Monday, February 15, 2010

Our Scout Flag Fundraising Project

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.


Sean said...

Hi! I'm a scoutmaster for troop 496 in Valencia California, an LDS troop.
I couldn't disagree more about these comments although it is true that there is some inconvenience involved with a flag fundraiser. But there is no convenient fundraiser! We are in our 4th year doing it and it has been a phenomenal success for us for raising money for our scouts going to scout camp. Our scouts pay $100 for camp and that's it. And we've been to some fairly expensive camps like Emerald Bay and Whitsett. We put them out 3 flag days a year-- Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. We organize the flag routes by neighborhood so that max time is a 1/2 hour setting them all up, and another 1/2 hour tearing them down. Boys out of town with family have other boys covering their routes and cover each other's as needed. Rolling up the flags--just be careful and put them all together flags up so the flags aren't touching the bottom of the pickup bed or otherwise be careful. After 4 years my original flags have held up quite well and look great. A few grommet repairs and straightening out bent rebar.
We've used the flags to celebrate our boys who go into the military, killed soldier motorcades, etc.
Profit margin is KILLER without having to sell popcorn and peanuts and all that. This is relatively painless as far as we're concerned. Buy your own flags $1.80 apiece on line, use $2 dollar pieces of 10 foot 1/2" EMT conduit poles cut to 7' length, Nylon ties to tie them them to the poles,, and drive 3/8" 2 foot pieces of rebar halfway into the ground at 45c each (cut yourself out of 10 feet lengths) to set the flagpoles on, you're set! $5.00 per flag initial cost, $35.00 per year subscriptions.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Sean, how many flags do you put out? How much do you charge for the service?

If we only had to do this three times a year, it would be awesome, but we could no way earn what your troop earns.

We are strictly limited on the number of flags our unit can put up. So many units in Utah do this that the Area President's office has mandated that units can only put up flags within their sponsoring unit's geographical area. The max number of flags our unit could put up would be 120 (but only if everyone was willing to participate. About 60% actually do so.)

Then there's the question of how much people are willing to pay. The going rate in these parts is $30 for 10 holidays. That's probably far less than the going rate in your neck of the woods.

Of course, the number of boys in the unit makes a difference, because the proceeds must be divided among (participating) troop members. If you've got a large troop, each member earns very little. Our scoutmaster deals with this by keeping districts static in size so that each boy earns $20 per holiday. But there aren't enough routes for all of the boys.

Given our troop's size, a diligent boy can earn about half of his summer camp fee for a year of service. But instead of three hours of work per boy annually, our boys put in 10-12 hours.

Also, the wear on a flag after 10 uses each year in our northern Utah climate is likely to be substantially greater than the wear your flags get in Valencia with three uses each year. That means that our material replacement costs are far higher.

The effort to minimize costs means that we often put out flags that should have been replaced. To me, this is less than respectful of this national symbol.

So, it seems that your location makes the project far more profitable than does our location. That simply means the project is better for some troops than for others.

Sean said...

Hi! 10 times a year is way way too much. There is a value to supporting fundraisers--but not in people like you working their tails off already for these boys having to slave like that. we're all ready putting in many hours just running the weekly program and campouts, etc. You're right--and that's too many holidays working who wants that!!! The kids are way too involved in school activities, etc. to have that kind of time to earn at a slave wage all that they need to be involved in athletics and activities we want them to be involved in. But we still want them to do SOMETHING to work their way to camp.

The mindset has to different than that for it to work I believe. So, luckily, your people are supporting the flag fundraiser it's because they are or should be DONATING to a large extent.

VISION: Building the future of the church in its Young Men and future husbands and leaders.

The idea of a fundraiser shouldn't be dollar paid for dollar worked--fundraisers are a way for people to get generous and loosen the pursestrings and help a decent worthwhile cause and they get a token--a token-- of recognition, appreciation and show by the flag in their yard 3-4 times a year MAX that they are supporting and helping boy scouts. Scouting takes a lot of financial support, period, on all levels--local, district, and national. It is not self sustaining just by the kids who are in the program. You know, Friends of Scouting and corporate donations. That's who's really paying for all the camps, etc. You have to sell the intangibles-- I tell everyone-- your LDS daughter, niece, grandaughter, etc. will almost 100% be likely to marry an LDS boy scout!!! This is huge for we LDS with the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood--That's the vision.

We would be hard pressed to replace BSA scouting with our own program like some people have said, let's hope that never happens! It would be hard to buy up all the camps and irreplaceable real estate and other resources BSA owns by virtue of having been around for so long.

Geographically I would say that our ward is not much larger than a typical suburban Utah ward--

Like everything else, there are different factors involved and what works so well in one area may not be such a resounding success in another. .

