Our local Boy Scout troop runs a perpetual patriotic fundraiser that is employed by many troops in our area. Scouts sell subscriptions to place an American flag on the subscriber’s property on certain patriotic holidays each year.
I was serving in the sponsoring institution’s leadership at the time this fundraiser was proposed a number of years ago. Mine was one of the voices against the plan. But that turned out to be the minority opinion. So the fundraiser went forward.
The cost of an annual subscription must be minimized, while the net revenue from the operation must be maximized. This usually means getting cheap flags and poles. In our case, as is the case with every other similar project that I know of, cheap lightweight flags are permanently attached to 8’ pieces of ¾” diameter PVC pipe using plastic cinch strips. A short piece of rebar is pounded into the parking strip, and the end of the pipe is placed over the rebar.
One of my objections to this project had to do with the fact that it didn’t seem to teach proper respect for our nation’s flag. According to the U.S. Flag Code, §176(e), “The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.” Rolling the flag around a piece of PVC, and chucking it into the back of a truck strikes me as less than complete compliance with the code.
The way the project works in our troop, new subscribers pay $30 for the first year. Returning subscribers pay $25 annually. The $5 surcharge for new subscribers is meant to cover the cost of materials. Scouts put the flags up on 10 holidays annually. That’s a cost of $2.50 (or $3) per day. The proceeds are used to help defray the cost of the troop’s annual weeklong summer camp.
After my oldest son entered the troop, we got to where we started to hate certain holidays. The flags had to be put up around sunrise and then taken down around sunset on these days. It put a crimp on family activities.
We had a large troop back then. The practice was for boys to show up at the scoutmaster’s house early in the morning. The flags were usually divided between two or three vehicles, which ferried the flags and the boys around to do the setup. The process was repeated in reverse in the evening. Sometimes there weren’t many helpers. Families often go away on these holidays. My son/s was/were gone for 60-90 minutes each of these mornings and 60-90 minutes each of these evenings.
The scoutmaster divided the total amount of annual subscriptions (less the cost of new and replacement equipment) by 10 to get the amount allotted to each holiday. That amount was divided equally among the boys that showed up to do the work each time. Frequently this meant that my sons earned less than $5 for three hours of work.
That didn’t seem like a very good deal. With revenue that low, why not just put up the flags as a cost-free service? After all, my sons could earn better wages toward camp by mowing lawns and cleaning cars in the neighborhood.
The troop and the sponsoring institution have gone through leadership changes since then. There have been other changes too. The troop has half the number of boys, for one thing. The current scoutmaster only issues and receives flags. He does not participate in putting them up or taking them down.
This new method is far more family friendly. Each Scout signs up for a specific flag route that covers about 10 homes. The Scout and his family are responsible for picking the flags up the evening prior to the holiday, setting them up in the morning, taking them down late in the day, and getting the flags back to the scoutmaster.
(Yes, I know that a troop with a fully functional troop committee would handle this stuff so that the scoutmaster could deal with his central duties. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the ideal situation?)
The process now takes about 20 minutes in the morning and about 20 minutes in the evening. Parents bear the cost of using their own vehicles, but there is no waiting around for others to show up. Each Scout has a stewardship over a specific route. This is much better than doing the setup and takedown en masse.
Given the number of subscribers, each boy currently earns $10 for setup and $10 for takedown. So each Scout can earn $20 per patriotic holiday. If it’s a holiday when lots of Scouts are gone, an enterprising boy might be able to pick up an extra route, thus earning $40 that day for a little over an hour of work.
One drawback recently came to light. The troop recently grew by three boys. No boys will move out of the troop until the end of summer. The scoutmaster believes that it would be counterproductive to rework the routes and pay rates for such a temporary change, when it looks like the troop roster will stabilize after that for a long time.
So, for the next few months, there will be competition between the boys to get a route. The scoutmaster says he will likely end up rotating the routes to provide for equal opportunity. That means that some boys will have to come up with more money on their own to pay for camp. I suppose that’s not such a bad thing.
Even though the scoutmaster doesn’t do the setup or takedown of the flags any more, administering the project can still be burdensome. Someone has to be there to distribute the flags, look to make sure they get put up, and then receive the flags back into storage. Ah, the sacrifices one makes to be a scoutmaster.
Regarding my fears about disrespecting the American flag, I guess I’ve learned that there is a tradeoff. You don’t want a boy to be casual about handling the flag. But having them put up and take down a number of flags 10 times annually over several years can instill some patriotic values that might not be learned otherwise. Still, I have noticed that in an effort to maximize profits, the troop is sometimes slow to replace flags that get worn or soiled.
Over the years I have learned that the Scout flag fundraiser can provide an overall good experience. Or not — depending on how it is handled.