Girl Scouts try “digital cookies” to increase membership Girls listen during the Girl Scout Troop 582's cookie training session at Beach Vineyard Church in Panama City Beach, Fla. (Heather Leiphart/The News Herald via AP/Amy Sancetta)
Girl Scouts try “digital cookies” to increase membership
Lexile

As the Girl Scouts' membership continues a sharp decline, its leaders are betting on technology to reverse the trend. A major expansion of a year-old program allowing Girl Scout cookies to be sold via mobile apps and the girls' personalized websites is planned.
 
The Digital Cookie upgrade comes amid continuing challenges for the 103-year-old organization. According to figures given to The Associated Press, youth membership for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 was 1.88 million. That's down nearly 6.2 percent from 2014. Adult membership was 784,120. It is down 3.1 percent.
 
The total membership is 2.66 million. It's down more than 15 percent over three years. And it is down 30 percent from a peak of more than 3.8 million. That number was reached in 2003.
 
The Girl Scouts also are struggling in terms of financial support. The latest collections by the Chronicle of Philanthropy show that the organization received $103.2 million in private donations in 2014. The donations are down from $194.6 million in 2006. Back then, the Girl Scouts ranked 83rd among U.S. charities for such donations. The Chronicle now ranks it 257th.
 
Some other major youth groups also face income and membership declines. This is due in part to societal trends. Anna Maria Chavez is the CEO of Girl Scouts of the United States of America. She believes that her organization is capable of rebuilding its ranks. She thinks it can be done through technological improvements.
 
For paid staff and volunteers, these include online toolkits. One simplifies the process for joining the Girl Scouts. Another empowers volunteer troop leaders to plan a full year of meetings and activities with a single online visit.
 
"Our volunteers need more tools to serve more girls," Chavez said. "So we're really doubling down on technology."
 
For the girls themselves, Digital Cookie is the flagship project. Chavez said it was input from some scouts a few years ago that inspired the project.
 
About 160,000 Girl Scouts participated in the program over the past year. They were credited with selling nearly 2.5 million boxes of cookies. Those sales were in addition to those sold through traditional in-person methods. For the coming year, about 90 percent of the GSUSA's 112 regional councils will be involved in Digital Cookie. Various new features have been added. They will make it more educational and more fun.
 
These features include an online game. It's called Cookie Booth Bounce and helps girls improve decision-making and budgeting skills.  And there's a "Learning to Run a Business" section of the website. Girls also can post their own videos, explaining who they are and what the plans are for their proceeds.
 
Digital Cookie's fans include Claire Houston, 18. She spent 13 years with the Girl Scouts in Dutchess County, New York. She's now a freshman at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She studies computer science and serves as co-coach to a Girl Scout robotics team.
 
Digital Cookie "is a great way to connect with how the world is changing right now," she said. "Technology is such a big part of our lives."
 
Overall, the technological progress has not been problem-free. A memo from the Girl Scouts' communications office said some councils faced membership declines and "disruption in service capabilities" while adjusting to the new systems.
 
"GSUSA had to make the decision to accept the short-term impact for the necessary long-term investment in necessary tech improvements," the memo said.
 
Some complaints about the program changes and the cost of program materials have gone around on "GSUSA, Are You Listening?" It's a Facebook page that serves as a sounding board for Girl Scout volunteers who are uneasy about the organization's direction. Some worry that the GSUSA is going too far in de-emphasizing camping, the earning of badges and other traditional activities.
 
The Facebook page recently served as a vehicle for Suellen Nelles, the most outspoken protester among the 112 council CEOs. She distributed a detailed "white paper" criticizing the national leadership and urging it to work more collaboratively with staff and volunteers at the councils.
 
"The leadership is fine with maintaining all the power and being a top-down organization," said Nelles. She heads the Farthest North Girl Scout Council in Fairbanks, Alaska. "We have forgotten our foundation and that we are only as strong as our all-volunteer membership."
 
However, Nelles said she's gotten little support for her viewpoint from other council CEOs.  Chavez insisted that cooperation between the national office and the councils was more lively now than at any point in her seven years as a Girl Scout executive.
 
"We know we'll continue to have challenges," Chavez said. "But here's our secret power. We're a family with a clear purpose. Creating girls of courage, confidence and character. The girls are going to lead the way for us."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is Girl Scout membership declining?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (45)
  • Eric0221-YYCA
    12/14/2015 - 11:01 p.m.

    I think that it is cool that the Girl Scout might have been adding more technology to the Girl Scout because I think that the technology might be easier for Girl Scouts. I think that the technology might have been added just for the Girl Scouts to become easier to do things that the Girl Scouts wanted to do. I think that the Girl scout wanted to do easier things with the technology added because without the technology in the Girl Scout camp.

  • haileym-hor
    12/15/2015 - 06:56 a.m.

    I believe the authors purpose is to inform people that the girl scouts membership is declining.I've learned that the girl scouts club/organization has been around for 103 years says the CEO of the Girl scouts. I agree that we should continue the organization because it is a well and fun organized group for girls that are all ages. We can continue the mobile apps because it is helping the membership.

  • daceym-
    12/15/2015 - 08:35 a.m.

    The reason Girl Scout membership is declining is because of societal trends. This organization has been around for 103 years, and i believe that by using technology it will increase membership and income. By using technology many more cookies will be sold, and the organization will be back on their feet again.

    • reenaf-ren
      1/05/2016 - 10:15 a.m.

      You are right. The girl scout membership is declining because of societal trends. I think the Girl scouts should be like in the old days. No technology. Technology takes over our everyday life.

  • codyw-
    12/15/2015 - 08:42 a.m.

    I believe the reason the Girl Scout member count is down, because people don't like to go out and help there community, if its not what they want to do than they won't do it. Also I think its because people don't truly see what a good effect Girl Scouts have on your children, by teaching them team work, how to budget, responsibility and leadership which will help them later on in life.

  • christr-
    12/15/2015 - 08:58 a.m.

    I was fond of the new idea The Girl Scouts are thinking about doing things, I've looked at Girl Scouts as a traditional type organization and I just don't think they should change that now.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    12/15/2015 - 11:58 a.m.

    In the changing, more technology based time period, people just aren't interested in going camping and helping the community. Kids would rather just play video games and that's why membership is declining.

  • laurena-hor
    12/15/2015 - 12:09 p.m.

    I think the authors purpose was to inform us about the sweet sometimes pushy girls that give us their delicious cookies just to get money to keep the program running. And I am kind of a girl scout myself and I love the cookies, they're so good and give us our sweet tooth's something to munch on. And yes I know technology is a big part of our lives, but to completely change the way girl scouts works since its started just for more members is just wrong! I don't really think it's needed!

  • samanthao-ver
    12/15/2015 - 01:10 p.m.

    I am in Girl Scouts and I don't understand why they want to go to digital cookies because those would be very expensive if they broke or something bad happened to them and you don't know how to do them.

  • shanial-wes
    12/15/2015 - 02:41 p.m.

    Girl scouts membership is declining because of societal trends.
    And because the donations are going up really high in money.

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