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Utah Boy Scouts fundraiser kicks off — with high-pressure tactics

Published August 8, 2011 3:49 pm

LDS-supported drives use tactics not often seen in other areas.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In 2009 amid the recession, the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts saw its revenue plummet nearly $400,000 below projections, forcing it to cut 13 full-time jobs to make ends meet. Income was lower in every category but one — the annual Friends of Scouting drive that seeks donations.

The Friends of Scouting campaign that is successful even in hard times here is conducted differently in Utah than in most of the nation — with the LDS Church pushing harder for money than in the lower-pressure drives suggested in national handbooks.

Elsewhere, only families of Scouts are usually targeted, and pleas are often made to groups instead of individuals. In Utah, bishops and stake presidents in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are urged to ask all members for $50 to $100 or more, and armies of Scouts and leaders are sent to visit every home (including people who are not Mormon) to make face-to-face appeals.

That annual drive began again on Saturday in much of Utah and will extend over the next couple of months.

Donations don't go to local Scout troops. Money goes to the administrative council to operate such things as Scout shops and campgrounds. It also helps pay some large salaries. Compensation of $148,796 was given in 2009 (the last year data are available) to Great Salt Lake Council Scout executive Rick Barnes, who replaced former executive Paul Moore and his $228,174 annual compensation.

In the Provo-based Utah National Parks Council, Scout executive Steve Royster was paid $169,990 in 2009. In the Ogden-based Trapper Trails Council, Scout executive Michael Marchese was paid $88,596 for part of a year's work; he was hired there to replace Barnes. The three councils declined to make more current salary information available.

The Salt Lake Tribune sought interviews with leaders of local Scout councils about how the drives are conducted in Utah. Some initially agreed but later declined. Eventually they asked for questions in writing and responded with a group statement that gave few specifics. But materials online show more about what LDS leaders are asked to do and how that compares to national campaigns.

Drives in other places • A 2010 handbook by the national Boy Scouts outlines conducting family Friends of Scouting drives that are lower-key than those conducted in Utah. It says such drives normally target leaders and parents of Scouts, not every resident in the community or even all in a sponsoring congregation.

It suggests recruiting volunteers ask each parent for donations, or to have "a combination of a group presentation at a blue and gold banquet (Cub Scouts) or a court of honor (Boy Scouts) and a follow-up phone-a-thon."

The handbook also says, "Peer pressure usually leads to trouble in high school; but in an FOS [Friends of Scouting] campaign, it usually leads to substantial gifts."

Utah drives • LDS-supported Friends of Scouting drives have found some unique ways to increase such peer pressure on behalf of Scouts. It includes having local church leaders suggest specific amounts, and sending people to knock on every door in every neighborhood to personally ask for money.

A handbook from the Great Salt Lake Council, for example, includes suggested letters to be given to LDS members from their local stake presidencies (that oversee a cluster of congregations) and bishoprics (that oversee individual congregations).

"The donation level that is being asked this year is $50 per household," the suggested letter for stake presidencies says, adding that any donation is appreciated. The suggested letter from bishops asks members to consider giving $100 if possible. It adds, "Anyone with children knows that $50 hardly pays for participating in a single seasonal sport."

The letters add that the church "fully supports the Boy Scout program and has designated it as an activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood," for young males.

Local handbooks call for bishops to announce and support the drive for several weeks before it begins.

The Tribune asked the three Scout councils with headquarters in Utah if using bishops and stake presidents to make such pleas may transform a donation from a voluntary gift to something more akin to an expected contribution or requirement of active church members.

Their joint written response said, "While church leaders oversee and support FOS, they do not solicit donations. The church supports the FOS drive by providing an opportunity for members to contribute, but there are no donation requirements."

The statement added that suggested letters for stake presidents and bishops "are jointly developed between the BSA and LDS leaders. The BSA provides a template that is available and used by most councils nationally and LDS leaders have the opportunity to personalize and customize the materials prior to distribution to serve local needs."

The church itself in June issued an updated handbook about its relation to Scouting. About Friends of Scouting, it says simply, "The Church supports the annual Friends of Scouting drive. These funds provide financial support for the local BSA council. Stake presidents and bishops oversee the drive in their units."

Every home • Local handbooks call for LDS wards to visit every home in their boundaries, both of members and others, to solicit money. They urge leaders to arrange enough helpers so that each would need to visit only five homes, including their own.

Local handbooks also encourage each ward to find two people who give at least $100 themselves to have the special task of contacting people who also may be capable of giving that or larger amounts.

Handbooks encourage holding a kickoff event at a local chapel and then trying to visit all the homes on one day — with follow-ups to those who are not home over the next two months.

Locally made videos on YouTube show recommended sales pitches for money. They suggest that if people report that they do not have any money available now, workers should ask them to sign up for automatic monthly withdrawals from their bank accounts.

The joint statement from local councils says the goal locally "is to give the opportunity for everyone in the community to support the Scouting program."

