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The local council of Boy Scouts of America plans to institute a $125 fundraising fee in an effort to shore up the organization's budget, but the Great Rivers Council's executive director said the fee is not for individual families or persons.

The Great Rivers Council's Executive Director Doug Callahan said last week that a decline in fundraising revenues — which are currently 19.1 percent of the council's budgeted income — has led to the creation of a new "flat council support fee."

The Great Rivers Council covers Boy Scouts of America districts in northern, northeastern and Mid-Missouri, including the Five Rivers District that includes Cole, Osage, Gasconade, Moniteau and Maries counties.

The $125 council support fee is a per unit fee. Callahan said that means it applies to Cub Scout packs, Scout BSA troops or Venture troops — which are the units.

The $125 will be multiplied by how many members of a unit there are at the beginning of the year — when units are rechartered in December for 2020 — and that's how much money the pack or troop will be expected to contribute in total to the council.

"Units must pay the council support fee when they recharter in December 2019. If they do not, the unit will not be rechartered for 2020," according to one document of several that Callahan said he created on the new fee.

He said the collective fee is "not a family fee, not a per person fee," and the fee does not increase as a pack or troop grows.

That means if a pack or troop adds members after the start of the year, that's more members who can raise funds and contribute toward the fee, but whose presence would not have contributed to the calculation of the fee.

Callahan said an average troop probably numbers 15-20 children, and an average Cub scout pack probably numbers 30 boys or girls.

Callahan said the money from the fundraising fee stays with the council, and will not go to the national office of Boy Scouts of America.

In terms of how that all shakes out for how much popcorn and other products troops and packs would need to sell next year — or have parents pay for through buyouts that take into account the new fee — Callahan said some units that have already been selling well will actually make more money.

For a majority of units, maybe 50-60 percent, "maybe they're going to have to sell a little but more" to break even, he said.

Before paying what's owed to the council, under a new structure, scouting units will get about two-thirds commission of what's raised through product sales, while the product providers — such as Burgers or Trail's End — get the remainder of the sales money.

Callahan added, though, that units "can do whatever fundraising they want" to come up with the fundraising fee — not just the council-supported fundraisers such as popcorn.

He said it's the 20 percent of units that don't support fundraising that will have the most work ahead of them.

He said "we prefer scouts go out and earn their own way," as opposed to parents writing checks to buy out fundraising efforts, but that is an option.

A document states the decline in product sales, specifically popcorn, is the council's biggest challenge in shoring up its budget.

"Annual retail sales of popcorn have declined by $514,379, or 54 percent, from 2010 to 2018," according to one document, which adds, "Net product sale revenue to (the) council on a yearly basis has declined during (the) same period by $111,163, or 32 percent."

The document adds that product sales have dipped from supporting 24 percent of the council's budget to its current 19.1 percent, or $315,000.

The Friends of Scouting fundraising campaign is the largest source of funding for the council, providing 25.5 percent of its budget, or $420,000. However, on an annual basis, that source of income has only increased by $8,410.

The council's documents report states, "Total annual expenses have only increased by $20,087 since 2010, or 1.4 percent, while during this same time inflation has gone up by 14.6 percent. This has been accomplished by reductions in staff and holding (the) line on expenses we have control over."

In addition to declining product sales, a decrease in financial support from the United Way has added to the annual deficit that Friends of Scouting, keeping expenses in check and the 23.5 percent of funding for the council, or $386,750, through camping revenues together have not been able to keep up with.

Callahan said the United Way of Central Missouri has been a great partner that has not decreased its support for scouting, but it's been a combination of Columbia's United Way agency not supporting Boy Scouts and United Way agencies in smaller communities such as Fulton, Sedalia, Mexico, Moberly and Hannibal "struggling with raising money" that has led to an annual decrease of $79,197 in United Way support.

Callahan said "it's tough to compare to other councils," but the current 19.1 percent of the budget that comes from fundraising is below average.

For 2020, Callahan also said the scouting registration rate for youth will increase from $42 to $57 — and all of that fee, which he said does apply to individual members and families, does go to the national office.

Out of the $57, $33 goes directly to the national office, while the remaining $24 is initially held by the council before it's later billed to the national office, Callahan said.

He said the $33 registration fee for adults will not change.

According to a document, financial assistance for the $57 registration fee and camperships will continue to be offered to families, but there "will not be financial assistance for the council support fee, as that is charged to the unit and not to the families."

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