Recruitment is probably the most important issue facing youth groups. There are two main challenges- recruiting young members and recruiting sufficient adult leaders/helpers. However many youth groups are understandably reluctant to spend resources (time, financial, etc.) trying to gain new members rather than focus on current members. Having convinced people to join, the problem is hanging on to them. Most, if not all youth groups have only a few strategies for recruitment.
This is never openly acknowledged, but most youth organisations depend to an extent on family recruitment. For example initially one child joins, gradually their siblings become involved. In some cases the entire family gets involved with a parent becoming a helper, or even a leader. This does have several advantages- mainly that it ensures that a family plans such as holidays don't conflict with the group. However this approach can lead to problems, especially in small youth groups. If anything happens- family moves somewhere else, parents changes work – then the entire group is affected. As a means of insuring against unforeseen events, no youth group can rely on just families.
This strategy is generally used by older youth groups such as Explorer Scouts or Rangers. It relies on people having already joined a younger group such as Scouts or Guides progressing upwards. This can lead to problems in the long term as groups become insular, and fail to attract newcomers to join. To ensure that people do move on from one section to another, it is generally recommended to hold joint events between sections. This ensures that people feel comfortable and welcomed when they move up. However the age structure of Youth organisations such as the Scout Association and Girl guiding UK indicates that moving-on isn't really working. Only a small minority progress from being Beaver scouts (6 to 8 yrs) to Scout Network (18-25 yrs).
Many youth groups are using the Internet to attract people to join. Targeting people who due to either geographic location or disability cannot join ordinary groups. Girl guiding UK 'Netguides' project started in September 2000. The Baden-Powell Scouts Association (UK) has launched 'Cyberscouts' to attract new people to join. This strategy is proving especially effective in recruiting from more than one country, such as the Rover Explorer Scouts Association. However the Scout Association and many other Youth organisations such as Army Cadets prefer to use the Internet solely as a means of attracting potential members.
Friends/Word of Mouth
Most youth groups use this to attract new members. Many do it informally, relying on people to just bring along friends. However some groups formally include it in their programme; e.g. having a specific evening to bring along a friend. This type of recruitment can be quite productive. However it can be frustrating and take time to show returns.
This strategy emphasises the skills learnt by adults and young people by taking part in youth groups. This is not used as much as it could be, especially when recruiting adult helpers. The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme emphasises this when trying to attract young people- in terms of it's benefits to CV's and university application forms. However the Scout Association is accrediting it's training scheme with the Open Colleges Network, so that leaders when fully trained will have a formal qualification.
This is a very broad category, covering everything from posters to professional media campaigns. Local, cheap advertising such as leaflets in libraries are fine. However engaging in big, expensive advertising campaigns are arguably a misuse of resources unless it is carefully targeted. The Scout Association's Mobile Display Unit which travels round the country to big events such as County shows is claimed to have recruited 'miles of new members'. However this is probably the most expensive way to recruit new members. Although it reaches out to people who cannot be contacted by other means. It can be relatively ineffective, and not worthwhile.
Controversies in Recruitment
This tends to be a problem where there are several groups of the same Organisation in a relatively small area- such as an urban Scout district. Members bring friends along, who live closer to another scout group. What often happens is that one group in the district has dozens of members. Whilst other groups struggle to survive, with limited numbers. This becomes a self-perpetuating circle and small groups unable to organise activities due to lack of numbers either merge or close. Forcing people to join a struggling group to bolster numbers would be counterproductive. Instead large groups should help smaller, struggling groups by joint activities.
Actively 'poaching' members from other organisations is generally perceived as unacceptable. However if for whatever reason, a youth group decides to change e.g. a scout group convert from being a Scout Association registered group, to the Baden- Powell Scout Association.
Recruitment to be effective should be a continual process, rather than an sudden erratic response to falling numbers. However the best recruitment strategy is
to look after the present members
by having an exciting and varied programme of activities and events on offer and let young people get on with it, rather than nannying them. Problems recruiting people are often an indicator that a youth group is failing, by having dull and repetitive meetings.
Scout Magazine, Explorer Scout supplement June/July 2005