The support of our ward doing this is phenomenal--we work off of a set of 70 flags which sell out every year--I have encouraged my scouts to get more subscriptions or the parents have to ante up the difference and pay more for camp, and we have over 100 this year. This year there are only 11 participating in our fundraiser going to scout camp.

So I guess we're extremely fortunate--when conditions are right, this thing can really work. Best of luck running your program--it takes a LOT and bless you for doing it!

Sean McLaughlin
Sean McLaughlin

Scott Hinrichs said...

I love your comment about Friends of Scouting. Many people are reluctant to give much unless they have boys in the program. But if they think about the fact that they (or their descendants) will be impacted, they will give it some deeper consideration.

The one thing we have to be careful about is solicitation overload. A lot of people feel like they're constantly being hit up for all kinds of youth group and school things.

A friend of mine tells me that his ward has a single fundraiser for all of the youth programs. Ward members are asked to be generous and are promised that they won't get hit up again until the following year. He says it works out pretty well.

Sean said...

Yes, solicitation overload is a huge thing here as well. Public education "is no longer free"--and hasn't been for awhile especially in the face of huge budget cuts, etc. So kids involved in high school sports, show choir, band, whatever, soak their friends and family because it costs--and pretty big bucks for a ambitious and nationally recognized program. One of my scout moms said,
"After Football, Volleyball, Soccer, Girls Camp...Within the last 2 months there has been a Hart Volleyball Car Wash, Hart Football Car Wash and Girls Camp Pizzas" she was too embarrased to ask neighbors to do flag fundraiser too. I understand that.
Hey this is a great site. Thanks for the effort!

Sean McLaughlin

dehurt said...

We started this about 3 years ago because I was sick of spaghetti dinners and silent auctions. I love that the community gets involved and not just the ward members. All our previous fundraisers were really just extra work to get the parents to ante up when they were going to be paying, anyway.

We do 5 holidays a year for $40. We may decide to increase the subscription fee. We have about 45 subscriptions and about 10 boys in the troop.

I totally agree that a fundraiser is not about getting a "fair" trade of money for service or good, but an exchange of a token for a generous donation.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Five holidays for $40 is a grand deal for the troop, compared to our troop's tradition of 10 (we really throw in an 11th) holidays for $30. Today, for example, is Flag Day. The neighborhood does look nice with the Scout flags flying.

Scott Hinrichs said...

By the way, I completely agree with dehurt about fundraisers that are little more than a bunch of work to get the parents of the Scouts to cough up more money. I far prefer the flag fundraiser to those kinds of affairs.

Matt Gardner said...

Figure out to sell a product not labor, Labor intense does not teach anything but to work for free, we need to teach our scouts how to leverage time and people, how much more profitable are the companies that outsource than the ones that don't.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Good point. Service to others does not mean that we cannot employ the power of marketing and management.

Paul said...

Thanks for posting this blog on scout flags. We too are looking for a better way to earn money. We were toying with the idea of another aerating season or firewood delivery or possibly a spaghetti dinner. We wouldn't do 10 holidays a year. That's overkill on the leaders and boys. I'm thinking Memorial Day, Flag Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Patriots Day and Veterans Day. Luckily, we don't have Pioneer Day in Colorado. We'll probably shoot for $5.00/day so $30/year. Great idea on assigning routes. We'll have to toy with this idea. Once again. Thank you!

Unknown said...

I was wondering how people feel about when a holiday falls on a Sunday. Should we be doing a fundraiser on a Sunday?

Scott Hinrichs said...

David, most holidays on which our troop posts flags fall on a Monday by federal statute. Any of the others that happen to fall on a Sunday (i.e. July 4, Veteran's Day) are usually observed by governments on the following Monday. We follow this same pattern, so we don't put up flags on Sundays. We also don't go around collecting money for the project on Sundays. So we have no Sabbath observance issues with our project.

We are, however, running into another problem. Due to birth patterns, we will soon have only four boys in the Scout troop that are ages 12-13, the ages that have always been the target of the project. The troop will have to decide what to do about that.

My Mom's ward has involved the whole Mutual. Our Mutual is too large for that to be effective. Besides, the low number of scouts is a temporary situation that will resolve itself in a couple of years. I'm waiting to see what the troop decides.

Roni said...

I would love to get more information on this. I just brought this up to our troop (in Louisiana) last night and they are all on board with starting something like this in our area. Growing up in Utah it's one thing I can remember the scouts doing 15 years ago. Is there anyway you could send me information on how to start this? Like how you keep track of the houses, payments and how you get a bulk amount of flags/poles? Any information you could send me I would appreciate greatly! My e-mail is Our troop is on facebook at
Thank you in advance,

Scott Hinrichs said...

