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Issue 456 – October 6, 2015

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Dear Andy,

The Silver Beaver nomination process seems to blur across the BSA councils. Councils don’t like to reveal their selection process, have crude ranking procedures, ignore potential information on the personal records, don’t ask for recommendation letters, and so forth. In my opinion, it’s a mess. I’ve made suggestion on how to improve the process and some of them will be implemented in my home council, but it’s still a mess. Why can’t the BSA National Office set or provide a set of standards on what to use in this process? The form is clear in some aspects, but ignores more than it requests. For instance, if the nominator doesn’t know how many years the Scouter he or she is nominating has unit, district, or council, the big loser is the nominee. Moreover, how do monetary contributions play a part in the Silver Beaver selection process? The form our council uses asks if the nominee has “received a James E. West Fellowship,” but that’s a “purchased” recognition in my humble opinion, so why is it even on the form?

Any insight would be helpful in making the selection process more open, with forms that are easier to fill out, and better recognition of Scouters who haven’t “bought” their awards. (Name & Council Withheld)

The Silver Beaver Award nomination form provided by the BSA national council (see http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/512-103_WB.pdf) is excellent in its coverage of exceptional service. However, I don’t believe this form is mandatory. Consequently, you may find variations from council-to-council.

Based on my own limited experience (three councils over the past 25 years), I’m not certain that I’d agree that the process from nomination through selection is particularly mysterious. Typically, there’s a “window” each year for submitting nominations, with clear instructions on where to submit the completed nomination form, and then a committee (formed by each individual council, usually composed of Silver Beaver “alumni”) reviews all nominations and makes the final selections for the year. In my current council, any nominations that don’t go forward are returned to the nominator with thanks and a request that the nomination be resubmitted next year (i.e., nominations aren’t “carried over”).

As for the James E. West Fellowship (which I’m mentioning because you singled it out), like all fellowships, this involves a significant financial investment that reflects one’s personal commitment to the future of Scouting. To be blunt, of course it’s “purchased”—that’s exactly what a fellowship is, whether for Scouting, or a college or university, or a civic organization like Rotary, Lions, etc. To expand on this, want your name on a college building or BSA council office? Simple: Write a check or make an endowment. It’s done all the time, it’s not mysterious, it’s certainly not somehow less than honorable (in fact, it’s extremely honorable because it helps perpetuate the institution for which that check was written). That said, also recognize that a fellowship is just one of many recognitions and awards listed and carries no more or less weight than all of the others. Let’s also recognize that while some awards (the old Scoutmaster Award of Merit and now the Unit Leader Award of Merit, as well as the District Award of Merit) are indeed by nomination, such other recognitions as the Scouters Training Award and Scouters Key are earned by each Scouter studying the criteria and then going out and completing them, which makes them just as “earned” as the James E. West Fellowship (it’s simply that these take training, tenure, and performance instead of dollars).

So, back to the Silver Beaver and the nomination process… Any wise nominator will have done significant research before submitting a nomination, including getting as much background on the nominee as possible. This often involves interviews (via telephone usually suffices) with the spouse and perhaps other family members, the unit and/or district the nominee has been associated with, and chairs of district and council committees he or she has served on. To not devote the time to this is to virtually guarantee that the nomination will fail to rise to the top.

Further, since multiple nominations don’t help the cause, the better avenue is for Scouters wishing to nominate one of their peers to collaborate with one another, thus producing a “winning” nomination via joint effort instead of multiple nominations.

Then there’s the issue of how the nomination is written. The three essential elements are facts, facts, and facts. Hyperbole usually (if not always) fails. Facts—and the more of them, the better—will usually succeed.

We sometimes hear snarky comments like, “Well, he/she ‘bought’ that Silver Beaver.” Frankly, in 25 years I’ve yet to see that happen. It’s the rare team of nomination evaluators that’s swayed by money alone. Rolling up one’s sleeves and truly making a difference in the quality of Scouting in the council usually rises to the top.

I’m sensing some frustration on your part. Consider having a chat with your Scout Executive, or the chair of whatever the selection committee happens to be called in your council. Keep in mind that these are good people who are absolutely invested in recognizing outstanding achievements among the volunteers who keep the Scouting movement moving forward. Also, don’t hesitate to write directly to the folks at the national level: advancement.team@scouting.org (they’re volunteers too, just like you and me).

Thanks, Andy, for taking the time provide a much clearer picture on the process. I did research over 15 councils and learned how they’re handling their Silver Beaver Nomination process. And, just so you know, I have received the Silver Beaver, so this absolutely isn’t a “sour grapes” situation! What I’m trying to accomplish is to help educate our own district and council leadership on “best practices” for managing the process, so that we can improve the process, educate our adult award leaders, and remove any doubt of the selection process.

