The Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts of America (NCBSA) has been going through some unprecedented changes. In the midst of trying to stymie an historic decline in enrollment, and breaking news that they would be allowing girls into the Boy Scouts (with the ability to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout) starting the summer of 2019, the council recently announced another first.
Tiffany Bumgardner-Scheffler, who was hired as the first female development director in the history of the council in 2015, has been promoted to be the new Director of Field Services and the council’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) – an unprecedented promotion in the more than 100-year history of the Boy Scouts.
“I think it’s a really good time to be a female in the scouting movement,” Bumgardner-Scheffler said during an interview on Monday. “I definitely take it seriously. There are a lot of girls out there who could end up on the same path I’ve ended up on, and I want to make sure that we set a good example and make sure that everybody has the opportunity to enjoy the program.”
That path began in Independence, Mo., the state’s fifth-largest city, a satellite city to Kansas City. Bumgardner-Scheffler was a Girl Scout and a member of the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, a Masonic youth group that instills leadership development through community service. In both youth groups, her mother was a guiding presence – she was her group leader in Girl Scouts.
“That is where I came out of my shell,” she said of the Order of the Rainbow. “I feel like that is really what got me on the path to understanding the nonprofit world and how it can benefit kids.”
After first going to college with the firm notion she would become a radiologist, she changed her career trajectory entirely after taking a class about nonprofits. The change led her to the University of Indiana, Purdue University at Indianapolis, where she studied nonprofit management.
Bumgardner-Scheffler was hired first by the Boy Scouts as a district executive in Kansas City, and was then moved to become the Northeast Illinois Council district director. It was this move, which took her about eight hours away from her home, which showed her how scouting was a truly familial experience.
“Scouting is like a family, which is something I benefited from personally,” she said. “My volunteers were so kind and invited me to Easter dinner and Christmas dinner…they just welcome you in.”
Being a woman trailblazing a path through what has always been an organization operated by men, for boys and young men, Bumgardner-Scheffler has faced her share of doubters.
“When I first started out as a district executive 11 years ago, it was a very different mindset that girls shouldn’t be involved in scouting and what were they thinking to hire me?” she recalled. “People take for granted that, just because you’re a girl in a male-dominated area, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
She recalled, after being named the Scout’s first female development director, that a volunteer told her during her very first meeting that a male in the organization had already been talking about her imminent failure, and that “She wouldn’t last six months.”
“That was what I kind of walked into. Right off the bat people thought I couldn’t do the job,” she said. “It’s kind of nice now to be able to say I was able to do the job, and I did a pretty good job.”
For better or worse, the future of the Boy Scouts is very much yet to be determined. Girls are already being integrated at the Cub Scout level, and they will begin their integration into the Scout level during the summer of 2019. It was reported in recent months that various religious groups, such as the Mormon Church, would remove about 125,000 members due to the Scout’s acceptance of LBGTQ youth.
Regardless of the huge philosophical changes, Bumgardner-Scheffler matter-of-factly stated that she sees a lot of positive possibilities, and that the youthful energy of their administrative staff, combined with the energy of a lot of new and upcoming parents, will infuse the new structure of the Scouts with vigor and point it towards success.
“Everybody has their opinion on how they want to run their program – and that’s fine,” she said. “I hope they can provide a good program for their kids. I know for us, we have a group of younger parents coming up who have a different mindset, and it’s about catering to the current people that we have as our clients and making sure we’re meeting the needs of our families today.”
She said that the council must still make some adjustments to prepare facilities for the impending infusion of females, but that those adjustments are all on schedule, and they are taking the time to ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible.
“We want to make sure that, when we invite the girls in that we have really thought about what packs they’re going to join, do they have the leadership in place, is that a pack that goes to summer camp?” she said. “So we want to make sure that when those girls come in, they’re coming into a strong unit that can provide them a really good program.”
On the subject of the public’s perception regarding the council’s changes, Bumgardner-Scheffler said it was hard to measure on the whole, but she has anecdotally been pleased with what she’s been hearing.
“There’s a lot more positive [feedback] than negative right now,” she said.