In 2012, the Girl Scouts celebrated their 100th anniversary. Since then, the group has been trying to revamp itself in an effort to remain relevant to a new century of Scouts and their families. But is it working?
As the group launched into a new century of scouting, the Girl Scouts announced plans to build a stronger online presence, engaging girls via smartphones, the Internet and social media. They created online book clubs, smartphone-enabled scavenger hunts and virtual pathways for girls to interact with other Girl Scouts no matter where they lived.
The Scouting organization also wove that technology into their patches and programs. Girls can still earn the traditional badges such as cooking, sewing, and first aid, but now they also have the option to pursue badges in digital filmmaking, web design, netiquette, product design and customer loyalty.
Probably the biggest leap by the Girl Scouts into the digital age is the organization's recent announcement that Girl Scout cookies can now be sold online. Online sales had been banned in the past because the organization feared that it would give some Scouts an unfair advantage in the competition for sales. But they have apparently cast those fears aside with the realization that with smartphones, tablets and computers, the vast majority of Scouts now have access to an online sales platform.
The Girl Scouts organization is also changing the structure of its troops, with an emphasis on young Scouts and adult leaders. According to a recent Forbes article on the remaking of the Girl Scouts, the group is casting a wider net in an effort to attract younger Scouts as well as more potential leaders. And they are changing the options and perceived level of commitment involved in Scouting. Girls can still take advantage of all of the options available to Girl Scouts, or they can get involved in just the part that fits in with their time and interests. Your daughter is too busy for Scouts during the school year but wants to go to summer camp? Not a problem. Does she want to try one week-long workshop on web design without feeling the pressure to join a troop? That works, too.
So with all of these changes taking place, the big question for the Girl Scouts is this: Is any of it working? A recent Associated Press article reported that for the second straight year, youth and adult membership in the Girl Scouts has dropped sharply. According to the story, the total number of kids and adults involved in Girl Scouts dropped by 6 percent over the past year. In addition, total membership is down 11.6 percent over the past two years, plunging 27 percent from a peak of more than 3.8 million in 2003.
Girl Scout officials blame tough financial times and the greater competition for girls' activities as the reason for the drop. Those certainly don't help. But from a personal perspective from someone who has been a Girl Scout leader for seven years, I can tell you that many leaders and Scouts drift away from the organization due to an organization-wide focus on recruiting new members rather than improving programs for the girls and leaders who have already signed up.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Girl Scouts as an organization. It is second to none in the broad range of experiences and opportunities that it offers young girls. But nationwide, the level of support it offers to existing Scouts and leaders falls far behind the efforts made to recruit fresh blood. And don't even get me started on all of the forms, forms, forms, forms. Between the increased pressures and demands required of leaders and the increase in the number of after-school activities available to young girls, its easy to see how many families are opting out of Scouts in favor of other pursuits.
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