Marketing for a Boy Scout with a letter of recommendation

As a Boy Scout leader, I am asked on occasion by a Scout to write a letter of recommendation for him. My usual answer is “Yes, but I need to ask a few questions so that I can write it.”

When I agree, I normally know the subject – the Scout. I’ve worked with him long enough to know what his strengths and weaknesses are. So, most of the personal information I need to write about the Scout, I already possess – at least from my point of view. I do ask why he is interested in the path that requires the recommendation. Usually I already know, but I need it validated by the Scout so that he and I are on the same page. I don’t need to assume.

To assist in the promotion of the Scout in the letter of recommendation, I need to know the audience. I do not have a template of a recommendation letter that I print out. I don’t have a “form letter.” That will not help the Scout. I need to pull out the specific qualities that the Scout has that will impress the audience. Sometimes the Scout may not realize he possesses these qualities. With the examples that I give, he should be able to see that he does have them.

For example, I told a group of Scouts that I’d been on a business trip where I had to make reservations for lodging, make reservations for food, secure transportation, and carry items needed to make a presentation. I asked the group, “Who among you would be able to do this if asked?” As I assumed, no one raised their hand. Then I asked the patrol leaders, “When you go camping, aren’t you in charge of making sure of having enough tents for the event? Aren’t cooking groups assigned, with each patrol member having a part to play? And, don’t you as members of the Patrol Leaders Council along with the quartermaster make sure any additional gear is taken in case it is a canoe trip, a hiking trip, or another kind of trip that requires special equipment?” I could see the lights in their eyes coming on. They’ve been training for leadership without realizing they were getting practical experience. They can do the job, they’ve proven they can do the job, but sometimes they don’t realize they are doing the job.

So, if the audience I’m given is for leadership, I include specific leadership examples. And, we work at subdividing the information to make sure all the topics are covered. How does the Scout handle finances? How does the Scout work with others? What is the reputation of the Scout among his peers? What is the reputation of the Scout outside his peers? I elaborate the points, but I do not embellish.

I’m not opposed to a “To Whom It May Concern” letter, but where possible, I like to know the name of the person or persons I’m writing. Again, this is defining the target audience. Also, I can do a little research on the receiver to see if there is something I can include that will hold the reader’s interest.

The question whose answer can make me cringe the most is “When do you need it?” My least favorite answer is “Tomorrow.” I have to leave out information regarding time-management skills if it is a last-minute request. While it is not impossible to write a letter of recommendation with a 24-hour turnaround time, I like to have a little time to collect my thoughts. “Haste makes waste.” I can and have produced a letter in a short turnaround, but I usually think later “I wished I’d included ….” And, I want the Scout to have input into the letter. The letter is a promise being made to the reader, and the Scout should know what it says.

Advertising is built with some of the same principles applied here. Research the company with the product or service. Find what makes the company unique among its competitors. Promote those qualities to the audience that will be receptive to them. Know your audience. Be specific. Be focused. Be timely. Deliver on the promise.

And, do a good turn daily.

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