In an effort to stem the tide of substantial losses in revenue and contributions, the Mobile Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America is preparing to sell approximately 230 acres of land at Camp Maubila, one-third of a property near Jackson the council has owned for 50 years and used a summer camp.
The organization is selling two parcels Scouts executive Michael Hartigan said are located on the outskirts of the improved campgrounds, so the sale will not affect traditional scouting activities. Hartigan said families near the camp’s boundaries approached the council about purchasing the land for a yet-to-be-disclosed amount.
According to IRS Form 990 disclosures, the nonprofit scouting organization recorded a $290,520 loss in 2014, the last year for which records were immediately available. While spending in excess of $1.14 million in 2014, the council generated just $856,342 in revenues.
The tax records indicate that in 2013 and 2012 the Scouts lost $124,972 and $80,048, respectively. The council provides scouting programs to youths in Baldwin, Mobile, Clarke and Washington counties.
The last time the council reported a surplus was 2011, when it received $1,351,627 and spent $1,328,338. That year, the council sold 77 acres of land at Camp Pushmataha to the city of Citronelle for $225,000. The previous year the Scouts reported a $311,341 deficit.
“It is important to note we are not selling our Boy Scout camp,” Hartigan noted. “There are acres that we own which have not been used by the Scouts for decades and we have no plans to use those acres, and that’s why we are selling those acres. Our main camp that we use will be 450 acres and we use less than 200 of those acres for campsites, program areas and food service.”
Despite the council’s financial struggles, Hartigan insists it’s a healthy organization. He said there are 150 Cub Scout packs, more than 4,100 members and 1,400 Scout leaders registered with the council.
“Our program is still very strong,” Hartigan said. “Things are just changing for us on the fundraising front. Corporate dollars are a challenge for us because they just don’t seem to be giving as much as they used to, and that has hurt us.”
But Gary Finch, an Eagle Scout and host of a regional outdoor TV show, is worried if the council’s financial difficulties don’t change it might fold or be absorbed by another council on the Gulf Coast. Finch said he has personally raised approximately $250,000 for the organization by promoting scouting on television for 28 years, hosting fundraisers and making personal and business donations.
“The people who raise money, who volunteer their time to lead troops, the kids out selling popcorn have never stopped working,” Finch said. “I’m for the council and I’m for the Scouts. I want the council to succeed because without it we may not have Scouts. I am for keeping the council and our Scouts program healthy. We need to really examine where the money has gone and how we ended up in this situation.”
Finch said his goal is to help save the council by advocating for improved financial practices.
“The goal is to save the council and scouting in Mobile and Baldwin counties,” he said. “I don’t wish to hurt the council but to help it stay alive. I’m an Eagle Scout with scouting deep in my blood. There are too many people who have worked too hard for many, many years to see it fail.”
Eagle Scout and troop leader Taylor Wilkins said his son joined the Tiger Cubs two years ago and was directed to raise funds by selling popcorn.
“I look at decisions that have been made and I question where this kind of debt load has come from,” Wilkins said. “I’ve been wondering for a few years where all the money went. When they asked us to sell this popcorn, I wondered if they are just trying to use us to make up the financial difference.”
Hartigan said over the last few years the Mobile Area Council has made staffing and budget cuts to try to stem the tide of losses. In 2013, the most recent available figures showed the council paid $570,924 in salaries and benefits, including $116,098 to Hartigan. It represents a reduction from previous years, when the council paid $661,538 in salaries and benefits in 2012 and $728,534 in 2011.
“As any nonprofit organization, we are always looking at ways to raise additional revenue, while looking at cutting expenses,” he explained. “So when we can, we look at staffing changes that can save money, while still not having an interruption of services to our scout families. An example would be like last year, we had a professional scouter receive a promotion to another Boy Scout Council. We didn’t fill that position. The year before that, we had a professional retire after serving in two Boy Scout Councils, so we didn’t fill that position either.”
He said the council has to be creative in its fundraising measures by seeking donors willing to give unrestricted funds or designated gifts. The Scouts host annual fundraising events including a shooting event at Bushy Creek Clays and a golf tournament at TimberCreek.
The council has seen a drop in public support — contributions, gifts, grants, tax revenue and membership fees — since 2008. In 2009 and 2010, the council reported more than $1.1 million in public support, a figure that fell sharply between 2011 and 2013 to $500,000. Hartigan said the lack of financial support for the Scouts is similar to other nonprofits which have also reported lowered fundraising results.
“Everybody is cutting back right now and times are tough across the board,” Hartigan explained.
Hartigan said anyone interested in making a tax deductible donation to the Scouts by the end of the year must do so by Dec. 31 to the council’s office at 2587 Government Blvd.