As to the comment about James E. West fellowships on the nomination form’s check-off list, although these are very much appreciated and always acknowledged as donations essential to our Scouting programs, I personally don’t subscribe to the idea that they should be a determining element for a Silver Beaver Award, because it doesn’t show any “outstanding personal services” to Scouting or Scouts.

What I found out in my home council was that an individual’s personal Scouting record wasn’t considered in the selection process; it was largely “do we know this person,” “what has he/she done,” instead of a more formalized set of criteria and a standard procedure. I did find one council, interestingly enough, that allowed for up to four letters of recommendation to be submitted with the nomination form (much like the Eagle Scout process).

But what I’d really like to see is a national standard in the vetting process, required training for adult award chairs and allowing more individuals to be awarded. (N&CW)

Actually, now that you’ve seen the form the BSA national office provides, your concern with “standardization” should be considerably allayed. Understand, also, that while the Silver Beaver is indeed authorized by the national council, it’s a council-level award. As such it’s purposefully left in the hands of each council to make the selections, and selections are indeed limited, per a formula from the BSA National Council based on factors relating to overall council size.

The Silver Beaver Award is presented to “Registered Scouters who have made an impact on the lives of youth through service given to the council.” The nomination form goes on to say (see Article X, Section 6, Clause 3 of the BSA Rules & Regulations) that the Silver Beaver award “is made for NOTEWORTHY SERVICE of EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER to youth by registered Scouters…within the territory under the jurisdiction of a local council” (CAPS mine).

The two key words are “noteworthy” and “exceptional.” These are the linchpins. For instance, a Scoutmaster who has carried out his responsibilities well, even for decades, isn’t necessarily a Silver Beaver candidate because, well, isn’t that what he or she signed on to do? The same principle applies to all volunteer positions. The difference that separates an exceptional volunteer from his or her counterparts is in the arena of exceptional service to youth—”going the extra mile” if you will, rather than merely “putting in the time.”

In this regard, it’s impossible for the national office to set the bar or establish standardized “requirements” for recognitions by nomination. These are different from, say, the Scouter’s Training Award or the Scouter’s Key, because these have a set of specific requirements that a Scouter completes, much in the same way that a Scout completes requirements to advance in rank or earn a merit badge. Even the Honor Medal is more specific: Was a life saved, or attempted to be saved, in extraordinary circumstances? But Silver Beaver? Not so clear, especially when we consider there are some 300 councils, no two of which are identical in size, services, demographics, or youth needs. This is why the national council has purposefully placed these decisions in the hands of the councils, with latitude to make decisions based on local circumstances.

I’ve had the personal joy of successfully nominating a number of Scouters for the Silver Beaver award, and I’ve coached others on how to be successful nominators. But it sure didn’t start out this way! My very first attempt failed miserably. The following year, I nominated the same person, but the nomination form was entirely different from the first on I’d submitted. This time I’d done a lot more homework! I’d also learned that platitudes like “…and he’s a dedicated Scouter and a wonderful person, and he deserves this recognition…” just don’t fly. I learned that I needed to lead with what makes this particular person exceptional. Maybe he took charge of a moribund Klondike Derby and through his efforts a huge proportion of patrols in his district now participate. Maybe she started a day camp program for Cub Scouts where there was none for many years before. Maybe he became Scoutmaster of a troop that had had no Eagles in a decade and sharply revered this dismal trend. Maybe, as a Commissioner, she founded a Commissioner College where there had been none.

Sometime, I’ve wanted to nominate a dedicated Scouter who’s done something exceptional—even extraordinary—but, when I did my checking, I discovered that he or she has steadfastly refused to ever get trained in anything beyond YP… Now what? To nominate somebody like this is going to be nothing more than an exercise in futility, because her or she managed—all on their own—to disqualify themselves. Darned shame! But that’s all she wrote. In another instance, I once ran across a District Advancement Chair who’d chaired over 500 Eagle boards of review, but took particular pride in having “flunked” (his word) 20% of all candidates. His goose is cooked. Not a bloody chance!

So yes, there should certainly be a formal and well-publicized nomination process. And yes, there needs to be council-by-council internal consistency from year to year. But there can’t be a single, overriding criterion or this becomes a “report card”-type process and will have no room for the extraordinary or exceptional.

Finally, about the James E. West Fellowship… As one who is a Fellow in two separate councils, I’m happy to be known as a guy who’ll open his wallet with the same enthusiasm as he opens his mouth to sound off!

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to askandybsa@yahoo.com. Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 456 – 10/6/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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