Scouts hike fees

Boy Scouts | Chief Scout executive denies the 60 percent increase in annual membership dues is a sign of fiscal crisis within the Boy Scouts of America
by Warren Cole Smith
Posted 8/31/13, 10:31 am

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced Friday it would raise annual membership fees by 60 percent, beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Currently, dues are $15 per Scout, increasing to $24 next year.

Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock made the announcement at the BSA’s annual Top Hands Meeting, a gathering of senior Scout professionals that took place in Washington, D.C., this week.

Brock informed the BSA’s national board, advisory board, regional directors, and others in an email late Friday afternoon. WORLD obtained a copy of that email, which said the fee increase was “necessary … so that we can offset rising administrative costs.” Brock also said this was the first fee increase since 2010. BSA spokesman Deron Smith added that “technology” and “insurance” had also increased BSA’s “cost of doing business.”

Reporting by WORLD and other news organizations indicate that salaries of senior executives also played a role in the increased costs. According to Reuters, spending on salaries, insurance, and programs by the national headquarters nearly doubled between 2003 and 2012. By 2011, the average compensation of the top five BSA employees had ballooned to $696,862.

Whatever the causes, the timing of this fee increase could hardly be worse for the Boy Scouts. Since changing its membership policy over the summer to allow openly homosexual boys into the program, dozens of units and sponsoring churches have publicly announced they will withdraw from the organization. Next weekend, more than 700 people will meet in Nashville, Tenn., to form a conservative and Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts. John Stemberger, the organizer of the event, said the group would unveil its name, its uniform, and other essential elements at the Sept. 6-7 meeting. Stemberger believes the new group will have 1,000 units and more than 30,000 participants by year-end.

The increased dues will also hurt the BSA’s back-to-school recruiting efforts, called the “Fall Round-Up,” which takes place in most cities across the country in September.

Brock asserted in his announcement that, despite this fee increase, “the Boy Scouts of America maintains a strong financial position.” It’s hard to say, though, how long that will last given current trends. Some local councils are barely solvent. The Los Angeles Council, for example, ran a deficit of $3.25 million in 2011, and since 2001 has lost more than $13 million, according to a Reuters investigation. A massive new Scout camp in West Virginia—The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve—bears part of the blame for the Scouts’ financial challenges. Development of the camp was supposed to cost less than $200 million. But the Scouts now expect to spend nearly $500 million on the facility through 2015.

Though The Summit is not yet complete, the Scouts held their National Jamboree there this summer. Attendance (including staff) was about 36,600, down nearly 15 percent from the last Jamboree in 2010.

Membership in the Boy Scouts peaked in the 1960s, with about 5 million participants. It has been in a slow but steady decline since. Today, the Scouts now have about the same number of youth it had in the 1950s, when the population of the United States was about half what it is today.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD's vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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