This is a question I hear a lot. Even experienced Scouters often do not know what a commissioner is, because they have never seen one, outside of maybe a red vest/jacket at a district or council event. Unfortunately, most districts do not have full commissioning staffs, and the commissioners do not always understand their jobs. I think that is a shame, because I really think commissioners can be a great support to a unit and help the leaders build a quality program.
At the first commissioner staff meeting I attended two years ago, the District Commissioner explained to us that, "Unit Commissioners are home teachers to Scouting units." Since then, I have seen the same analogy used here, and I have learned personally that the analogy really is a good one. On the most basic level, Unit Commissioners are supposed to visit their assigned units once a month. They provide resources and act as a go-between for the unit and the district.
You could even think of the different levels like this:
Unit Commissioner - Home Teacher/Visiting Teacher
Assistant District Commissioner - Home/Visiting Teaching Supervisor
District Commissioner - President
District Executive - Bishop
Just like the Bishop or president cannot visit every family or person under their stewardship every month (as much as they would like to), the DE or DC needs help serving all of the units. They need a team to help keep an eye on everything, build a relationship of trust with units, and let the district know when a unit is in trouble.
Often the commissioner is the only real contact a unit has with the district. That is why it is so unfortunate when that contact fails to happen.
According to the commissioner website, a commissioner is a friend, representative, doctor, teacher and counselor. Honestly, I think it is one of the most fun jobs in Scouting. It is great to have the excuse to attend the activities of other units and just sit back and observe. It can be satisfying to watch unit leaders grow in their positions. It can be a challenge to know when to help and when to sit back and listen.
On this year's Journey to Excellence forms, the gold level for the rechartering requirement includes inviting a commissioner and your charter representative to one of your activities. You can find out whether you have a commissioner assigned to your unit by contacting your district. If you do not have one, let them know that you would like one.
If you love Scouting and do not currently have a calling in it, or you want to be ale to do more, you may want to look into volunteering as a Unit Commissioner. Check to see if the class "The Commissioner Concept" is being offered at your local University of Scouting for a better overview of what the position includes.
And say hi to your friendly, neighborhood commissioner!