Eagle Project Common Pitfalls

Some Common Pitfalls in the Development and Execution of an Eagle Project

Is the Proposed Project a Permanent or Semi-Permanent Improvement – or is it just Routine Maintenance? As a rough guideline, routine maintenance is anything in the way of basic repair and/or upkeep that the benefiting organization would eventually do on its own. Note that “lack of money” or other resources does not change routine maintenance into a viable project – even if the work would otherwise never be done. For some contrasting examples, building a new trail, adding erosion barriers to an existing trail, or installing new trail-signs (where there were none), are all (semi-)permanent improvements – whereas adding mulch to an existing trail, replacing trail lining, or repainting trail markers on trees, are all examples of routine maintenance.

This does not mean that routine maintenance cannot be added to expand a proposal. But the routine maintenance should be a minor part of the project. For example, building and placing ten new picnic tables at a local park would be a (semi-) permanent improvement. Re-treating another five picnic tables already on the site with waterproofing would be routine maintenance that would be a nice addition to the primary goal of the project. Just about any project can be expanded in this way.

Is the Proposed Project a Viable Eagle Project? Is the Eagle candidate actually and reasonably able to do the proposed project? There are countless projects that need doing, but realistically they can’t be done with youth volunteer labor, or at a reasonable cost, or in a reasonable amount of time, or in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations (including BSA regulations). For example, installing lighting on the 150 foot steeple on a neighborhood Church, planting trees in the narrow median strip of a busy interstate highway, “deconstructing” an abandoned residence, building three miles of new trail, and so on, are all non-viable Eagle projects. Also, and in accordance with BSA regulations, no projects can be done on Boy Scout owned property, or for the benefit of any Boy Scout organization, from the Unit level all the way up to the National organization. So, for example, no Eagle projects at Boy Scout summer camps, or at any Boy Scout Headquarters facility, or to help a neighboring Cub Pack, and so on.

Is the Proposed Project Your Project? The Eagle Project is supposed to be conceived*, planned, and executed by the Eagle candidate – not by the candidate’s parents or Scout leaders, or by any representative from the benefiting organization, or any other adult. Note that this is a nationwide problem, especially with younger Eagle candidates. It is your project; therefore, you need to do it. Other than for Health and Safety reasons, there should be no adult supervision.

[* To clarify, Scout Units often have a list of suggested projects for Eagle candidates who simply cannot find anything to do. Providing ideas for potential projects is perfectly acceptable; providing detailed plans on how to carry them out, is not.]

Will the Project Require Enough Time to Allow You to “Demonstrate Leadership”? The hours “requirement” is probably the least understood and most contentious aspect of Eagle Projects. Fact: There is NO minimum number of hours required for an Eagle Project, and anyone that tells you otherwise is incorrect. That said, across the country there is an unofficial guideline that an Eagle Project should take at least 100 man-hours of actual work. “Actual work” meaning the hours should not include the planning or writeup hours, or the hours spent meeting people to discuss project details.

Huh? It’s not required but it is???

The key to understanding this apparent contradiction is recognizing the actual requirement to “demonstrate leadership.” If a project took only, for example, 65 hours, and 30 of those hours were for meetings, planning, and writeup, it begs the question, how much leadership did the Eagle candidate actually demonstrate? Answer: “Not Much.” There are few things sadder than an Eagle Board debating whether a project was adequate – and yes, some candidates have been turned down for having projects that failed to meet the “demonstrate leadership” requirement, and many others were only grudgingly passed by unhappy Boards who were highly annoyed at having been placed in such unpleasant situations. It is far better to have a project that is so substantial that this question is never raised. Thus, the unofficial guideline of 100 man-hours of actual work. You would be wise to adhere to this guideline.

By the way, across the country, it is not uncommon to see Projects running up to 500 man-hours, and a rare few have approached or even exceeded 1,000 man-hours. This puts 100 hours in proper context.

Are You (or Your Family) Paying for the Project? Although not a hard rule, Eagle candidates and their families are not supposed to pay for Eagle projects – even if the family is financially well off. Either the benefiting organization should pay, or the candidate should solicit for donations (either financial, material, or volunteer) from local businesses or other granting sources such as community groups or Regional Park Authorities. The Scout/family’s expenditures should be limited to operational support – food, snacks, and drinks, transportation (gas), specialized tool rental fees (for example, a gas-powered post-hole auger), specialized services (for example, a bonded and licensed electrician), photocopying, postage, and so on. [For additional comments and suggestions on obtaining financial and material support, see the Appendix below.]

