I’ve been mulling over what I would jot down next, and I had considered Annual Pack Program Planning but thought it was too much to wrap my head around these days. Fifth-grade fractions and decimals and ninth-grade geometry are eating up all of my available brain cells, so my processing power has been maxed out for weeks. I’m awaiting the day that I look in the mirror only to find two blue screens where I used to have eyes. The reboot I needed came when my Council’s Director of Field Service / COO reached out to me for some help in creating a short video for Pack leadership to be aired at our upcoming virtual Unit Program Planning Party (UP3) event. It’s always a pleasure and privilege to work with the folks at the Heart of Virginia Council and Battlefield District, so of course I was happy to participate. Now that the video is recorded and I’m still a little wired from the two-too-many cups of coffee I enjoyed today, I figure it’s the perfect time to put those talking points to work here. Two birds, one stone.
So, what is pack program planning? Just in case you’re new to your Pack Committee or need a refresh, it’s an annual meeting or series of meetings in which all members of your leadership team work together to establish the upcoming 12-month calendar of pack events. This also includes drafting and approving an operating budget. These planning meetings (also referred to as conferences) take place in late spring and/or early summer, just ahead of the brand new Year in Scouting.
Why are these meetings so important? Well, for one, we serve an organization whose motto is not, in fact, “Just Wing It!” We have the invaluable job of serving the youth in our community, and we all know that youth lose interest in disorganized events. Have you ever overheard a Scout utter, “this is lame” at a special meeting? It’s heartbreaking, and it has a domino effect that sucks the wind right out of dedicated leaders sails, makes parents lose their faith in you, and discourages those parents to volunteer their time and talents. Never wing it.
Here’s the tried and true method my Pack uses to complete our annual pack program planning.
A successful plan evolves all year long. We are in a constant state of program planning and review, and this is why our Pack is able to provide a great program year after year.
Step 1: Survey Your Families
We start with a parent survey developed by our Committee Chairperson and delivered to families in the spring. This survey asks for feedback on the previous Year in Scouting and requests suggestions for the upcoming year. This is an invaluable tool that weighs heavily in our planning process.
Step 2: Pack Committee Chair and Cubmaster Meeting
Next, the Pack Committee Chair and Cubmaster meet to draft a program plan for the upcoming Year in Scouting. This meeting is prefaced by countless texts, emails, and phone calls, and is normally several hours long. In this meeting, we review the previous year’s calendar and discuss the results of the parent survey. We purchase a large desktop calendar for the upcoming year – you can buy annual calendars that begin in July of the current year and end in June of the following year (like this one from Office Depot) – and pencil in important dates from our Council, District, Troop, Chartered Organization, and school calendars. Next, we pencil in our core Scouting program events, like Den and Pack meetings, camping trips (to include rain dates), Pinewood Derby, Family Bake-Off, Blue and Gold Banquet, Arrow of Light Bridging, and more. Then we determine which additional activities we’d like to draft into the plan and develop a written copy that we will present to our Pack Committee.
Holding this particular meeting offline is important! Delivering a proposed plan to the full Pack Committee for review helps the whole planning process run smoothly and efficiently.
Step 3: Pack Committee Program Planning Meeting #1
The draft program is now presented to our Pack Committee for review. Because good decisions are never made on an empty stomach, we always bring pizza… and lots of it. This is another lengthy but important meeting where the plan is considered in great detail and each event is discussed, changed if necessary, and approved. Budget line items, like expected trailer maintenance or equipment purchases, are discussed and approved. Additionally, we use this meeting to determine who will formally coordinate each of our events. Finally, we move to have the Committee Chair and Treasurer meet to formulate a proposed budget.
Step 4: Pack Committee Chair and Treasurer Meeting
In this meeting, the Pack Committee Chair and Treasurer use the program plan to draft a budget. To do this, they roughly estimate the number of Scouts expected to return and to be recruited in the coming months. They consider the previous year’s fundraising efforts to estimate what to expect in the coming year, the previous year’s expenditures, and other factors for the year. At this point, the budget is compared against our membership numbers and dues are assessed. This proposed budget is then brought to the Pack Committee for final review and approval.
Step 5: Pack Committee Program Planning Meeting #2
At this final program planning meeting, the Pack Committee hashes out the final details. We discuss the program plan and proposed budget, make adjustments as necessary, and finalize dues to arrive at an approved plan for the year.
Step 6: Spread the Word
The last step in this process is to publish an official “Year in Scouting” calendar and share it with your Pack families. We also provide the Pack Committee and Chartering Organization with the approved budget and Pack Program Plan, and we host a parent informational meeting to go over the details (normally as part of the first Pack meeting of the new year).
Look Wider Still
You have to be flexible because even the best-laid plan will be met with challenges and you’ll need to learn how to adjust. Inclement weather is our biggest obstacle in Cub Scouting, and we’ve learned to bake in rain dates and Plans C-Z when planning our program for the year. We meet as a Pack Committee each and every month to discuss the previous month’s events, the actual budget line items associated with those events, and make adjustments to the budget as we go. We also discuss, like Roses and Thorns, the high and low points of each event, which helps us to better determine what will be included in the coming year’s program plan.
Too much to read? Well, let me and a few of my friends lay it out for you. I Scout in the Heart of Virginia Council, who puts on an amazing “Unit Program Planning Party”, aka: UP3, to help Units prepare for the year ahead. I was honored to be included as the Cub Scout representative to talk about how my Pack plans a top-notch program and stays on budget.
Sample Year in Scouting Calendar
In case you’re looking for a calendar template, here’s our calendar for the 2019-2020 Year in Scouting… which is, of course, a total bust from March on. The events in black are part of our core program, while the items in orange and blue are add-on’s (meaning they were new to our program this year or had a fee associated with them), the events in red are items from our local school calendars, and the green events are special Council or District level camping opportunities. The fleur de lis denotes events with a fee that are eligible for reimbursement out of individual Scout Accounts. When our Scouts participate in fundraising, the money they earn goes into a Scout Account that helps them to pay for dues, camp registration fees, uniforming, and other Scout-related expenses.
I Hope This is Helpful
I know it’s a lot of information, but this process is truly the most important part of planning a great program for your Scouts and their families. Don’t forget to Keep It Simple, Make It Fun and stay flexible.
Did this post help you with your unit’s program planning? What would you add? What works best for your Pack? Tell me all about it in the comments, and don’t forget to like and subscribe to Look Wider Still!
Yours in Scouting,