Last week the Boy Scouts of America sent a survey to 1.1 million Scouts and their families, asking whether it should keep the organization’s ban on homosexual participation. Since last summer, when the Scouts released a statement standing by the ban, the group has faced condemnation from multiple places—sponsors, state governments, celebrities, and some parents and former Scouts. Now, the 2.7 million-member organization is second guessing its stance.
The survey questions are detailed: Should gay and straight Scouts be allowed to share a tent on a camping trip? They get at the role of faith in Scouting: “David, a Boy Scout, believes that homosexuality is wrong. His troop is chartered to a church where the doctrine of that faith also teaches that homosexuality is wrong. Steve, an openly gay youth, applies to be a member in the troop and is denied membership. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for this troop to deny Steve membership in their troop?"
More than 70 percent of all Scout units are chartered by faith-based organizations representing more than 21 denominations. The majority of those churches believe homosexuality is inconsistent with their faith. But since the national organization sets membership policies, Scout leaders will once again grapple with the issue at this year’s annual meeting in May.
Boy Scouts of America fears an exodus no matter what it decides. Since 2000, the group has experienced a 21 percent decline in membership—and during the past year, it has seen a steep drop off in sponsorship money. Just last month, Chipotle withdrew its support from an event in Salt Lake City, and singers Carly Rae Jepsen and Train said they would not perform at the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree this summer if the ban remains.
It’s not clear whether all those declines are related to the Scouts’ position on gay issues. When the Cleveland United Way withdrew support from Boy Scouts last fall, it suffered a $200,000 loss in donations. And the Boy Scouts received $20,000 more in donor-directed contributions in 2012 than in 2011—an 11 percent increase.
Viken Mikaelian, founder of an advising company for non-profits, told BloombergBusinessWeek groups lose members if they don’t keep up with marketing and technology: “I have seen not a single nonprofit go out of business because they have such [anti-gay] policies.”