Recruiting for Unit Growth

tlusa flyer kitTraditionally, most youth development programs mirror “the school year” in terms of their ebb and flow of activity — being busy from September thru June, and easing a bit during July and August.

As a result of this general pattern, there’s typically time for leaders to rest, reflect, train and plan (with their youth leadership council) for the coming year’s calendar of events and activities.  It also translates to a push for a “recruiting drive” to get the word out about the program and invite additional families to get involved.

Many programs plan “open house” events, “informational meetings” or host a “Program Launch” or “Kickoff Event” as an incentive to draw in as many families as possible (i.e. featuring a cook out, special activities, etc.)

Part of the recruiting efforts also leverage careful market development through select promotional activities on social media, with printed flyers, and personal Adventure character banner verticalintroductions and networking with community or educational leaders.  For instance some units might consider the following:

  • launch or update a web site to provide easy to access information about location of meetings, program values, curriculum focus, the balance between youth-led program planning and adult supervised safety and coaching, etc. (examples – http://www.traillife942.com/ or http://www.traillife7777.com/or http://www.traillifeusaoc.org/ )
  • update a blog about past trips, events and milestones to help the uninitiated learn what the program year looks like in terms of pacing, activities, etc.
  • print and distribute flyers about the program details, or to announce the time/date/location of information sessions for parents, etc.  Promotional resources are available at Trail Life’s main web site (click HERE)  If interested parents have questions, don’t forget about the informational resources that are available (click HERE)
  • double checking the “unit pin” information on the Troop Locator page at Trail Life’s main web site
  • some units are leveraging other forms of social media to get the word out — twitter feeds, facebook pages, etc. may be an option to explore
  • consider the ways that your sponsor organization promotes their own activities and events — would they allow you to hang a banner or use lawn signs at their facility?  Would current troop families use lawn signs in their front yard to promote the kick off event or similar launch event?

Walk Worthy Banner VerticalWhen trying to reach new families who may be interested, it’s easy to fall into the trap of citing lots of statistics and quoting from news articles about the organization’s strengths; however, a more personal message about how you and your family have benefited from being involved may present a stronger message.  Quotes from other parents and from their enrolled youth signaling their excitement from past trips, events and meeting activities would also help “personalize” the message.

When reaching out to community leaders, consider their own goals and how promotion of Trail Life helps them achieve these objectives….examples could include:

  • School administrators may worry that too many extracurricular activities could interfere with getting homework completed.  Showing that the curriculum being presented during Trail Life meetings supplements the youth’s learning in natural sciences, etc. and talking about the duration of the meetings (that there’s plenty of time during the week for homework as compared to other extracurricular activities) may help them to be put at ease or even generate additional interest in the program.
  • Church youth pastors may be worried that Trail Life presents competition for his/her own program being run at their church.  Discussing how the two programs can dovetail without conflict over meeting times, and highlighting the positive benefits being presented to each family can help them get on board with promoting Trail Life.

In terms of venues to promote the unit, natural fits would likely include local churches and traditional brick and mortar schools (public and parochial).  Some units have had success in reaching out to local homeschool support groups, or even state-level homeschool organizations that have newsletters and online bulletin boards for extracurricular activities.

Non-traditional venues could include those places that cater to outdoor adventure types and have public bulletin boards or would be agreeable to posting a flyer at their location:

  • Rock climbing gym
  • Shooting sports range (archery, rifle, shotgun clubs, etc.)
  • Outfitters (i.e. boating rentals, fishing gear, camping gear, etc.)

With so many competing activities (i.e. sports, special interest clubs, etc.) it can be a challenge for families to decide on where they will commit their time and resources.  Getting the message to them frequently, clearly and effectively can help make the difference.  Also, we must remember that families start planning their calendars early and other commitments made during August (i.e. transition from a sports camp to a commitment to participate in a fall league, etc.) may preclude a commitment to Trail Life in September despite an earnest desire to try out the program.

On a message board devoted to another christian youth club, there was an interesting exchange over the question “When do you begin promoting for the next year?”  Some of the responses included:

  • My group wraps up in a couple more weeks and we will begin promotion almost immediately. I have the yard signs set to go, we’ll be buying an ad that is shown in a local movie theater before the movie for the month of August, and in August and September we will be running an ad on a local ad company that places flat screen monitors in local businesses and it will display regularly every day.
  • We started promotion for next year last week [mid-May].
  • Tonight we have our closing meeting with all the youth groups present at a special program with invitations also sent out to the local neighborhood for both children and parents and get them started to thinking about next year.  We hold a couple special summer activities and tell our neighbors that they are welcome to attend just give us their and contact numbers so we can let them know when they will occur. 
  • In mid June we have our big fundraiser, that is also a big promoter for us as we are out on the street during our town festival and since we sell stuff that kids and families want, we get a lot of people visiting our booth.
  • Start promoting?….. I never stop! 

If you’ve ever read or heard the Dr. Seuss book “Horton Hears a Who” — the residents of Whoville (microscopic folks living in a spec of dust) kept shouting “we are here, we are here, we are here” until they were heard by all.  By way of comparison, we’re not tiny, but we can get lost in the hustle bustle of everyday life so we need to tactfully up the messaging frequency and volume without compromising the message.

Recruiting may be brought into sharper focus as we head towards the new school season, but perhaps it should become an ongoing part of each unit’s regular activities all throughout the year, too.

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