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News May 31 2009
News May 31 2009

News May 31 2009

Girl Scouts Offer Model for Hope

By Brian McCullough | Daily Local News


Area non-profit and even business leaders may have a new model to look at when trying to figure out how to overcome their current financial challenges: the Girl Scouts.


The Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania met Saturday to celebrate its second year of a reorganization that saw three councils -- Freedom Valley with headquarters in Valley Forge, Great Valley with Allentown headquarters and Southeastern Pennsylvania with headquarters in Miquon, Montgomery County -- rolled into one.


The council, with 43,000 girls and 14,000 adult volunteers, now encompasses Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia counties.


The merger, part of a national effort by the Girl Scouts to rejuvenate the organization, has resulted in efficiencies that find more money available for programs for the girls and less being spent on administrative costs, notes Ann Meredith, chief executive officer for the council.


"I marvel at how quickly we've seen the results," Meredith says. "I have become a huge fan of mergers."


Here's why:


Girl membership is increasing for the first time in more than five years.


Non-white membership is at 18 percent and growing. Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, or GSEP, has formed the first Cambodian troop in the nation and dozens of new troops in Asian, Islamic, Latino, African-American and other minority communities.


The council produced an 11 percent increase in cookie program revenues over the past year, the largest sales increase in the nation (when many councils were down by 5 percent.)


Since the merger, the cookie program, and the 'magazine and nut' program, have grown by 9 percent and 8 percent respectively.


Retail is up 7 percent -- and leading the nation among Girl Scout councils.


Contributions have grown by 5 percent since the merger.


Camper enrollment is ahead of budget and also leading the nation among Girl Scout councils.


Perhaps most importantly from an administrative standpoint, 90 percent of the council's $12.5 million budget goes to programs for girls and volunteers with only 10 percent going to overhead — compared to an 80-20 ratio prior to the merger.


Mergers of course, are never easy.


"When you merge organizations, everybody gives up something," notes Meredith, who was the founding CEO of Lights of Liberty and ran the Independence Mall attraction for eight years before joining the Girl Scouts. Ways of work, traditions,


culture -- all are hard to change for the people involved in the organizations.


"Literally, every piece of paper has to be re-thought," says Meredith, who received her Master's Degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania.


In addition, the council merger brought together some of the most rural areas in Pennsylvania together with some of the most urban.


The case for a merger was somewhat abetted by the trends of the time, especially the undeniable decline in girls joining the organization.


"When you see and hear about the number of non-profits in trouble, our timing could not have been better," says Catherine Pullen, a Schuylkill Township resident and vice chair of the 2-year-old council. "I think it's been terrific for us."


And in today's economy, there aren't a lot of organizations that can say that.


To contact business editor Brian McCullough, send an e-mail to business@dailylocal.com or call 610-430-1126.