Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Am A Horrible Person: Saying "No" To Girl Scouts & Their Cookies, Too

If chocolate chip cookies are cookies made with chocolate chips and peanut butter cookies are cookies made with peanut butter, then what are Girl Scout cookies made of?

As a new homeowner, I am placed in the unique position for the first time of having a chubby elementary school girl come to my door pushing cookies. I said no. My wife, had she answered the door, surely would have said yes because she's a much nicer person then me, and she is a former Girl Scout who wouldn't mind getting a box of Thin Mints.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-Girl Scout. I'm not even necessarily anti-Girl Scout Cookies...but I think that the Girl Scout Cookie machine is crazy.

In the United States there are regulations limiting employment to those under the age of 16, largely to protect against labor abuse. Similarly, there are laws that require minimum wages and taxes to be paid in association with wages.

When Girl Scouts began selling their first cookies almost 100 years ago, it is my understanding that it was like a well-organized bake sale, with little girls working with their moms to raise money for their troops and organizations.

Today, the Girl Scout Cookie machine is out of control. Cookies sell for $4 a box, but only 40 to 60 cents per box goes to the actual Girl Scout troop. Beyond that about 50% of the purchase price goes to the Girl Scout organization, and the rest goes to the cookie manufacturers.

First off, that's a lot of money and profits going to the Girl Scouts organization earned on the backs of little girls going door to door selling cookies, and their parents pushing and coercing co-workers to buy cookies.

Second, for such a small percentage of the profits to go to the individual Girl Scout Troop, it almost makes you wonder why so many Girl Scouts and Girl Scout parents feel so compelled and motivated to make sure every person on their street and in their office is receiving 5 boxes of Tagalongs, Thin Mints, and Carmel Delights/Samoas.

Third, at $4 a box, the Girl Scouts and the Girl Scout Cookie makers are really ripping people off. The cookies are more expensive then comparable brands...especially for the quantity of cookies you are receiving. And especially if you consider the fact that these cookies are sold with the majority of marketing and labor expensive being absorbed by volunteer children and mothers. These cookies aren't competing on the shelves of local supermarkets and stores, so they don't require the same type of sales. And they also aren't even in production year 'round. So there is significant profits for everyone involved, the least amount of profit going to the individual Girl Scouts and troops.

Fourth, for all this hard work, Girl Scouts are getting the lame prizes that are associated with any youth fundraising activity. Cheap stuffed animals, ribbons, trinkets, and the general garbage that is essentially worthless. All for hours of standing at booths in front of grocery stores and fairs, going door to door, and asking their parents to pass the sign up sheet around their offices.

Again, I'm not critical of the girl who came to my door. Good for her and for her dedication to her organization and her go-get-'em attitude that puts her in the awkward position of ringing my doorbell to get a pre-order for rip-off cookies.

In every town and city across America, there is a girl that is succeeding and breaking cookie sale records. The above picture is of a girl named Samantha Longenecker from Portage, Michigan who is a record breaker 3 years in a row in her area, one year selling 2,000 cookies. Or what about Jasmine Osborn of Marshall, Missouri selling a 1,000 boxes. Or on even a grander scale, the 2008 record holder Jennifer Sharp from Dearborn Michigan who sold 17,328 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies.

Last year the cookies were $3.50 a box, so that means Jennifer Sharp alone sold over $61,000 dollars in cookies. This is by no means a small operation.

I think that these girls are inspirations for their hard-edged dedication to sales, and that these girls should be snatched up to work for any number of sales and marketing driven businesses, and deserve significant compensation for having such an important American capitalistic skill.

Yet it's sad to think how these school-age girls are breaking their backs, putting themselves in dangerous situations by ringing the doorbells of strangers and parading around town selling cookies, when the majority of the fundraiser goes to serve the Girls Scouts of the USA organization (GSUSA), surely providing the funds necessary to provide hefty salaries for their staff.

I'm sure the Girls Scouts upper leadership is pushing those Girl Scout Cookie sales harder then anyone else, because they know that's where their paycheck comes from. Do GSUSA leadership like CEO Kathy Cloninger, Executive Vice President Norma I. Barquet, CFO Florence Corsello (who surely tracks those cookie sales very closely), Senior VP Of Funds Development Delphia York Duckens (also watching those cookie sales), Chief Marketing Officer Laurel J. Richie, or any of the rest of the staff feel sorry for these girls who are dedicating so much time and energy to selling cookies for the sole purpose of bolstering exec paychecks, earning a cookie patch for their uniform and a lame prize?