Did You Get All Four Project Approval Signatures BEFORE You Started The Project? The Project proposal requires the review and formal approval of the Benefiting Organization Representative, the Scoutmaster, the Committee Chairman or Troop Eagle Overseer, and the District or Council Eagle Board Representative, BEFORE any work is initiated. Even though this requirement is specified in the Eagle Project Workbook, in numerous Eagle Project Guides, and in Life-to-Eagle Seminars, it is amazing how often an Eagle candidate will plan and complete his project without obtaining any of these mandatory approvals. This is an instant disaster, and usually results in the candidate finding that his project would never have been approved in the first place and is invalid, and that he has to start over from scratch. Don’t make this terrible mistake!

Did You Get the Project Details and (Especially) Financial Commitments in Writing? It is a sad reality that some benefiting organizations will take advantage of an Eagle candidate and increase the scope of work, or renege on promises to pay for materials, after the project is well underway or even after it has been completed. This can result in the candidate being forced to do a much larger project than originally approved, or in the family being forced to “donate” the cost of the project (which can be quite substantial). For this reason, the project proposal has to be very specific on what is to be done, and who is paying for what. On the latter point, it is important (and prudent) to get a signed letter that specifies exactly what the benefiting organization will pay for, that includes a formal limit on expenses if appropriate. This should be obtained in advance of any expenditures or initiation of work. [Note: Be especially cautious when you cannot get straight answers from the benefiting organization concerning financial support.]

If problems involving expanding the scope of work or reneging on financial commitments arise after the initiation of work, the Eagle candidate should immediately notify his Troop and the District Eagle Board Representative who signed off on his proposal. The candidate (and his family) should not appease such outrageous conduct, nor attempt to fight such a battle without Troop and District/Council support.

In a related and more troublesome problem, a benefiting organization will decrease the scope of work, or decide to do a major part of it themselves, or have it done professionally, after the project has been started. Sometimes this is the candidate’s own fault, for not adhering to an agreed upon time-line, and so the benefiting organization got tired of waiting. Regardless of the cause, the effect is that the project has been weakened, often to the point where it will no longer qualify as an Eagle project, either because the hours of actual work were insufficient, or because most or all of the (semi-)permanent aspects of the work were completed by the benefiting organization, leaving the candidate with only routine maintenance work. Again, if this happens, the Eagle candidate should immediately notify his Troop and the District Eagle Board Representative who signed off on his proposal, and await their instructions. In some cases, the Eagle candidate would need to expand the original project to make up the difference; in others, he would have to start a new project.

Who is Doing the Work? (also known as “Demonstrate Leadership, Part II”) The second aspect of “demonstrating leadership” is the expectation that the Eagle candidate is leading Scouts or other youth volunteers in completing his project – not adults and/or family members (that is, parents). This is not to say that adults and family members can’t assist, but just as a project should be majority (semi-)permanent improvements and not routine maintenance, the workers on a project should be majority Scout and other youth volunteers and not adults. As was implied above (in “Is it Your Project?”), if there is extensive adult and/or family/parental involvement, and especially if a parent or a representative of the benefiting organization “shadows” the Eagle candidate through every step of the project, constantly “suggesting” (actually meaning “directing”), it again begs the question of how much leadership did the Eagle candidate actually demonstrate? And again the answer is: “Not much.”

How Many Work-Sessions? (also known as “Demonstrate Leadership, Part III”) The third and final aspect of “demonstrating leadership” is the desire (not requirement) that the Eagle candidate lead Scouts or other youth in small groups over multiple days. A multi-day project is more workable and therefore a more valuable experience for the Scout, and more easily enables him to again properly demonstrate leadership.

Can a project be done in one day? The simple answer is yes. The complete answer is rather more complicated. Although there are exceptions, it is difficult for most (semi-)permanent projects to be completed in a single day – even a very long day with multiple shifts of volunteers. Beyond complexity, most Eagle candidates simply cannot properly lead a project involving two or three dozen volunteers, especially when the project is spread out over a large area or involves multiple subprojects. Lack of close supervision usually leads to Junior Scout volunteers drifting into play mode, Senior Scout volunteers drifting into sit-around and talk mode, and adult volunteers getting increasingly irritated and taking over the various subprojects, all while the candidate is running around trying to put out fires. In order to avoid these problems, the Eagle candidate needs to be a second-level manager; that is, he’ll need to recruit and train a number of subordinates (other Senior Scouts – not adults!) to handle the various areas and/or subprojects. This is a different form of leadership (but it’s perfectly acceptable). Note that the recruiting and training are far better done in advance of the project – not the “day of.” When pre-planned in this way, a large-scale, one-day project can be done, and done well. However, it isn’t easy, and supervising smaller groups over multiple days is usually a more feasible approach for most candidates.

