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Strategic Planning Like a Boy Scout

I had the joy and honor of participating in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) program all through my teenage years, even following in the footsteps of my 6 older brothers and my brother-in-law who earned the rank of Eagle Scout. I’m not going to say I loved every moment and every activity, but as a teenage boy, I thought the best part of scouting involved the various overnight camping trips and hikes, the post-activity dodgeball games, and the many friendships forged in fun times as well as challenging ones.

Not that most teens would care, but the Boy Scouts program is also teaching its members important lessons on strategic planning. Just about any strategic planning principle I can think of is probably already part of scouting. Consider the following:

  • Scout Law as a scout’s statement of strategic values: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Repeated at pretty much every scout meeting ever held, the Scout Law is drilled into the scout’s head so that regardless of the nature of any future situation, the scout will develop the ability to make informed decisions. While I typically recommend that a nonprofit choose up to three core values, I would not dare try to eliminate any of the scout law values. They are a part of who I am, so I could not possible choose one over another.
Scouting teachers strategic planning Steps in the Strategic Planning Process
  • Scout Slogan as a scout’s strategic mission: “Do a good turn daily.” Whether depicted in cartoons of scouts helping an elderly lady across the street or as reminders during patrol meetings to look for ways to serve someone, the scout slogan is a quick and meaningful statement of a scout’s purpose. It tells the scout, “this is why you are a scout.” Some nonprofit mission statements can and should be consolidated into such a short statement rather than the one or two paragraphs many boards have slaved over. Mission statements must be easy to recall by all stakeholders, or they because next to meaningless.
  • Scout Motto as a scout’s personal and strategic vision statement: “Be Prepared.” Seven and eight-year old cub scouts even know this one. Even many outside the BSA are familiar with this motto. But what are scouts supposed to prepare for? Isn’t this motto too vague? Could you imagine your vision statement consisting of exactly two words? I hope so. Not that every vision statement must be this concise, but such a vision statement is memorable and instructive. Be prepared for emergencies. Be prepared to prevent accidents. Be prepared for bad weather by considering contingency plans. What does your vision statement tell your staff, volunteers and community members about your organization’s future?
  • Scout Oath as a strategic commitment statement: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” Repeated regularly, the scout oath creates an internal moral compass by which scouts can judge all choices and design all schedules in all circumstances. This commitment statement is not an easy one to fulfill. Scouts make mistakes, but the oath guides them back. It is the “do my best” statement that is the key. No efforts are perfect, but persistent effort wins the day.

I recognize that not everyone is a fan of the Boy Scouts of America. Whether you a fan of the traditional organization or applaud the recent changes or both, it is hard to deny that the scout  is not fed a regular diet of life strategies. Despite the thousands of individuals and families who, in many cases, are fully justified in their anger at problems the BSA have had in the past with various local leaders, millions upon millions of boys (and now girls) have grown into responsible and upstanding adults with the aid of the Boy Scouts of America.

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