If you think of Girl Scouts of the USA as a quaint organization that covers its operating expenses mainly by trotting out hordes of docile recruits to sell cookies on a grand scale, you’re not alone.
You’re not right … but you’re also not alone.
While it’s true the Girl Scouts Cookie Program is larger than ever — it generates about $700 million in annual proceeds — the cookie sellers are motivated and business-savvy, and GSUSA is far from quaint. The organization, which celebrated its 95th anniversary on March 12, had total operating revenue of $120 million in 2005. And it’s in the midst of a sweeping transformation aimed at adjusting to national demographic shifts and helping members become even better prepared for the boom in leadership opportunities available to contemporary women.
According to Kathy Cloninger, who became GSUSA’s chief executive officer in 2003, the transformation involves a number of essential components. The first is a significant realignment in the relationship between the GSUSA — the national Girl Scouts organization — and the several hundred local Girl Scouts councils.
Cookie sales have not and will not be used to help fund the national organization, Cloninger notes. The cookie sales drives are organized by the councils, with each council retaining the proceeds from its sales for training and leadership-development programs, special events, etc. In fact, the cookie program is not considered a fundraiser by the organization, but rather a financial- and economic-literacy tool for teaching girls how to work with a team and develop customer-service skills.
The traditional funding base for the national organization is simple — a $10 annual membership fee from each girl in each local council.
“It’s a beautiful integration,” Cloninger says. “I don’t know if there’s another national federation in the nonprofit sector that has that same arrangement.”