When asked how that evolved locally to be different than the national model of soliciting just parents of Scouts, the councils replied in the joint statement by saying, "Every council customizes the template to best meet the needs of their community. The methods for the Utah councils were developed jointly by the BSA and LDS Church and are structured very similarly to other councils across the country."

Of course, not all Scout troops in Utah are sponsored by the LDS Church. But the Friends of Scouting drives focus on LDS units, including having LDS stakes gather the collected money. The joint statement says, "Church structure frequently aligns with BSA structure, so the flow of contributions really doesn't matter."

Goals or quotas • Financial goals for Friends of Scouting are often set for local LDS wards and stakes. "These goals are used as an organizational tool and are not meant to be used as monetary quotas," the joint statement from the Utah councils says.

It adds, "There are no rewards for meeting, or penalties for missing, goals." But that has not always been the case.

Until two years ago in the Great Salt Lake Council, only wards that met their Friends of Scouting goals were part of the "Gold Club." That entitled them to a 10 percent discount for council-owned summer camps and 10 percent off many supplies sold at Scout stores.

The council ended that in 2009, and replaced it with what it said were overall lower camp fees for all. Some have questioned if the council made up some money by charging higher activity fees at the camps, including $18 for an Indian Lore merit badge kit at camps, charging $6 for a paper target and 20 shells for shooting and $6 for a kit to make a simple arrow.

"This information is inaccurate," the joint statement said about possible higher fees to make up for camp charges that were lower after quotas ended. "We have worked hard at keeping the cost for camp to a bare minimum because the camp experience is one of great value to each Scout."

Where money goes/big salaries • Online copies of Great Salt Lake Council pamphlets going to potential donors this year do not list specifics of how the money is spent, but says it helps "prepare people for a lifetime of character and leadership."

When councils were asked for more specifics, their joint written response said it "pays for services to units through the means of personnel, properties and equipment on the council level. These services help units with training, expertise, facilities, materials, activities, events, camps and other activities that support individual needs." That includes Scout shops and tracking advancement.

Controversy has arisen in the past about donations also helping to pay big salaries of some council executives. When The Tribune asked for current salary levels, the councils declined to provide them.

But nonprofits must list the salaries of some top executives on annual Internal Revenue Service Form 990 and must report how many employees earn more than $100,000 in compensation. Guidestar.com collects such forms.

According to the most-recent available 2009 forms, the Great Salt Lake Council had four employees receiving compensation of more than $100,000. In addition to Barnes, director of field services Steve Luna made $134,301; director of support services Kay Godfrey made $113,315; and chief financial officer Brian Sheets made $100,796.

In the Provo-based Utah National Parks Council, Royster was the only employee who made more than $100,000, according to the 2009 Form 990. The Ogden-based Trapper Trails Council reported that no one made more than $100,000 a year there in 2009.

Even with such salaries, Scouts in Utah may be a bit more thrifty than similarly sized councils in their salaries.

A Tribune review of Forms 990 for councils nationally that the Boy Scouts say are similar in size to those in Utah shows that the median full-year salary for their top executive is $225,908 — higher than any of those in Utah. The highest in the nation for similarly sized councils was for Los Angeles Area Council's Moore, previously of Utah, at $383,488 in 2009.

But that's low compared to Robert J. Mazzuca, the national chief Scout executive, whose 2009 compensation was $1.21 million. The Boy Scouts National Council also reported paying 189 employees more than $100,000 each in compensation in 2009.

It works • Steven McFarland is the volunteer Friends of Scouting coordinator for the Francis Peak District (an organizational level below a Scout council) in the Kaysville area. He has a website that tracks goals and collections of all LDS wards there, and non-LDS Scout troops. The data shows that the unique-to-Utah Friends of Scouting system raises a lot of money even in hard times.

"Even with the recession last year, we collected $10,000 more than our goal" in that district that includes seven LDS stakes, he said. His website showed stakes raised between $12,000 and $27,000 each last year. McFarland adds that minimum goals are set based on past collections, and somewhat higher target goals are set to encourage some improvement.

"The secret to success is personal contact, and going to every home. As I tell people, if they will make personal contact at 70 to 80 percent of the homes in their area, they will have no problem reaching their goals," he said.

Having so many people participate, he adds, may lower the cost to everyone to raise the money that Scout councils need. While he said local units seek $50 or so per family here, "Many people who move here from other areas ask me why they are asked for so little. They are used to being asked for $200 or $300 each." —

Interact: What do you think?

I What experiences, good or bad, have you had with Friends of Scouting in Utah? What do you think about Scouting salaries? Send comments to ldavidson@sltrib.com, including your contact information, so we can talk to you for a follow-up story. ­—

LDS and Boy Scout ties

The LDS Church became the first institutional sponsor of Scout troops in the United States in 1913. Today it reports that it sponsors more Scouts and Scouting units in the United States than any other organization.

The three Boy Scout councils with headquarters in Utah say they serve 180,000 Scouts in traditional units, and 70 percent of males in Utah between the ages of 8 and 18.