FAQ: BSA Guidelines
Guidelines for council Web sites are available online in two versions: a
short version that provides only the basics,
and a long version that goes into
greater detail. The information below provides additional clarification and
answers to specific questions about these guidelines.
For marketing purposes, a council may wish to set up separate Web sites for its
districts, camp facilities, OA lodge, or specific divisions/committees/etc. There is
no separate set of guidelines for these sites - but they should comply with
the same guidelines as the councils "main" site because these entities are parts of
the local council:
- A district is an administrative division of the council
- A camp or facility is owned and operated by the council
- An OA Lodge is also operated by the council
Unless an organization is a separate legal entity (for example, if a camp is
incorporated as an organization wholly separate from the council), the council itself
is just as liable for the content of these sites as it is for its "main" site. For
that reason, it's strongly advised that the council require these sites to comply
with the guidelines for council Web sites, as well as any state/local laws pertaining
to the Internet.
There are no national guidelines or policies regarding Unit Web sites because
units are "owned" by their chartered organizations. Therefore, any unit Web site
belongs to the chartered organization or the individual who operates the site, not
While the BSA does provide advice for those who operate unit Web sites, which
can be found here, the BSA does not have
the ability to compel units to comply with this advice.
Councils that wish to provide links to unit Web sites have an opportunity to
require units to comply with this advice by granting a link only to units that
meet these conditions (and any other the council wishes to apply) ... however,
even in those cases, the council cannot compel a unit to comply by any means other
than withholding such a link.
In all instances, any policies or decisions made by the council come before
the national guidelines.
Councils sites that do not meet the guidelines at a minimum will not
be acknowledged by national as official ... but a council can set its own
policies that are more or less restrictive.
A simple acknowledgment ("Web hosting donated by XYZ Company") is acceptable, so
long as it is discreetly made. Some judgment is required: an acknowledgment this is
placed in a discreet location, such as at the bottom of the home page or on a special
"acknowledgments" page is usually acceptable, whereas a banner ad at the top of the
home page or a credit that appears on every page on the site is blurring the line
between "acknowledgment" and "advertisement."
There have been instances in which a company has demanded that the council provide
a banner ad on every page of the site, promoting the ISP's services in order to receive
"free" hosting. This arrangement does not constitute a donation, and it is recommended
that you seek other arrangements if your "donor" begins making such demands.
The same principle apples to any sort of support: a discreet acknowledgment
of support ("thanks to XYZ Company for your support of the ABC council") is
acceptable - but if the language of the acknowledgment becomes promotional in
nature, or if it is made overly prominent in the context of the site, then it
has crossed the line and become advertising.
It is acceptable to use your council site to support fundraising efforts,
including promoting the products sold for fundraising purposes. To minimize
the risk of this promotion being perceived as a commercial endorsement, you
should make sure that the promotion coincides with the fundraising campaign
(for example, do not continue to promote the product after Scouts have stopped
selling it) and clearly indicate that the product is being sold as a fundraiser
for the Scouts.
The (only) national policy on this issue is that the council must obtain
permission from the parent or legal guardian of a child before using the child's
image or personal information (including their name) on the council's Web
In the interest of Youth Protection, some councils have elected to adopt a
policy that youth names may not be used in conjunction whith photographs.
Others will use first names or initials only (if Tommy Smith" is pictured, they
may use "Tommy" or "Tommy S" or "TS"). Others have developed policies that
distinguish by age (no names of Cub Scouts, but full names for Boy Scouts and
Venturers). These practices seem reasonable, but they do not negate the need
to obtain permission.
Some councils have remarked that it is very time-consuming to track down
parents to obtain permission for photos taken at council facilities and events.
There is an easier way:
If participation in the event/activity requires a permission slip or application,
include a clause that indicates that photographs will be taken for use by the
For example, the National Scout Jamboree application forms all include this
phrase: "I hereby consent to the use of my voice and/or photograph in the news
coverage, moviemaking, or similar projects approved by the Boy Scouts of
America." Since parents have signed the application form, their consent has
been given for the BSA to use any images/film taken at the event.
The guidelines for council Web sites require that you obtain permission from
the individuals before publishing any of their personal information
on the council Web site - once you've got their permission, you've satisfied this
requirement and can provide their contact information.
If individuals are uncomfortable with the prospect of having their contact
information on a public site, they may be agreeable to posting this information
available in a secured area where only your members have access (or where access
can be provided on an as-needed basis) ... but you must still obtain the permission
of each person before posting their information, even in a secured area.
Obtaining permission is more than a matter of courtesy: there can be liability
issues for the council for publishing personal contact information (even if the
"personal" information is the extension number of an employee).
While information in a password-protected area is "safe" from the general
public, you are still required to obtain permission before publishing any
personal information about members. The password protection may make them more
inclined to allow you to publish this information, but it does not negate the need
to obtain consent.
Does a person's consent to have their personal information on the site
have to be in writing, or will a verbal "OK" suffice?
Going on a verbal "OK" is risky - a person may later forget that they gave
their consent or, in the case of youth members, one parent may say "OK" and the
other may be completely against it. While having written permission is required
by law only in instances where the individual whose information you're publishing
is less than 13 years old, it's the best recourse with individuals of any age to
protect the council from liability.
Can we sell council-specific merchandise online?
Yes. The guideline regarding e-commerce indicates that you may not sell
BSA Supply Division merchandise or competing products - it does not prohibit the sale of
council-specific items, such as council camp t-shirts and logo merchandise.
If there is any question as to whether an item may be considered a "competing product,"
contact Supply Division for guidance.
Can councils participate in online fundraising?
Yes. However, online fundraising must comply with the same policies and procedures as
any other kind of fundraising. Your council Finance Director should be consulted before
beginning any online fundraising campaign.
The Finance Support Division has a Web site (www.scoutingfriends.org) that
includes a method for taking online donations, which are channeled to the
appropriate local council (per the donor's ZIP code). Contact Finance Support
Division for more information regarding this site and how you may leverage it
to collect donations from your own.
What is the policy for linking to other Web sites?
Each council may set its own policy regarding links to other Web sites. There are
two guidelines that should be considered when setting this policy and establishing
practices for creating and maintaining links:
- The council site cannot contain links to any sites that
contain material that is not appropriate to the Scouting
movement - this applies to every link on the
- The council site cannot contain any advertisements or commercial
endorsements - if you link to a commercial site, take care that
the placement and wording cannot be interpreted as promotional.
It is also recommended that you manually check links periodically. Web sites can
move or go out of business, and it's a common practice for advertisers to buy an
abandoned address and use it to advertise quite a different kind of Web site.