This story originally appeared in the November-December 2007 issue of Scouting magazine.
Cub Scout Pack 391, which serves the boys at Sunrise Elementary School in Albany, Ore., relies heavily on money-earning projects to support its program.
“Incomes are seasonal for many parents, so the fundraising efforts are very important,” says Cubmaster Mike Ransom.
Once a month or so, pack members canvass nearby neighborhoods, collecting cans and bottles that they later redeem for cash under Oregon’s “bottle law.” (Oregonians pay a 5-cent refundable deposit on beverage cans and bottles.)
During the summer, the Cub Scouts expand their efforts, visiting some upscale neighborhoods where residents are more likely to recycle containers rather than haul them back to the store.
Ransom said boys get really excited when they hit their first “mother lode” — a home where someone has been saving up containers for them.
In a couple of hours, the Scouts bring in $200 to $250. The regular drives generate enough money to pay for handbooks, uniforms and activities like day camp and resident camp.
“We have managed to raise enough funds in recent years to cover anyone who wants to go to camp,” Ransom says. “And they all want to go.”
Mulch pays the way
Pack 391 is one of many Scout units that have developed creative and innovative ways to fund their programs.
Across the continent in Fairfax Station, Va., the families of Troop 994 rely on an annual hardwood mulch sale that allows it to plan big adventures, including trips to Florida Sea Base.
Each spring, the troop sells more than 10,000 bags of mulch to residents of five neighborhoods, who use the mulch to beautify their gardens and flowerbeds. Most of those customers have bought mulch from the troop before, making the sales job relatively easy. All the troop has to do is send out letters over the winter, distribute fliers and place announcements in a few community newspapers.
If selling 13 or 14 tractor-trailer loads of mulch is easy, distributing it in a single weekend can be a challenge. The troop uses a fleet of 10 box trucks to deliver the mulch along preplanned routes, carefully managing every step of the process to ensure accuracy.
Silverbrook Nursery supplies the mulch, brings it to the staging area and provides a forklift driver to load it, five pallets at a time, into the waiting trucks.
“If you didn’t have a partner like this, then I don’t know how you’d go about it,” says Scoutmaster Buck Gastrell.
The troop aims to earn about a dollar per bag after expenses, money that supports its operations for an entire year. To maximize income, the troop offers to return later and spread the mulch for an additional $2.50 per bag; that money is shared among the Scouts who work.
“We had boys who went to the National Jamboree, to Sea Base and summer camp” all in the same year, says Gastrell. “[Without fundraising,] that’s absolutely a drain on a family.”
Wrap and bag
Of course, keeping the cost of Scouting low for individual families is a primary benefit of unit money-earning efforts. But participation can also teach Scouts about salesmanship, budgeting and even gift-wrapping.
Last year, members of Troop 57 and Venturing Crew 57 in Tampa, Fla., spent the two days before Christmas wrapping gifts for customers leaving a local Walmart. Including a matching gift from the store, they earned about $4,000, says Crew Advisor Karen Bettin, who led the project.
“Some people don’t give you anything,” she says. “Some people will give you $50 for wrapping one gift.”
Bettin said project expenses are minimal because she purchases paper and other supplies at closeout prices during the previous year’s after-Christmas sales.
“It’s almost pure profit,” she notes, adding that 90% of the income was allotted to individual Scouts and Venturers based on their participation.
So how did the packages look?
“The first year, some of them were quite embarrassing,” Bettin acknowledged. Since then, however, the Scouts and Venturers have become quite accomplished.
Bettin’s units are successful because they have identified and met a specific need. The same is true of Troop 888 in Baton Rouge, La.
According to assistant Scoutmaster Scott Calkins, many Baton Rouge car dealerships buy lunch for their salespeople on Saturdays, which encourages them to stay on the lot and sell cars. Troop 888 often provides those lunches, earning up to $3.50 from each $6 lunch, which typically includes half a barbecued chicken, rice, dressing and a roll.
“We’re able to provide them a service where the employees can actually get some lunch and not have to leave the dealership,” Calkins says.
Last April, the troop sold nearly 700 lunches, clearing more than $3,000. About 200 went to car dealerships, while the Scouts sold the rest through presales and a stand in front of an area Walmart.
(A local Knights of Columbus council cooked the chickens in a special trailer-mounted rotisserie unit that can handle as many as 150 chicken halves at a time.)
Troop 888’s project illustrates a cardinal rule of effective money-earning: Sell something people will use.
“Whatever product is sold has to be something people will buy because they’re going to use it,” says Dick Schmidt, former associate director of BSA’s Finance Support Division.
Even better than an item people will use is one they will use up. Assuming people like the product, they probably will buy it again the next year.
