Hard Learned Lessons

Hard-learned lessons from the Scoutmaster to Scouts about to start their Eagle projects . . .

1) Look Beyond the Troop for Volunteers

Currently (2007), Troop 111 turns out about 10 Eagles per year. Some of the more motivated Scouts in the Troop have worked on more than 25 Eagle Projects in their careers (also, some have worked on none, but those Scouts probably aren’t going to help you either). The point is that many of our hardest working Scouts are just about burned out on Eagle Projects. Yes, you should still recruit Scouts from within the Troop – but you should also look outside the Troop for help. This is especially important when the Troop has multiple projects are all ongoing at the same time. Friends from school or your neighborhood, especially if they are Scouts in other Troops, are possible volunteers. If you’re on a sports team, either in school or independent, that’s another pool of possible volunteers. Same for your other social groups, such as Church-based youth groups, clubs at school, your band, or if you have a job, your co-workers. During the summer, graduated Scouts who are home from college may be able and willing to help you on your project – especially if you helped them on their projects when they were still in the Troop. Bottom line being: Don’t just try to recruit Troop 111 Scouts for help.

2) Personal Contact is Critical!

Email announcements in the Troop’s “Weekly Notes”, hand-outs (flyers) at Troop meetings, and verbal announcements at Troop meetings are all helpful, but really they do little more than let people know that you are starting your project. They are *almost useless* as recruiting tools. To repeat, emails, flyers, and announcements are almost useless as recruiting tools! It is critical for you to make personal contact with potential volunteers. Face-to-face contact is best, with phone-calling the next best option.

Recruitment of volunteers should be done at least 5 days in advance, at the troop meeting. If you ask for a general show of hands, write down the names of everyone who had their hands up. Followup reminder calls the day before the project is also very helpful (personal emails and text-messaging as reminders work only for your closest friends – everyone else, you’d better call them if you hope to see them).

As a general rule of thumb, about 3/4’s of the people you recruit will actually show up. A few more if the weather is nice, a few less if it’s nasty. Plan accordingly.

3) Recruit Multiple Groups for Each Day

A classic error is to recruit 25 volunteers for 8:30 am, and no one else for the rest of the day. If you make this mistake, typically you’ll have 20 people at 9:00 am, you’ll have 5 left at 1:00 pm, and you and (maybe) your parents will still be there at 5:30 pm, completely exhausted, doing the cleanup, pack-up, and/or prep for the next work session. Everyone else will be long gone.

The hard reality is, even your best volunteers are good for 4 to 6 hours, max. If it’s really hot, really cold, or raining, 3 or 4 hours, max. For this reason, you are far better off recruiting 10 – 12 volunteers for 8:30 am, and 10 more volunters for 12:30 – 1:00 pm. If it’s really brutally difficult work, like ditch-digging or building trail in mid-August, or if the weather conditions are miserable, you should recruit three groups, for 8:00 am, 11:00 am, and 2:00 pm.

4) Support Your Volunteers!

If you want your volunteers to stay longer, and especially if you want them to come back tomorrow or next week, you have to support them while they’re on-site. Have regular breaks, especially if it’s really hot or if the work is really tough. Having plenty of snacks and drinks through the entire work session are critical. If you work through lunch or dinner, you’ll need to provide a “real meal” in *addition* to the snacks (snacks are NOT a meal!) Understand that good meals are also an excellent recruiting tool, and will keep those volunteers coming back – conversely, “cheaping out” on snacks and meals will crush your future recruiting efforts.

In addition to food and drinks, offering transportation to and from the work site is also helpful if you want to get your volunteers to return. This is particularly important if the work site is distant from St. Agnes, or is hard to find, or is difficult to get to. Note that the response time has to be fairly quick – if 3 volunteers want (or have) to leave at 1:00 pm, you better not make them wait til 2:45 for a ride, or you won’t see them again. [This, by the way, is a good task for a parent.]

5) Be Fully Ready to Roll on Day One!

Nothing kills a project faster than forgetting critical items or not having a detailed work plan when your volunteers show up. Most people will work very hard for you, if you are fully prepared and give them clear direction. But if they have to stand around for an hour while you’re frantically driving home or to Home Depot to get missing items, or because you obviously haven’t thought about organizing and starting the work, more than likely they won’t be back for Day II. No one enjoys having their time wasted – especially if they made a special effort to free up that time to help you.

So, don’t abuse your volunteers by failing to plan. It cannot be emphasized enough – the start of the first day is critical to the success of your project. It is very important to think your way through every step of the project – What tools do you need?; what supplies?; what safety equipment?; how many people?; who needs to do what, and in what order?; do you have adequate food, snacks, and drinks?; sign-in and sign-out sheets; two cameras?; notebook and pen for taking notes? And so on, and so on.

In order to get a smooth start, most Scouts get to their project site at least an hour in advance of the stated assembly time – and even earlier for a complex project. This allows them to unload everything, get it organized and set up, and think about the work sequencing *before* the mass of volunteers arrive. If you arrive at the same time as your volunteers – or (God forbid) later than your volunteers – you will already be in a crisis mode before you even start. Get there early, and be ready to roll.

6) Document, Document, Document!

You will need to write up and illustrate a detailed record of your project for your Eagle Notebook. It is a VERY BAD IDEA to try and re-create what happened during a work session “sometime later” -“sometime later” often turns out to be weeks or even months after the project, an impossible task, especially for multi-day projects that stretched over several weeks.

This isn’t difficult, but (again) you have to plan for it, and take the time to do it. Have a sign-in/sign-out sheet for your volunteers and assign someone to be responsible for signing volunteers in and out (if you fail to do this, usually your sheet will have a lot of holes in it). Spend a minute or two during your breaks to write some “quickie” notes on what’s being done, and who’s doing it. Have at least one person (you or a parent) take photos at regular intervals. [Note: It’s better to use 2 different cameras, to avoid a disaster if a camera fails (total camera failures happened to 2 Scouts in Troop 111 over the past 20 years; neither one had a single photograph of their project.)]

If possible, write up each work session that night. Yes, you will be dirty and dead-tired when you get home, and will be even dirtier and more tired by the time you get everything put away. However, 15 minutes on your computer at the end of each work day, while things are still fresh in your mind, will save you a lot more work and stress down the road. The longer you wait, and the more work sessions that have to be written up, the harder it gets. This is completely unnecessary, self-inflicted pain – do it right away, and save yourself a lot of grief later.

7) If You’re Close to 18 Years Old, Complete the Rest of Your Eagle Notebook Before or During the Project!

It is amazing how many Scouts (and how many parents) think that finishing their Eagle Project also finishes their Eagle. Absolutely Not True! The Eagle Notebook usually takes between 15 and 25 hours of ADDITIONAL work to complete, usually spread out over one – two months (to allow for multiple reviews, collecting and vetting of Scout records, tracking down missing information, and so on)! And it all has to be done by midnight the night before the Scout’s 18th birthday (this is an absolute deadline). For Scouts who are completing “just-in-the-nick-of-time” Eagle Projects, failure to complete their Notebooks while they’re doing their projects results in an instant crisis, not only for them but also for the Troop Life-to-Eagle Coordinator, Scoutmaster, Committee Chairman, and District Eagle Board Representative. A Notebook can be completed in as little as a week, but doing so is a frantic and utterly exhausting frenzy for everyone, and you’d better hope everyone is in town and able to drop everything to help, and that there are no serious deficiencies in your records. That’s a lot to hope for.

In short, if you are within a month of your 18th birthday, you should already be writing up your Eagle Notebook RIGHT NOW – even before you start your project. Don’t make a fatal mistake ten yards short of the finish line!

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