Girl Scouts of America Feels the Squeeze

Staff Writer
It’s not from one too many cookies. Internal struggle plagues the youth organization.

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Girl Scouts across America may no longer be able to travel door-to-door selling cookies as the foundation faces financial struggles.

Declining membership and revenues, a lack of volunteers, rifts between leadership and grassroots, a pension plan with a $347 million deficit, and an uproar over efforts by many local councils to sell summer camps, it has not been a walk in the park these days for the Girl Scouts.

So much so that a congressman is investigating pension liabilities and the sale of camps with the House Ways and Means Committee.

“I am worried that America’s Girl Scouts are now selling cookies to fund pension plans instead of camping,” Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, said in a letter last month to the committee chairman.

Change is difficult with anything, and Girl Scouts have certainly faced their challenges as they undergo a revamping campaign. But issues with those involved at higher levels has trickled down and affected local chapters.

“I care so much about this organization, and that’s why I hate to see it pulled down,” Suellen Nelles, CEO of a local chapter in Fairbanks, Alaska told NY Daily News. “We have leadership at the top who are toxic to this organization and need to go.”

The organization initiated a big transformation in 2003 to appeal to a more diverse population of girls and parents. With new uniforms, handbooks, merit badges, program materials, 

“Our brand, as iconic as it is, was misunderstood. It was dated,” CEO Anna Maria Chavez told NY Daily News on Friday.

In 2003, there were 2.8 million youth members. Today it is roughly 2.2 million. Donations are also down — in 2007 the national office and local councils received about $148 million, while in 2011 they only drew in $104 million.

Councils were forced to merge from 2006 to 2009, causing the number of councils to fall from 312 to 112. Instead of improving efficiency, this triggered many longtime employees and volunteers to leave.

Even nationwide cookie sales have dropped — for 2012 to 2013, they are down about 4.5 percent.

But Chavez is optimistic that they can work through this time of transition and adapt their image to a more modern perspective, which would hopefully attract more young girls in to joining.

“Change can be unsettling and it is not surprising that some would prefer for us to remain static,” Chavez told NY Daily News. “But doing so would be a disservice to girls who need us now more than ever.”

Related Links
Girl Scouts: Year-Round Sales by Bakers Don’t Affect Sales10 Facts About Girl Scout CookiesGirl Scout Cookies and Wine Pairings From Auberge du Soleil Girl Scouts Redesigning Cookie Packages