Cloninger notes that GSUSA is diversifying its fundraising efforts and seeking more contributed income largely because its demographics are changing as it grows. Roughly 20 percent of its members are from low-income families that often can’t afford to pay membership dues, buy Girl Scouts uniforms or help with any of the other self-generating funding sources that the organization once took for granted.
“We’re experiencing a major shift in our organizational culture,” Cloninger says. “The deeper we go into community outreach and serving girls who need us most, the more we’ll have to reach out to the community to fund girls who are most in need.”
Ironically, the organization’s transformation strategy entails re-emphasizing some of the core ideas that led Juliette Gordon Low, an activist in women’s circles, to found the Girl Scouts. “We’ve returned to our roots, with a strong focus on leadership experience,” Cloninger reiterates. “We’re currently developing a persuasive Girl Scout philosophy about leadership.”
Ultimately, the idea is to convince girls, parents and donors that girls who participate in Girl Scouting will benefit by being trained to focus on leadership outcomes. Girl Scout activities are being redesigned, so much so that even the presentation of badges will have more of a leadership focus.
“We’ve updated handbooks over the years and done it quite well, but what we’re doing now is really a complete redesign of the Girl Scout experience, except that we still hang on to the core traditions,” Cloninger says. “One of those is environmental education, which is going to be important in the new leadership program. Juliette was a conservationist too, way ahead of her time.”
Outsiders inevitably wonder what Girl Scouting will look like after the redesign is complete, and whether big changes might have some negative impact on the organization’s image.