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First Impressions Count

For Volunteers

by Bob Kane - The Leader - October 1996

If first impressions are lasting impressions, then what first impression does a new adult volunteer get of the Scouting Movement? What sort of impression do we want to convey?

I've been asking Scouters from various parts of the country about their first impressions of our Movement. Responses have been split almost 50/50 between positive and negative. This should concern us. A split of 95% positive/5% negative would be more acceptable in a people Movement like ours, though we'd all prefer a 100% positive response.

Those 'voting' on the positive side mentioned friendliness, sincerity, and openness of the Scouters who recruited them and the trainers from whom they received their first training.

Negative respondents spoke of abruptness, lack of respect, aloofness, and "a sense of being looked down on". These people also sensed an attitude of superiority from the trainers they first encountered.

We're Team Players

All adult Scouting volunteers play on the same team doing different roles. Impressions created by one team member reflect on everyone. Sometimes we get so focused on the task at hand that we lose sight of why we're helping youth. At other times, frustrating tasks eat up valuable minutes, or we're under personal stress and our behaviour towards those around us becomes unintentionally short, impolite or aggressive.

If a new, or potential, volunteer bears the brunt of our bad day, it creates a negative 'first' impression. This impression might be strong enough to take away his or her Scouting vision. It might cause the person to decide not to join, or even to leave Scouting. Another person might stay, believing that this conduct represents the norm, imitating it and passing on its negative effects.

Recruiters and trainers are usually the first members who newcomers meet. Potential recruits will make significant decisions based on the impressions they receive from these 'ambassadors'. The decisions will affect their membership, as well as attitudes and behaviours toward Scouting. If an adult decides not to volunteer then Scouting's clients -- the youth members -- lose out. If they decide to join, but adopt a negative outlook, the youth members lose again!

It's Our Choice

What impression does Scouting want new or potential volunteers to experience? Make a list. At the top of my page are words like caring, honest, modest, helpful, dedicated, willing, courteous, competent, good-humoured, pleasant, positive and principled. But does our attitude and behaviour convey this impression?

If we can't answer a quick, "Yes", right now, then let's start working so the impression we give is very positive.

Bob Kane is a pleasant Scouter living in Saint John, NB. He makes great first impressions.

"Reproduced with permission of the Leader magazine and the author."

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