Jamie Dawn said...

Seems like it would make more sense for them to come to the door once a year and ask for a donation.
That way all the money would be profit for them.
It's hard to say no to little kids when they are selling stuff. Your wife and I would surely have bought those cookies!
Those girls who are selling thousands of boxes of cookies???? That's wild!!

RAnn said...

I'm a Girl Scout leader/mother and you are right; the majority of the funds raised by GS cookies goes someplace other than to local troops. However, the local troops do benefit from the money that goes "upstream". Because of cookie sales, troops can camp at GS camps which come supplied with beds, cabins, tents and fully furnished kitchens. Because of cookie sales, troops do not have to pay for leader training. Leaders do not pay for the background checks that are run. Because of cookie sales, there is a nationwide GS program, with national dues of only $10/year per girl.

Most girls do not sell thousands of boxes of cookies. Some do. Generally they are very motivated girls with very motivated mothers. They are also often girls whose troop leaders manage to get good booth sale spots. My daughter has always enjoyed the cookie sale and has never thought she didn't get enough out of it.

You are right about it being a well-organized sales organization.

Megan said...

Where do you live that they are only $4 a box???

Loren Eaton said...

But Thin Mints! But Samoas! Those are worth their weight in gold!

Anonymous said...

WOW ... now THAT'S a brilliant breakdown of the Girl Scout cookie scam!!! My niece just hit me up to buy some yesterday. I'm going to call her back and cuss her out!

Great article!

Terence Towles Canote said...

I think you have a very good point. At $4 a box, one could actually buy two boxes of a comparable brand of thin mints. I think the Girl Scout Cookies thing needs to be rethought, although I don't think that's going to happen any time soon.

RC said...

@ jamie dawn -- I like that idea TOO -- but you know people wouldn't do it. Plus, the nice thing about Girl Scout cookies is that to buy just one box is a semi-low cost purchase (buying just one box from every girl who rings your door and every co-worker who's got a scout, and every church that's different...but i do appreciate that GS cookies are cheaper than MANY of the other things schools and sports team sell.

@RAnn, thank you for your comment. I appreciate your comment...I liked your part about "motivated girls with motivated mothers" :-)

@Megan...this year, girl scout cookies went up from 3.50 to 4.00 --> if you're paying more it's my guess that the girl/mom selling them is pocketing some of the dough!

@Loren...I'm sure the girl scouts of America would love if you would provide them with an address and a phone number where they can reach you :-)

@Ray, now be nice to your neice...don't cuss her out. Just in the memo line of that birthday check make sure you mark down how much your deducting due to the purchase of cookies. Just's nice to help your neice, plus now you have an excuse when other girls come to your door "oh, i by from my neice, sorry" and then you shut the door!

Anonymous said...

The REAL truth is that you know your dad will buy some, so you can come to his house if you want to eat girl scout cookies!

William Petruzzo said...

I can't decide how to feel about this post.

I can't disagree that it seems stupid how expensive the cookies are. Especially around DC, they push $7 a box. In a quality sense, they're not really something you buy because they're the best thing ever. The Keibler elves do a fine job as well.

But, then again I don't think most people who buy are buying the cookies as much as looking for an excuse to support the girls without just writing a check.

If that's the case, I think it's valuable. It's a good lesson for kids to learn that people don't just give hand-outs and you shouldn't expect them.

So, it seems to me that the whole discussion hinges on the actual salaries of the top executives. There's no good reason they should be taking in six figure incomes, but then again, I couldn't find anything that hinted that they were. In fact, the highest I could find was just under $100,000. Which is high, but not outrageous.

I may be wrong, but I'm not sure that the Girl Scouts really have any other major stream of revenue. Which means that the organization (camps, leaders, training, etc) need to come from mostly from the cookie sales. So it would seem even if the local troop doesn't get the revenue personally, they still benefit from it. In fact, they may not have so much of a need for the money as the operation of the larger organization.

That been said, of course, would all fall apart if it's true that the top executives are taking home extremely fat checks.

But even then, it's not like the GS is a Christian organization. What good reason do they have not to fill their pockets? And, who could say that their job isn't professionally "worth" what they're getting paid?

Dad said...

You're a brave man to cross the Girl Scouts. Brave or cruel.

They charge a lot because they are an American icon. Girl Scout cookies are totally unique, universally known, and sentimentally entrenched. You might as well have attacked the Pilsbury Doh Boy or questioned turkey as an appropriate Thanksgiving poultry.

amy said...

