News June 7 2009
Girl Scouts Thriving
By Kathleen E. Carey | Delco Daily Times
At a time when nonprofits and many for-profit organizations are struggling, the local Girl Scouts council stands out.
Not only is it staying afloat, but the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania is also thriving as membership, revenues and cookie sales have increased.
The boost comes from the combination of a recent merger and a focus on marketing, officials said.
The Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania formed two years ago after the merger of three councils — Freedom Valley, Great Valley and Southeastern Pennsylvania. It covers nine counties in this part of the state, including Delaware County.
“What the merger was supposed to do is free up resources to enable the council to … reallocate its resources for growth,” Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Chief Executive Officer Ann Meredith said. She is the executive who oversaw the merger.
And, in fact, Meredith said it has done just that as $1.5 million — or 10 percent of the council’s overall budget — in overhead was reduced through the merger. That doesn’t include the 7 percent retail increase and the 5 percent hike in contributions the council has experienced.
In addition, the council increased programming allocations to 90 percent of revenue and 10 percent funds the overhead.
Membership is up, as well.
Meredith said Scout participation has increased 5 percent since 2007, accounting for a total of 43,000 girls between 5 and 17 years old and 14,000 adults. In Delaware County, the council had 4,500 Scouts and 1,500 adult volunteers in 2008.
Ethnic minority membership is also climbing. It’s been at 18 percent in the past two years.
Adviser and troop organizer Patricia Dyer of Havertown said that’s been evident here in Delaware County, where troops in Chester had all but evaporated.
“There were practically none,” Dyer said. “It basically died away.”
Then, in the last year and a half, the council focused an effort to build scouting in the city and, now, there are six troops, she said.
“I’m very proud of what they’re doing down there,” Dyer said. “It’s been very uplifting.”
Even the cookie sales have spiked 11 percent here as most councils saw a 5 percent dip.
“We needed to change the paradigm with how we reached our customers,” Meredith said, adding that research showed nine out of 10 people would buy cookies if asked but only two out of 10 people had the opportunity.
So, the council developed an online cookie locator in which potential customers type in their zip codes for a list of the closest cookie booths.
The device proved successful as it was featured on Forbes.com and in BusinessWeek and other councils adopted their own locators.
In addition, Dyer said the Scouts earn incentives for their work.
She said one Delco troop is traveling to England, using part of the money it made on the cookie sales and having planned the trip and the budget out themselves. Last year, it went to Mexico.
These values are why Dyer’s still involved in Girl Scouts after 44 years.
“I believe very much in the program and in the leadership skills you learn,” Dyer said. “Leadership is what we strive for in learning to make decisions and setting goals.”
Meredith highlighted the reasons for the council’s success.
“It’s remarkable,” she said. “We’re doing well in all of our critical areas – program delivery, earned and contributed revenues.”
She attributes the success to the new program model that is more outcomes-driven and more mission-focused, as well as a concerted effort on marketing.
“We are much more externally focused,” Meredith said. “Marketing is permeating every aspect of our operation.”
For instance, office openings of the past would occur with a simple key. Now, the community is involved from marching bands to elected officials to business organizations and other dignitaries.
“It’s about presenting ourselves to the community in a way that’s more inviting and seeing ourselves as life-sized in the health of the community and in the development of our girls’ lives,” Meredith said. “Girl Scouts has done a great job of delivering the mission but did not promote itself as well as it should have.”