scouts.

Merge: Girl Scouts have consolidated more than 300 councils

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