”Everybody is welcome but nobody has asked if they can join.”

Sabina Fortelius from The Guides and Scouts of Finland’s Swedish division (Finlands Svenska Scouter), has worked to lower the threshold to join the scout movement. She tells about her experiences.

I started working for Finlands Svenska Scouter two and a half years ago. At that time my task was to investigate the status of the association’s recruiting process. The investigation served as a basis for the project 100 ways to be into scouting. The goal of the project has been lowering the threshold of underrepresented target groups to join the movement. I called through all Swedish scout groups in Finland, inquiring how they see their recruitment working. The most common answer was, ”Everybody is welcome but nobody has asked if they can join”.

Therefore, during the last years, I have focused on testing new ways to recruit even more people. Just before the last weekend of October my work became concrete when the project’s final seminar was held during FiSscAkademi event, which is a meeting place and training event for the leaders of Finlands Svenska Scouter. The theme of the weekend was ”do something you wouldn’t normally do” and the goal was to create a forum for new ideas for both the scouts and outsiders.

For us in the organizing team, the object was to open the event also to those with no earlier background in scouts. This would help to broaden the discussions and welcome new members. Everyone in the organizing team was given the task to invite at least one non-scout. Additionally, all participants were encouraged to invite friends.

We put our efforts into creating an enthusiastic atmosphere so that everyone would feel included and welcome. There were activities between the official program events, and we had in advance contacted the event instructors, whose task it was to make sure that nobody was forgotten or neglected. Additionally, two scout leaders acted as voluntary ”guards”, to whom the participants could turn (anonymously online or face to face) if they experienced or noticed any kind of harassment or violation.

The only problem was that we forgot to invest in external marketing and recruitment. To put it simply, we thought it was evident that an invitation is enough, the rest will take care of itself. The lesson learned is that external communication is at least as important as creating an enthusiastic atmosphere.

Unfortunately, half done is never enough. To welcome a large group in theory, but not in practice, is not enough. Recruitment can be compared to a stool with three legs, where one leg is responsible for increasing the competence of the organization, the second leg for communication and external representation, and the third leg for actual action. Once one of the legs is disrupted, the stool will be out of balance and fall down. Real change is possible only if all legs are in balance.

The experiences from the FiSScAkademi event correspond to the experiences gained from the project. In real life, outsiders are not necessarily welcome, if it means that we, the receivers, need to change ourselves or our habits – honestly. Nevertheless, I do believe that the investments made have influenced the organization in a structural way and the ball has started rolling. It is just worth remembering that the process is slower than expected.

Text: Sabina Fortelius

Sabina works as project leader in the project ”100 new ways to be into scouting” in The Guides and Scouts of Finland’s Sweish division (Finlands Svenska Scouter rf.).

The text has also been published on studieforbundet.fi

Translation: Merja Tahkokallio