HAL DAUMÉ’S SCOUTING CAREER got off to an auspicious start when he joined Cub Scouting and had Mrs. Wolf as his first den leader. He was surprised that his next den leader wasn’t Mrs. Bear—and even more surprised a few years later when his first two Boy Scout troops were flops. The third troop was great, however, and he was hooked.
After Daumé’s younger son became a Boy Scout, Daumé decided to give him space and become a unit commissioner, relinquishing his Scoutmaster role. He’s been serving in that role ever since.
In 2001, realizing that there weren’t enough commissioners to go around, Daumé created the “Ask Andy” advice column. Since then, he’s written more than 300 columns that have been read by Scouters from every BSA council and more than 40 countries.
Why do you enjoy serving as a commissioner? It’s as close to ground level as you can be without being the unit leader. Yes, you’re at a distance from the Scouts, but you get to see the unit mature and grow, and you know that you’ve contributed to that.
How do you as a commissioner contribute to strengthening a unit? I give attaboys as often as I can. That sounds more like a velvet glove than an iron fist. We have no iron fists. We only have three things: our smiles, our silver tongues, and cookies.
Cookies? If you’re a guest in someone’s home, and you’re going to hang around awhile, don’t you bring cookies? As commissioners, our “cookies” may be a flyer about Cub Scout day camp, or some more information on the NYLT course in the council, or a brochure about NAYLE, or information on Philmont treks. When we show up, people are anticipating it. That’s a lot better than, “Oh brother, here he comes again.”
You’ve said you offer prescriptions that lead to solutions rather than solutions themselves. What’s the difference? When I first started writing “Andy,” people would ask questions, and I’d quote them chapter and verse out of BSA literature. Then I realized that’s like handing a man a fish instead of teaching him how to fish. So I changed, and instead of quoting, I’d tell folks, “The answer’s in the Scoutmaster Handbook on page 54.” What’s my goal? To get people reading. If they crack open a handbook, they’re going to learn something. For me, RTFM means “Read The Friendly Manual.”
At the same time, you avoid making yourself indispensable, right? Yes. I was asked some years ago to start a council commissioner college. I made it very clear that I’d be the “dean” for no more than three years. The whole idea is not to turn it into a reign. Yes, it’ll be different under someone else’s leadership, but if we don’t pass the baton, calcification ultimately sets in.
How else do you, as a commissioner, help your units? I present charters annually to every one of my units, and I ask the people who are involved in the troop to stand. Then I say, “If you’re a parent and you’re sitting, shake the hand of a standing parent and tell them that you’re going to follow them.” The current volunteers love this because it helps them recruit the next generation.
What about strengthening chartered organization relationships? I encourage units to invite their sponsors’ executive officers to the pack or troop meetings where the charter will be presented. I’ve presented charters to presidents of Rotary Clubs, parish priests, pastors, and the list goes on. What I’ve tried to do is open the door for a relationship between the head of the chartered organization and the unit’s key volunteers: the committee chair and unit leader.
You’ve also worked to build relationships with other community groups, haven’t you? Yes. I started an initiative in our Rotary district of 40-plus clubs where we present Rotary certificates of achievement to Eagle Scouts and Girl Scout Gold Award recipients. We’ve made more than 350 presentations in the past four years. Rotarians representing their home clubs make the presentations in person, and they love it. You can’t miss when you build connections like that.
You’ve been a commissioner, a Scoutmaster, a council and national trainer, and a council board member. Who’s the most important volunteer in Scouting? The youth himself. He doesn’t have to be there; he shows up because the unit’s offering him something he just can’t get anywhere else. Program Produces Participants.
Of course, in Boy Scouting, that program is supposed to be planned by the Scouts themselves. Yes. The Scoutmaster’s most important responsibility is to train the youth leaders so they can run their own program. If you get that, you’re doing 90 percent of what you’re supposed to be doing. The rest is paperwork.
How can courses like NYLT and NAYLE help? They can support a Scoutmaster’s effort by giving him trained Scouts—Scouts who know how a troop’s supposed to be run, who have had leadership experience, and who can come back and counsel other Scouts.
There’s strength in numbers, right? If one Scout from a troop goes to NYLT and comes back and still has to deal with “the world’s oldest senior patrol leader” —otherwise known as the Scoutmaster—he’s a lone voice in the wilderness.
That’s why bigger troops who send more Scouts to NYLT and NAYLE are better. It’s impossible for Scoutmasters to be “gray-haired patrol leaders” anymore. They’re simply outnumbered by Scouts with know-how and the moxie to speak up about it.