chapters continue to plague the Girl Scouts Of America (GSUSA) and their latest CEO Anna Maria Chávez. Having just celebrated their 100th anniversary, the organization grapples with a tangled set of financial and image problems leading to accelerating decay to an iconic American institution.
The fiscal picture has become so dire that the national headquarters slashed 85 positions....over 25% of their 326 employees. Factors in the move were not only to reduce head count, but also to modernize the organization by offering buyouts to 45 employees aged 55 and older.
Girl Scouts of America has struggled in past decade to remain relevant in the face of societal changes. But some attempts to modernize have backfired, such as its partnership with Planned Parenthood in order to provide sex education materials to Girl Scout chapters. While GSUSA has tried to downplay such allegations, critics point to a 2004 video of former CEO Kathy Cloninger admitting on the Today Show saying: “We partner with many organizations. We have relationships with our church communities, with YWCAs, and with Planned Parenthood organizations across the country, to bring information-based sex education programs to girls.” Shortly thereafter came the precipitous decline in Girl Scout membership, now down over 20% in the past decade.
The decay in membership has exacerbated an already shaky pension system. Much like public school districts, generous promises coupled with declining revenues have forced GSUSA to raise pension contributions of local districts by 200-300%. The pushback by local chapters has moved to the courts where the Middle Tennessee chapter accused the national office of various breaches of fiduciary duty and financial mismanagement.
Such high profile actions have drawn the attention of Congress. One congressman called for an inquiry by the House Ways and Means Committee into the pension liabilities and the sale of camps. "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 to the committee chairman.
Indeed, the shaky fiscal picture of national headquarters is resulting in greater pressure upon local chapters to bring in the revenue. This is generating dissent among parents. As one parent put it
Speaking as former Troop Leader, parents were frustrated by the high percentage of proceeds the Girl Scout franchise took from the Troops total cookie sales. In addition, the Troop had to buy the cookies in advance and got stuck with dozens of cases of cookies that did not sell during the allotted time. So for many Troops the cookie sale became a never ending fundraising campaign for busy working parents.
Despite the controversy, Girl Scouts retain a loyalty from parents.
"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."