CiviCRM is customer relationship management software for non-profit groups and associations. We use it for a range of sites from my son’s Boy Scout Troop to an International Arts organization. This is the first in a series of case studies of how we use CiviCRM.

Boy Scout Troop 115 Tallahassee

Boy Scout troops have software choices. There are a number of vertical solutions specifically for Scouting and they range from clunky to excellent. I know this because I am managing the transition from an older platform to Scoutbook, which I really like. However, Scoutbook, great as it is, doesn’t do everything. Scoutbook covers most of the bases for internal communications within a troop, but it does almost nothing outside of the troop for recruiting or fundraising.

CiviCRM for Events and Registration

I’m in a unique position, as the Camping Coordinator, and Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 115. We built our troop website on WordPress with CiviCRM. To be fair, as a professional developer and web host, I possess some tools and skills that other troops may not have available, but I will happily provide our platform and experience to any troop that has an interest in following the trail we blazed. Having built Troop115.us, we can easily copy what we have for any other troop. There are some unique aspects of a Boy Scout Troop, but most of what we accomplished with this website applies to many small non-profit organizations.

Our troop camps every month of the school year. The Camping Coordinator has to fill out a Tour permit with a number of specific data points gathered from Scouts and their parents. This is an ideal task for CiviCRM. I have created custom event profiles for camping trips and other events requiring sign ups. Scouts and parents can now sign up from their home computers or mobile devices up to the designated deadline, when the form automatically disappears from the website.

The Boy Scouts of America Tour Permit, serves many functions, including documentation of coverage for all attendees on a camping trip. Only completed forms are valid. With data gathered from our website, I am able to generate custom reports to answer every question required on the tour permit. In theory, I could even generate the complete tour permit itself directly from the CiviCRM reports. I also generate three other critical reports for our camping trips: Scouts attending the trip, Adults leaders with mobile phone numbers, and authorized adults to pick up Scouts.

With those additional reports, I can take attendance before leaving on a camping trip. Adults have a contact sheet in the event of a flat tire or an unscheduled stop (Be Prepared!). Finally, our charter organization requires that we have a list of authorized adults who can drive a Scout away from an event. This is also relevant to the two deep leadership requirements of BSA. It assures that no Scout leaves with a non-custodial parent or any other unauthorized adult.

Fundraising with CiviCRM

A key component  for many Boy Scout troops and other organizations is fundraising. CiviCRM has many options for fundraising, including online payment gateways, pricing tables for event registrations and more. In the case of our Scout troop, we have three main fundraising events per year. Our Scouts sell popcorn in the fall. We sell “Camp Cards” from the Council in the spring. However, the biggest fundraising event for Troop 115 is the Christmas tree lot.

In the past, the troop kept a spreadsheet of returning customer and sent postcards with a discount offer for returning business. Last year we collected email addresses for our customers and added those contacts to a group tagged for the Christmas tree sales. The advantages to the troop are clear, no printing or postage cost for email, we can customize the message to the recipients, and finally, we have space to explain the full benefits of this activity to the customers. We still sent the postcards, but supplemented with the email campaign.

We sent the postcards the week before Thanksgiving. The email campaign, using CiviMail, consisted of three mailings, Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Friday after Thanksgiving (opening day) and a final message a week after Thanksgiving Day. All the messages were composed in advance and programmed to be sent on their designated date and time. The troop had a few more trees than the previous year, over 400. The email message explained how this fundraiser fit into the troop’s mission and how the funds directly benefited the boys, covering camping and program expenses. The first message announced when the lot would open and the times that the lot would be open for the season. The second message was a reminder that the lot was opening that morning. The final message was a reminder that the earlybird discount was about to expire.

By all accounts, 2015 has been the briskest season in memory for Christmas tree sales. The lovely weather may have helped, but after one week, the reserve inventory of trees is already sold. The schedule of Scouts to sell trees extends for three weeks and we may have to close the lot before we complete the second week. At the current pace, we may not have enough trees to finish this week. Customers are bringing postcards and printed emails to claim their discounts. The final day of the earlybird discount exceeded all previous sales records for any shift in the history of this fundraiser. Clearly, the email campaign has been a success.

The additional value to Troop 115 is that we were able to vet our email list. We verified an open rate of over 30% of delivered emails. Fewer than 2% of recipients unsubscribed from the list. Several supporters mentioned the email when purchasing the trees or showed the promotion when completing their purchase. Most importantly, we have a verified constituent list that can be approached for other fundraising opportunities throughout the year.

A Boy Scout troop is a small organization. Yet even at this scale we see tangible benefits of using a tool like CiviCRM. The troop has barely scratched the surface of the many available modules and functions. If your organization (not only Boy Scout troops) might benefit from these kinds of tools, let us know how Lyons Digital Media/LyonsHost.com can help you.

Update December 16, 2015:

The Troop 115 Christmas tree lot closed on December 14 due to a lack of inventory. Of course, we will be sorting through supporter data, tracking returning and new names and it looks like we will probably need more trees next year.

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