Roni: I tried to email, but it came back undeliverable. This is what I wrote.

The business side of running a flag project is pretty simple. Our troop solicits for funds annually in the run-up to Memorial Day. Our flag year runs from Memorial Day to Presidents Day. We charge $35 for a new subscriber and $30 for a renewal. Those that have paid by Memorial Day get a flag on each of the specified holidays over the next year.

We divide up the total number of subscriptions by our anticipated number of youth that can participate each holiday, and we create routes and maps showing which homes get flags. The boys pick up the flags the night before the holiday, put them up in the morning, take them down in the evening, and return them to the storage location for check-in. Every once in a while we have a project to inspect the flags and remedy any problems (weathering, wear, etc.).

Our troop is sponsored by the LDS Church. The church requires that all funds go through the ward’s (congregation’s) finance system. Each person fills out a donation slip noting that the amount is for scout flags. Then we have a computerized record of who has paid. Along the Wasatch Front the LDS Church prohibits troops from getting flag subscriptions outside of their ward boundaries so that no one encroaches on anyone else’s territory. I suspect that in Louisiana you’d have far more options available.

You can buy flag kits from places like Colonial Flag in Salt Lake City. I’m sure there are plenty of other places that do it. We just buy our own PVC pipe for flag poles. You need the heavier grade (schedule 40). The ½" pipe bends over time. The ¾" pipe is too heavy. It would be nice to have something in between. We cut the poles off at 6 feet. We drill two holes in each pole and permanently attach the lightest weight nylon 3’x5’ flags we can get to the pole using plastic cinch ties. We furl the flag around the pole.

We get 30” pieces of rebar for each flag pole. The scouts pound the rebar into the subscriber’s yard, place the PVC flag pole over the rebar, and unfurl the flag. The pickup operation furls the flags and pulls the rebar.

Some of the problems with the program are noted in my post and some of the responses. I kind of liked the California troop’s method of just doing three major holidays each year. We end up doing 11 holidays, and that’s just too much.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences with this fund raising project. Our troop is looking at doing the same thing. Generally the feedback I've heard from other troops and found on the Internet is pretty positive. I think managing 10+ holidays a year is probably having a pretty negative impact on your experience. I've heard some troops use a cover to protect the flags when storing and

I'm curious if anyone else has developed a system to better protect the flags and extend their life? I was thinking a wider PVC tube with a cap might work but it might also be a bit unwieldy.

Bridget said...

My MIL was in charge of the flag fundraiser for her ward for several years. The YW shared it with the scouts because the scouts were getting tired of doing all of the holidays. Something they did was pound a pipe into the parking strip of the yard and mark the curb with a line of spray paint so they could later find the pipe. The flag would go into this pipe and created a much easier set up. This way they do not need to pound the rebar into the lawn each time. It took some extra time at the beginning but has paid off through the years. Our ward does not do flags and my husband and I are considering offering them on our own, as a way to earn extra money and have our older kids help to pay for some of the extra costs of things they want to do as they are getting older.

Scott Hinrichs said...

We too did the pipe in the ground thing. But after a few years most of the pipes experienced enough overgrowth and other difficulties that we have gone to simply using rebar. My friend's troop recently quit the program and sold their flags to another unit because they got to the point where almost no youth were helping with the project.

Unknown said...

Troop 1300 - College Station Texas.

Been doing flags for over 2 years, slightly over 100* flags. We use a PVC sleeve in the ground and a blue spot on the curb. We also CAP the PVC sleeve to minimize overgrowth. It's a tradeoff timewise but when it is dry here (i.e. June-August) - good luck pounding ANYTHING into the ground !

We use a MS Access database, MS word for the invoices, and Google Map Engine to manage subscriptions, scout/parent participation and the flag locations. We print a map and a "run sheet" each service day and use it to record route times (to keep them even and balanced) as well as participation and service notes (i.e. missing cap, missing sleeve, existing flags in place, etc).

We service the homes six times a year, for $30.

Scouts get credit for each run. A parent driving gets credit for their scout too. We run reports to then prorate the income (after expenses) per year to offset dues.

We have three Churches being serviced probono which slightly cuts into our revenue but it is the right thing to do.

Am looking to compare notes with ANYONE ELSE using ANY software solutions.

Unknown said...

For those of you that are from LDS troops. The handbook states that you should not sell products or services door to door. So how do you get subscriptions if you can't go door to door?

Scott Hinrichs said...

You can advertise. Our troop posts notices in the ward bulletin, makes announcements in auxiliary meetings (not in sacrament meeting), and leaves flyers at homes (without directly contacting the occupants). Anyone that wants to subscribe then makes payment. But no one needs to feel pressured about doing so. About half of the homes in the ward boundaries opt in each year.