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Saturday, Mar 2, 2024

Boy Scouts’ Board Looks for Diversity

Boy Scouts of America’s West L.A. County Council is in full recruitment mode – and it’s not just looking for scouts. The youth development nonprofit is pushing to diversify its governance board in order to raise its presence in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, according to Matthew Thornton, scout executive of the Boy Scouts of America’s Western Los Angeles County Council in Van Nuys. “We’re trying to have (the board) match the communities we serve,” he said. Of the chapter’s roughly 40 sitting board members, Thornton said the vast majority are white men over the age of 60, most of whom live in affluent west side neighborhoods such as Malibu, Santa Monica and Calabasas. Just seven members are women, and just six are people of color. That has a limiting effect on the board’s networking, fundraising and scout recruitment duties. “We’re looking for people who can open doors to communities where we don’t have as big an impact,” Thornton said. “Hopefully, they have connections to the community that would help us recruit more kids and raise more dollars.” Boy Scouts board members are unpaid volunteers responsible for making policy decisions, attracting donations and networking with schools and other youth organizations. Also, they’re expected to find and recommend future potential board members. Thornton said that if the existing board leans too heavily toward one demographic or geographic area, it’s easy for the group to become clubby and insular – overcoming that has been the biggest challenge in searching for new board members this year. Thornton said in the three years he’s been with the Boy Scouts, his chapter’s board has grown significantly, even changing its bylaws to expand to up to 60 members to make room for new recruits. He said in an average year the chapter takes on about a dozen new board members and loses four or five. The chapter is adjusting to the Boy Scouts national council’s decision last year to begin accepting girls as scouts. With around 1,000 girls in the chapter, Thornton said it is more important than ever for women to be properly represented on the board. He said the decision to accept girls has helped the chapter’s recruitment campaign. “Now we have moms that are a lot more interested. They feel like they can bring more to the table because their daughters are involved,” Thornton explained. The chapter isn’t just looking for gender and racial diversity, but age diversity too. “We’re noticing with our younger board members, ages 45 and younger, they want to be more active and involved than just putting their name on a piece of paper that says they’re on the board. They want to do things that help propel (the chapter) forward,” Thornton said. To help develop that impulse and groom future board members, the chapter has an associate board comprising young professionals and former scouts under the age of 35. Rather than fundraising and policymaking, this board is about networking and exposing young people to the idea and experience of being a director. On a national level, the Boy Scouts of America faces several challenges. The organization is embroiled in a national controversy regarding thousands of child sex abuse lawsuits filed against it and many of its former troop leaders over the past few years. Alleged incidents of abuse date as far back as 1944. Thornton said the allegations haven’t stopped board candidates from joining. In fact, “in the last two years, we’ve had two of the strongest classes of board members we’ve ever had here,” he said. Also, rumors have circulated that the organization’s national council may soon file for Chapter 11 reorganization as a result of falling membership numbers, due in large part to the abuse scandal but also to the withdrawal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, from a partnership with the Boy Scouts. “We’re well aware of issues around the national organization … but the local council is strong financially,” Thornton said. “We have no intent to file bankruptcy.”

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