The Girl Scouts of the USA are in trouble. The organization is in debt, and has prompted the question, “will Girl Scout cookies disappear?”
Serious problems plague the 101-year-old institution. Membership is declining, volunteers are dwindling, there is friction between leadership and grassroots members, their pension plan has a 347 million dollar deficit, and many parents are angry about the closing of camps.
Anna Maria Chavez took over as CEO in 2011. Last week, some of the roughly 325 employees there were invited to take early retirement, and Chavez said an unspecified number of layoffs are expected in August. She insists that the organization is headed in the right direction, but the last 10 years have seen an increase in difficulties with unpleasant repercussions.
At least one Congressman is concerned. He has asked the House Ways and Means Committee to look into the pension fund, and the closing of venerable camp grounds.
“I am worried that America’s Girl Scouts are now selling cookies to fund pension plans instead of camping,” wrote Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in a letter last month to the committee chairman.
“Change can be unsettling and it is not surprising that some would prefer for us to remain static,” Chavez said. “But doing so would be a disservice to girls who need us now more than ever.”
“I care so much about this organization, and that’s why I hate to see it pulled down,” said Suellen Nelles, CEO of a local council based in Fairbanks, Alaska. “We have leadership at the top who are toxic to this organization and need to go.”
Connie Lindsey, the president of GSUSA’s governing board, said the board had confidence in Chavez.
“Our board supports our CEO,” said Lindsey, a corporate executive from Chicago. “We know it’s a difficult charge we’ve given her.”
Changes in population and demographics in the last ten years, has encouraged the Girl Scouts to change everything from their uniforms to the printing on the boxes of cookies.
“Our brand, as iconic as it is, was misunderstood, it was dated,” Chavez said in an interview in her Manhattan office Friday.
Today the Girl Scouts number about 2.2 million; the number in 2003 was over 2.8 million. Donations dropped to 104 million dollars in 2011, down from 2007 when they were 148 million.
One of the most contentious issues is the reduction of councils, down from 312 to 112. The move was for efficiency, but resulted in resignations by some long-term volunteers.
There is anger about consolidation of the councils, and what some call the authoritarian attitude of the executive branch of the organization. But the focal point is the pension plan.
Local councils claim that 1850 individuals have been added, but have not contributed. This will result in an approximately 40 percent increase in costs for the councils next year.
Girl Scout cookies are an American tradition. Will they disappear from folding tables in front of your local Wal-Mart? Time will tell.
The Guardian Express