3 Lessons from Girl Scout Cookies

February 11, 2010

Posted in Fundraising and Management.

Our Camp Fire council had a discussion recently about how other youth organizations have changed over the years to meet new challenges and opportunities, respond to market forces, and simply try new things.

This article from Comcast Finance talks about Girl Scout cookies and the breakdown of where the money goes:

And that there is a point of question. Stated in such a vague way — spanning the country all the way from the Land of 10,000 Lakes to the great Garden State — we can’t help but wonder, where exactly does this largest chunk of cookie sales ($1.70 to $2.00) go?

The Girl Scouts have seen significant declines in their cookie sales, leading to the closure of a number of councils, their camps, and their various programs. In the 90s, when the low-carb craze hit their cookie sales were badly affected. A local Girl Scouts council survived by implementing a separate development fundraising program (I attended a seminar on this a while back). The development program led to a much more sustainable (and financially lucrative) program.

This reminds me of our council’s long history. Decades ago, when we had thousands of participants in our year-round programs, our candy sale fundraiser was very lucrative. We also relied on a major grant source. Those two things dried up over the course of time as participation declined and the grant money went to other needs. Without the scale of thousands of kids selling candy, it became a very weak source of income.

I take three lessons from this story:

1 – People buying cookies (or candy, pizzas, or Christmas wreaths) aren’t necessarily engaged donors who are supporting the program, they’re just buying cookies. Don’t force willing, engaged donors to go through your cookie sales program to give you money.

2 – Diversify your income so that you’re not subject to the whims of one particular market. People love cookies, but people also love fad diets.

3 – Be accountable and transparent about your finances. A $10 box of cookies doesn’t seem like much, but supporters want to know that their $10 is going to the right place. They’re asking the questions, so you should be prepared to provide the answers.

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