Beware of Bad Advice. The Life-to-Eagle process is complex, demanding, and dynamic, and even the most experienced guides find it to be a constant challenge. Your Scoutmaster, your Troop Eagle Coordinator, and (most importantly) your District or Council Eagle Board Representative are your best sources of valid advice and information, and certainly any important questions or issues should be directed to them and only them. And of the three individuals specified above, the Eagle Board Representative is the ultimate authority. Information from any other source, especially including the Internet, should be viewed as suspect unless directly confirmed by all three above individuals. Be aware, you can always find a host of self-declared experts who will staunchly support improper or dated interpretations of the rules and regulations – but none of them will be standing alongside you when you’re trying to explain yourself to your Eagle Board (that is, assuming you ever make it that far following their bad counsel). Don’t go fishing for trouble – stick with the real experts.

Avoid Minimalism; Ignore Exceptions. Life isn’t fair. There are lots of Eagle Scouts who got away with minimalist projects, or projects that were routine maintenance, or were completed with primarily adult supervision, and so on, and so on. Focusing on how these Scouts, their parents, and their Troops, managed to beat the system is a useless and frustrating exercise, and will likely result in all sorts of needless problems for you if you try to follow their (bad) examples. You can spend a hundred hours arguing about and trying to jam a substandard effort down everyone’s throats, or spend a fifth that much time expanding and improving your project into something you can and will be proud of for your entire life. Be the better man – Be an Eagle Scout.

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Appendix – Obtaining Financial and Material Support

As was noted above, Eagle candidates and their families are not supposed to pay for the material expenses for their Eagle projects. In many cases, the benefiting organization will either provide or pay for any materials needed for the project. Less commonly, the Scout can request and receive funding from local governments (e.g., a County Parks and Recreation Department) or a civic group (e.g., Kiwanis or Knights of Columbus) for projects that benefit the general public. This requires an effort on the Scout’s part – no one is just going to offer funding unless they’re asked – and any granting agency usually requests some sort of a formal presentation before funding anything.

Rarely, a Scout will conduct some sort of (approved) fundraiser in order to support his project. Note however, that while fundraising is acceptable, the hours involved do not count towards the Eagle project.

When funding is unavailable, the Scout will need to approach local suppliers for donations of materials (or less commonly, specialized services, such as a bonded, licensed electrician for a project needing some outdoor wiring). A key factor in obtaining such support is the time of the year. Most large businesses such as Lowes and Home Depot set aside a dollar amount each year that they contribute for charitable purposes, including Eagle projects. Therefore, the later in the year that you ask, the greater the chances that they will have already exhausted that account. The chances of getting donated materials is exponentially increased if the Scout:
A) Goes in full uniform (and without a parent);
B) Speaks directly with a manager or supervisor on duty; and
C) Has a written summary of what is planned for the project, and a written, itemized list of the material needed, with copies of both that can be left with the manager or supervisor. The summary should also include all your pertinent contact information (name, phone number, email address, and so on).

The Scout also should be prepared to approach more than one outlet. It would be quite unusual for one outlet to give you everything you need for a large project, and so you should only ask for a percentage of what you need. A Lowes store might contribute half of the lumber, an 84 Lumber the other half, a Home Depot the hardware, a paint store some outdoor quality wood preservative, and so on. If you were turned down, sometimes returning to the same store at a different time (different manager on duty) will be more successful (some managers are just having a bad day; others are inexperienced and unsure what they’re allowed to do; and a few others have a negative attitude about BSA national policies, and feel it somehow appropriate to take it out on you).

Scouts who write nice letters of appreciation (including photos) to all organizations that contributed materials or services also increase the possibility that the next Scout who approaches them will be successful.

In the end, the Eagle candidate or his family may need to purchase some of the materials or services needed to complete the project. However, even if the family is financially secure and easily able to handle the expenses, this should always be the last resort, after all other remedies have been exhausted.

– Dr. Bob Klein, SM-111 (December 2007)

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