News June 15 2009
Beyond cookies: Girl Scouting growing
By Tony Di Domizio | The Reporter
The cookies aren't the only good thing about them. Confidence, character, leadership and courage are the real badges of honor for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania. Cost-savings is another one to stitch on the sash, as in $1.5 million savings on overhead, or 10 percent of revenue.
Ever since the Freedom Valley, Great Valley and Southeastern Pennsylvania councils merged into the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania (GSEP) in May 2007, the nonprofit has spent 90 percent of revenue on programs for its members and volunteers.
"Things are going extremely well," said Ann Meredith, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania. "We are very happy with the results of the merger. In fact, it is exceeding our expectations."
The GSEP did not expect to see results from synergies as quickly on the scale as it has seen them.
"On $12 million, we saved $1.5 million on overhead," Meredith said. "We went from an 80:20 ratio on services to the girls to overhead, and we are now at 90:10, and that is outstanding." That number, she said, is of utmost significance to the GSEP.
"That tells a donor that if they donate to the organization, 90 cents to every dollar goes right to the mission," Meredith said. "That other 10 cents isn't squandered; it's overhead."
The increase in revenue going to programs isn't the only thing that's increased at GSEP.
Membership is increasing for the first time since 2004. Of that, membership of girls of African-American, Hispanic, Latino, Islamic, Asian, Indian and other non-white ethnicities is at 18 percent and growing.
In fact, the GSEP formed the first-ever Cambodian troop in the nation.
Even the cookie program has grown by 9 percent and cookie revenues increased by 11 percent.
"The Girl Scouts are about courage, confidence and character as core components that need to be in place to develop leaders, as opposed to cookies, crafts and camping," Meredith said. "Our resources have now been realigned to demonstrate the value of the program to the public at-large and promote a better product."
Last year, the GSEP rolled out a new girl leadership experience. It was a result of a core strategy that realigned the organization and thus adopted 15 new national outcomes, she said.
The Girl Scouts of America spent millions on a national retooling program using youth development expertise and research to refocus the mission.
"We are sharper in our focus," Meredith said. "We've got support on a national level. It's a new program with new synergies. The realignment enabled us to hire additional talent and to deliver on very ambitious goals."
She said the nonprofit can now deliver more effective and efficient programs and devote more resources to true community cultivation and partnerships to grow more rapidly.
"The Girl Scouts have always been adaptable, and one more phase of that adaptation is addressing the changing needs of society," Meredith said. So what's different in Girl Scouting today than in the past?
For one, the way girls can join the organization.
Girls can join the traditional way through a local Girl Scout group that meets at a church, for instance. Girls also can now join during their school day, or join through partners like YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club.
Girls can join through special interest groups, like the History Patrol or Media Patrol, Meredith said. There is also such a thing as an individual Girl Scout.
"She can go to our Girl Scout programs on her own, or she goes to the Young Women's Conference and takes advantage of programs in the catalog," Meredith said. "She doesn't belong to a troop weekly; she's doing her own program and earning her own awards."
The GSEP is working on a virtual Web portal so girls can get the program through a Web site.
"They will be able to earn patches and get access to resources they need to get a good program online," Meredith said.
Volunteer placement has also changed in Girl Scouting. Now, there are many different pathways for adult volunteers.
"It's not just, 'Yes we have positions for volunteers that are able to give enormous amounts of time'; we also have many other volunteer opportunities that do not require an amount of time associated in being a Girl Scout troop leader," Meredith said.
"Some volunteers are groups of lawyers taking over volunteer leadership of a particular troop, and some volunteers are computer pros or media pros that do Girl Scout programs and come in for a workshop and teach it. The new adult leadership is super-streamlined."