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.

Are there guidelines for district/camp/OA Web sites

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.

Are there guidelines for Unit Web sites?

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 the BSA.

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.

The guidelines state [x] but my council says [y] - which do I go by?

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.

Can we acknowledge donated Web hosting from a commercial company?

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.

Can we use our Web site to publicly thank a commercial company for its support of Scouting?

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.

Can we promote a product our Scouts are selling as a fundraiser?

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.

Is there a policy about using youth names and photographs?

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 site.

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.

Is there an easy way to get permission to use photos taken at council facilities or events?

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 council.

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.

Can we provide contact information (names and telephone numbers) so that visitors can contact individuals directly?

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).

If contact information is in a password-protected area, do I still need to get permission to publish it?

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:

  1. 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 site.
  2. 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.