Sunday, May 18, 2014

Member Retention



As my girls get older retention is a constant battle.  I work really hard to retain the girls I have in my troop and I am always open to new members, even at the Cadette Level.  I make it well known with signs and publishing information in our PTO electronic newsletter, that a girl is never too old to join!
Also I stress that the time commitment is minimal with only 4 hours a month and 2 meetings every other week that almost any busy girl can squeeze it into their schedule.

Retention begins with the following:
  • fun meetings
  • great field trips
  • a variety of activities
  • encouraging strong friendships
  • girl's sense of ownership over their troop
  • parental involvement
  • leniency on details
I strive to create a really fun calendar for the year filled with a variety of unique activities and field trips. The girls will easily want to rejoin if they are having fun while learning!  It's really that simple.  I always tell my girls if they are not crazy about this month's badge, stick around you'll probably love the next one.  Having a large group of diverse girls, it is impossible to please every girl, every meeting. However, the different topics from meeting to meeting will ensure all the girls are happy.  A great end-of-the-year bash also helps to retain girls.  You never want to end on a "sour" note like a service project that involves the girls spending countless hours sitting or educating.  This can ruin even the best of Girl Scouting years.  Girls tend to remember the most recent activity the best and base the entire year on this event.  

Designing activities and field trips that are creative and unique really helps to draw in all types of girls and certainly helps with retention.  The Girl Scouts offer some fun ideas to earn badges, but I am always striving for the "Wow" factor and thinking outside the box helps.  For example, after learning the basics of first aid at the Brownie and Junior level, I wanted to do something different for the girls at the Cadette level. We decided to visit Carter Blood Center where the girls watched me donate blood and learned a lot of great blood facts from the staff.  Then we hosted a Blood Drive at their school.  We arranged to have a donation bus at the school for a set number of hours, created a sign-up form for parents to donate and the girls participated by manning a booth during the blood drive.  They offered GS Cookies and juice after the donors completed their blood donation.  Also the girls asked each donor to write down why they wanted to donate.  We had some fabulous responses and the girls learned, hands-on, that donating is fairly simple, painless and a true act of generosity that costs virtually nothing, but can make a big impact on their community.

Recently a mom commented to me that her daughter quit Girl Scouts because the girls in her troop were petty and mean.  This broke my heart.  It is the leader's job to foster good relationships and prevent little cliques and arguments within the troop.  This is not to say the girls will not have disagreements, but it is how you deal with arguments and internal drama that makes a big difference.  I don't hesitate to bring parents into a situation when I feel 2 girls are not getting along.  9 out of 10 times this nips the behavior in the bud.  Most parents don't realize their girls are being mean or disruptive.  Other times, we talk through the disagreement and find out why the girls are really arguing, it is rarely over the event or task at hand, but something far more trivial.  Also I try and prevent disagreements by constantly grouping different sets of girl together.  I rarely let them choose a girl they want to work with because they will tend to choose the same groups over and over, inevitably leaving out a girl or two.  And many times girls will argue over one girl... "I want to be with Jessica!"  "No I do!"  Encouraging strong, life-long friendships is important.  Often I tell my girls to embrace their differences, it is what makes them each unique.  

Most importantly the girls should feel like they "own" their troop.  Encouraging them to make decisions within the troop helps them feel like an active member and participant.  So I work hard to give them as many decisions as I can.  Often times these decisions come in the form of choices because I need to have some control over the variables,  "Would you like to have a backyard camp-out, go to Steven's Ranch or a state park to camp this year?"  But on rare occasions, I give them complete and total control, "What type of breakfast would you like to have at the camp out?"  Majority always wins in our troop and some times this too can create disappointment and arguing.  I am quick to point out, the girls will not always get their way and while it might not feel fair right now, it is always equal.  They will be on the side of the majority the next go-around.  I also want the girls to know that their opinions are important to me, after all this is their troop.  Each year I hand out an anonymous survey asking unique questions appropriate to their age level.  You can view and print my Cadette Survey from this year here:  CLICK HERE
I ask them about my leadership style, what they like and don't like.  I am always striving to be the best leader and I can't possibly be the best unless they tell me what I can do to make them happy.  I ask them for ideas, activities and field trips they would like to do.  I ask them what things can be done to keep them in Girl Scouts.  What are the barriers that might prevent them from re-registering.  Sometimes there is simply nothing a leader can do to retain a girl, another activity or sport takes priority in their life. I have to chuckle at some of their responses, one girl when asked "What I can do to make Girl Scouts cooler?" She responded, "Serve ice cubes with snack!"  I may just do that next year to get a laugh!

Parents are not always actively involved in scouting and each girl's situation is unique.  Some parents might work, others may volunteer a lot or they simply don't have an interest.  I strongly encourage my parents to get involved from supplying snacks for our meetings to attending field trips.  I think it is important that the parents see first-hand the benefits of scouting.  Also I send out an annual registration e-mail to my parents reminding them how beneficial scouting can be on high school transcripts and college resumes.  I remind parents that even companies hiring today value a girl who participated in Girl Scouts through high school.  Gold Star recipients advance one rank in the military when they enlist, which includes an increase in their pay.  And most importantly the time commitment is minimal and I will work with them to squeeze it into their child's schedule.  

Furthermore, I have found my older girls, Cadettes, do not like to wear their vests.  Initially I was pretty strict about the girls not only wearing their vest, but having all the girls look congruent.  I think this was my military experience coming out in me.  I felt they should have pride in their service and wearing their vest was a way to represent the Girl Scouts.  However, as time has moved along I have learned to relax.  I only make the girls wear their vests at true council wide Girl Scout events or selling cookies. Truth be told, I hated wearing my uniform in the military too.  It was not until I left the military I realized what a true honor it was to wear the US military uniform.  I decided it was not a battle worth waging.  If the girls are truly embarrassed or are harassed by their friends due to peer pressure, I don't want the fact they are forced to wear their vests to be a reason they choose not to continue.  


Have you experienced difficulties in member retention?  Have you found a way to encourage re-registration?  Do you know how to capture new members?  Please share your experiences with us all. Through knowledge and suggestions, together we make scouting stronger.



3 comments:

  1. yes, I am seeing significant retention problems as the girls get older. We weathered middle school, but high school sports and band are so time-consuming (6 days a week), that more than half of our troop has other activities no matter when we plan something. It's frustrating, and I am not sure what the answer is.

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  2. As girls get older, you may need to meet less frequently. Many high school troops meet only once a month. Or if you continue to meet frequently, set up your meetings so that girls can miss when they need to miss. Maybe you have one group of girls who can only attend sporadically in the fall when band is playing at football games. But they can be there after football. Older girls may need to meet in one or twos to work on some tasks or work alone. Then the troop meetings can be for sharing and planning. Service projects can also bring older girls together and these can meet not only Girl Scout requirements but also school club volunteer hours. Remind your girls that once they complete 8th grade, all their volunteer hours are reportable on their college and scholarship applications.

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  3. Lisa, a wonderful leader in my service unit, has a once the month sleepover. The girls share the responsibility of cooking dinner.

    You make a really good point, you can move to a once a month meeting. We have considered Sunday afternoon meetings too. As they age their Silver and Gold Awards become more of an individual task, rather than a group activity, as well.

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