That’s been the experience for Pack 33 in Boise, Idaho. After more than five years of selling Christmas wreaths, garlands and similar products from Seattle-based Sherwood Forest Farms, the pack can count on lots of repeat business.
“I’ve even had parents of past Cub Scouts selling for us just because people like the product,” says Cubmaster Cydney Shubin.
The Cub Scouts get most of their sales through their chartered organization, First Presbyterian Church, where they set up sales tables on several Sundays each October. The remaining orders come from family members, friends, neighbors and parents’ coworkers. Deliveries are made during the first week of December.
Shubin says the hardest part of the project is getting people to think about Christmas several weeks before Halloween. But equally hard might be stopping the project.
“I don’t think people would let me,” she says. “I think people would be upset if they didn’t get their wreath every year.”
Popcorn is popular
One product that many people buy again and again is popcorn, which is one reason it has become a popular money-earning item for units and councils across the country.
“I personally think units should sell popcorn,” Schmidt says. “It’s a great fundraiser. It benefits them, it benefits the Scouts directly and it benefits the council. It’s one of those win-win-win situations.”
Scouting’s association with popcorn began almost three decades ago when seven local councils started selling the product. Today, Schmidt says, “almost every council in America sells popcorn,” working through one of the preferred BSA vendors.
These vendors offer everything from plain and microwave popcorn to decorative tins filled with cheese-covered popcorn or caramel corn.
Many councils have gone beyond presales, letting units order extra popcorn to sell in front of stores (“show and sell”) or door to door (“show and deliver”).
Techniques like these — along with systematic outreach to past customers — allow some units to bring in $25,000 or more each year from selling popcorn.
Selling by computer
An innovative fundraising tool some units are using is the internet. Virginia Diner offers this option along with traditional presales of its peanuts and snack mixes.
Last fall, Pack 182 in Las Vegas, Nev., earned $1,500 selling Virginia Diner products. About 13% of that money came through internet sales.
The customers selected Pack 182 as their beneficiary, ordered online with a credit card and received their products by mail, freeing the Scouts from having to process or deliver orders.
“The internet is for the family and friends who are out of state,” explains Webelos den leader Keith Cexton. “They pay direct shipping, and they actually get it faster than when we order it ourselves.”
More than raising money
Experienced Scouters are quick to point out that well-planned money-earning projects can offer benefits beyond raising essential funds. They can provide an important service (such as reducing waste in landfills), increase awareness of Scouting in the community, and bring pack and troop families closer together.
In Tempe, Ariz., Troop 474’s ongoing flag project raises Scouting’s profile — and a lot of money — each year. On seven major holidays, the Scouts post American flags in front of the homes of about 200 area residents who have bought a $30 annual subscription. The project lets people support Scouting and their country all at the same time.
In Vernon, N.J., meanwhile, Troop 912 uses its fundraisers to build camaraderie among troop families.
The troop often promotes a local restaurant’s customer-appreciation night, receiving 20% of the restaurant’s take in return for bringing in customers on a typically slow weeknight.
Many of those customers are Scout parents, which is fine with Scoutmaster Dave DiPietro.
“The parents always sit there and have dinner and chat, so it’s a good social opportunity for the troop,” he says. “You get to meet the parents you don’t normally meet, and you get to comment on events coming up.”
(Note: While Troop 912 works informally with a local restaurant owner, some national and regional chains offer more formal fundraising programs. Participation may vary between corporate and franchised stores, so contact local managers for more information.)
Fundraisers also allow units to quietly help members who have special financial needs. Many units set aside a portion of their income to fund assistance programs.
“I don’t care where you live. There are always, always families in need,” says Buck Gastrell of Troop 994.
In the end, however, the main benefit of every good money-earning project is simple: to support programming.
“We’re not in the mulch business,” Gastrell says. “We’re Scouts, and all we need is enough money to sustain our plans.”
One more thing
The Unit Money-Earning Permit Application is an essential element of any successful fundraising project.
The application requires three signatures — unit leader, committee chair and chartered organization representative — which reduces the chance that a single leader will commit the unit to a risky project. Moreover, the application lets the local council intercede if a fundraising vendor has a bad track record or if a project would conflict with other nonprofit organizations or local merchants.
Perhaps as important as the application itself are the 10 guidelines on the back. By carefully following those guidelines, units should be able to steer clear of projects that violate BSA policies (like raffles) or that simply wouldn’t be effective.
Update: Camp Cards
The BSA’s Camp Cards program is designed to create a diverse year-round fundraising strategy to support local units. Since 2007, the Camp Cards have enabled local councils to establish unit money earning strategies with a clearly defined spring and fall fund-raiser for Cub Scout packs, Scouts BSA troops, Venturing Crews and Explorer Posts. Contact your local council for information on your Camp Cards program. Click here to learn more.