Ask the Chairman - Changes to the Unit Elections JTE Requirement

Q. Dear Ray:

I noticed that the requirements for unit elections changed in this year’s Journey to Excellence (JTE) program. In prior years, my lodge was responsible for completing all of the elections requested by our units, and this year it is being asked to complete elections in a percentage of all units. This isn’t fair! We have some units that don’t have eligible Scouts, and others then don’t participate in OA program. Why are we being penalized for units that don’t want to participate in the OA?

Rick

A. Dear Rick:
You and I are in agreement: this was a major shift in what we are asking lodges to do! And, it was not one that we undertook lightly. Membership growth and retention has been a major area of focus for the Order in the past year. It will continue to be through some programs at NOAC this summer and will function as the central element of our national event in 2016. Membership in the OA starts with a unit election; we need to start thinking about how we create an opportunity for that in every unit, not just the ones who ask for it.

It is not a coincidence that we’ve also added a new requirement this year that encourages in-person unit visits to each unit in the council, as well. These visits may coincide with a unit election or camp promotion visit, but they’re meant to ensure every unit (whether they participate in the OA or not) sees a representative from the lodge each year. We have also added another requirement about earning the Unit of Excellence Award. I see the opportunity for us to serve our units better, conduct more elections and grow the membership of the Order as being intricately connected.

These changes will not take place overnight. In a unit that does not participate in the OA program, it may take some time and several conversations (potentially between advisers and the unit’s adult leaders) to earn the opportunity for an election. Since 1948, the Order of the Arrow has been an official program of the Boy Scouts and units should be encouraged to incorporate and utilize the OA's program. Lodges should be prepared to demonstrate to Scoutmasters how the OA can help them with their program.

In other instances where the unit has no eligible youth, the lodge may first need to help that unit through getting them to camp or a mentoring program. Getting more youth access to OA membership is a big positive for Scouting overall and a great way for us to help our councils.

Philosophy aside, there are two additional and important practical considerations for your lodge to remember. First, the percentages used for the unit election requirement in 2015 are based on the data lodges reported the past several years. The top 10% of lodges in the country have reported completing elections in 100% of their units, and the top 50% have reported completing them in 60% of their units. The JTE team makes sure each benchmark we set is realistic based on feedback from the field.

The second point applies to all of the JTE requirements. Remember that Journey to Excellence is exactly that — a journey. Your lodge is not expected to earn the gold designation in every requirement each year. Gold levels are intentionally made difficult to achieve. Thus, earning silver or bronze is still a great accomplishment for the lodge. The key to JTE is that lodges are using it to assess what they do well and identify the areas that need improvement, and to get a little better each year. I encourage you to look at the number of units that had elections in your lodge last year and aim to do one or two more this year. That’s a terrific achievement no matter where it falls on the JTE spectrum.

Ray

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