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Getting a grip on Retention

Wednesday 7th May 2014

At its meeting in February, the Brigade Executive looked at statistical information which analysed membership trends and the early indications of the first year of the “Growing Bigger, Growing Better” campaign.

Many Companies have reported great success at recruiting new members through a variety of methods and the new resources were welcomed. However, overall numbers reported so far have remained fairly static so do new members simply replace and fill the gaps of those that leave? And I don’t mean replacing those who leave at 18, as evidence would indicate that most young people leave before that age.

There would, therefore, appear to be not so much of an issue with recruitment, but with retention. It is obviously true that if there were a common retention rate then the greater numbers you have in the Anchor Section, then the more you will have left as Seniors. Is this then to be our strategy for growth? However, if we could retain a higher percentage of the young people as they move through the Brigade, then our targets for growth would be more easily met.

Recruitment and retention lead to growth in numbers and to improving the experience for our young people. Recruiting at all ages and not assuming it can’t be done at Company Section age. Trying to understand why members leave and looking creatively to see whether we can address that.

None of this is easy and there are no quick fixes, but there are a number of common issues for which some people have found solutions.

Many leaders report that in their Companies, there are issues retaining members as they move between Sections. I was talking to a Captain recently who had promoted 11 boys into the Company Section in the last two years and there were now only 2 remaining. How does your Company fare in this respect? Are transfers between all Sections equally successful or do some age groups have greater success?

For some, the transition between age groups can appear like a huge step to climb rather than a smooth journey.

How can we help to make the transition as smooth as possible for all our young people?

Difficulties we encounter

Our earlier recruitment toolkits highlighted some of the potential difficulties:

  • It’s a time of big change for some, as they may also be changing school.
  • Older Sections might meet on a different night, and there may be other activities or commitments that take place.
  • Unfamiliar leaders.
  • Going from being the oldest in the Section to being the youngest.

Some of these issues are easier to address:

It’s about the relationships that we build

Ensure that at least one of the leaders gets to know the young people before the transfer – you may have a leader who works in both sections, but if this isn’t the case, can the leader who will be with them in the new Section spend a few weeks with the younger age group? It can work the other way round too, an example being a Junior Section leader spending the first few weeks of the session in the Company Section supporting those who have moved up. Another good idea is to arrange for the transfer age group to spend time with the older Section at points during the session. For example, those in the top year of the Anchor Section could stay an additional 30 minutes to sample the Juniors’ programme or maybe spend a whole evening there if you run a summer programme.

It’s about clarity and good communication about the journey

Ensure that there is accurate information about the new Section and that parents receive this well in advance. Sometimes lack of certainty can cause anxiety – it can be as simple as what do I wear as I haven’t got a uniform yet – and some may rather not go than make a mistake or be the odd one out.

It’s about an attractive, exciting and progressive programme

The most important factor of course is to make sure that what is on offer is attractive and exciting and that there’s lots to look forward to. The programme should be progressive so that there are new activities and new opportunities in the new Section. This applies equally across the age range of a Section as well as between Sections. For example, in your Company are there things that you can only do when you get to 15? If the 15 year olds are doing the same things as the 11 year olds, and you had done that activity at 11, why would you stay until you were 15? If members of the Junior Section are making the same crafts as they did three years earlier or always play the same game, they may well get bored and choose not to come.

In different Companies there will be a differing experience of retaining young people in membership. A useful exercise is to map out the Company by ages year on year to see what happens. If you had five 8 year olds in 2012, did you have five 9 year olds in 2013? And, if you did, were they the same five? Such an exercise can highlight if there are any particular points where young people leave and gives you the opportunity to try to address the issues. In my own Company, where numbers are fairly stable, I know there are particular ages which pose challenges – if we keep them beyond 13/14 then they tend to be there aged 18.

When I talk with Seniors getting their Queen’s Badges or to young leaders on KGVI, the vast majority started their BB journey as five year olds. They have stayed all the way through and talk with great affection and commitment about their Companies and the personal benefit of membership and the impact their leaders have had on them. However, in many cases they’re the only 17 year old in their Companies and when I ask them about when they were 10 years old, they tell me there were a great many more of that age then. Even those who arrive at the residential as a group of six tell me there were more of them when they were younger. Just think of the impact on numbers if we were able to retain a higher percentage.

You’re doing a fantastic job and BB is brilliant at supporting young people on the journey to independence, but at times we all need to step back and look openly and objectively at what we are doing to see if there are things that if we tweaked just a little, would keep more of the young people on the journey with us.

Please let us know of things that work for you and every blessing with your endeavours.

Steve Dickinson, Brigade Secretary

Join in the conversation online using #growingbigger

Find out more about the current Growing Bigger, Growing Better campaign at: boys-brigade.org.uk/growingbigger

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  1. Timothy McKillen says:

    Thank you this is what I need as a Captain, cold factual statistics but told inspirationally with encouragement. Now show me the way to encourage volunteers, and progress boys into leaders. My problems with developing leaders is that further education and jobs pull potential leaders away.

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