So far I've only ordered 7 boxes...they took away Josh's favorite cookie this year so we cut back our order. I love those cookies. I freeze mine and make them last all year by only eating two at a time.
I think the mom at work told me they don't win prizes anymore but just money toward their camp or something.

I still love the girl scout cookies....even though I was kicked out of my troop. Long story.

Anonymous said...

I agree with are bold. And you are right, if I answer our door and find a Girl Scout selling cookies, I would buy at least 1 box ;-)

Anonymous said...

They're still 3.50 in North Carolina.

B. Diederich said...

How about bashing into that horribly expensive microwave popcorn that the BOY Scouts sell? It never pops--I've thrown away money twice and vow "NEVER AGAIN"! Build your shelters from sticks and a REAL boyscout!

William Petruzzo said...

Ohhh.. Good one. Those boyscout cookies are a pain. But we almost never have anyone coming around selling those. Not to mention, it's much easier to say no to boys, especially when truthfully, you really don't want what they're selling.

Anonymous said...

I work with BSA troop 74 ( in MA and we dumped the popcorn thing years ago because we felt the public was getting shafted.
If you want to see a Boy Scout troop that really works as a team with the community and other charities then check out They help the town by reducing the waste stream, giving other charities usable items, teach boys how to interact with the public. Parents work together in a fun atmosphere and the public absolutely loves us. The troop pulls in 5 figures every year and 100% stays with the troop, the counsel gets $0. No one is paid, its' all volenteer. We are the best funded troop in the NE very highly respected, $$$ aside. With good leadership any organization can do this. Teaching our children to conserve, be thrifty, and provide a sense of purpose to public needs is far better than pushing them to push over priced product that is only purchased out of sympathy for support. The GS need to get out of the mindset of cookies.

Anonymous said...

The cookies are a fund raiser, not a bargain. Previous commentors are right, Girl Scouts is a great organization that actually provides lots of support and resources to the local troops at no cost (other than the support they receive from fundraisers.)

Anonymous said...

Don't know about the Girl Scout execs, but Google 1.6 million for the past Boy Scout CEO.

I buy the Girl Scout cookies (which I like) and the Boy Scout pop corn (which I throw out), becuase I know that some leaders treat the kids who do not sell poorly.

Undercover Mother said...

A year later, it is even more true. But one thing you didn't mention: The troop is stuck with what they don't sell. The council refuses to take them back AND forbids them from selling after the end date.

There is one mom in my Vista that is using her mortgage money this money to pay for all the cases she got stuck with. Even Amway allows returns!

CharlotteD said...

Brilliant piece and you raise some interesting question!!

Here's my BIG question. How can a supposed non profit be making this kind of money? I read an article that says that the only way they can keep the funds and still say they are a non profit is if the girls, on their own, for their own troop purposes, sell cookies.

Do we really believe that almost a BILLION dollars in cookies is a NON Profit?? If you read the GS website, they have 2 huge bakers, one is a Kellogg's brand, that make the cookies and help the GS market them. This is PROFIT business. No way that is just some girls selling some cookies.

Where is the government on this? Is it is because the Girl Scouts are chartered by Congress that no one looks at them? Can you or I start a NON profit if we let kids sell the product? What is the tax on a billion dollars??

Where is 60 Minutes when you need them?

What you ask about child labor is extremely important. Not to mention that MOST of these cookies are sold by adults, in offices etc.

Something is not right in all of this.

Anonymous said...

I am a girl scout myself only I am one of the rare ones. Im the Girl Scout in high school who no one buys from because there's a cuter brownie down the street. I understand your perspective completely and I agree that a bigger portion of the profits should come to us. I always prefer to sell magazines for fall sales because we get a considerable larger profit.
However I think it’s unfair of you to assume that all of the extra money goes to the execs. As RAnn said a lot of those funds go to fully furnished wonderful camps and supplies for girls. In my area it's practically uncommon not to see a High Challenge course at every camp site. This said, the Girl Scouts have a rather annoying habit of being SUPER safe about everything, (technically were not even allowed to go door to door but leaders look the other way so the troop can have SOME funds)Because of this it is very often that the organization has to purchase new harnesses, lobster claws, carabineers, Ect. Also in my area Council will allow any Small Craft Certified leader to check out canoes or Kayaks for her troop free of charge. The funds for these crafts also come from sales. So I thought it was important that you know that though very little of that money comes DIRECTLY to the troops, if they have a proactive leader, a large portion of it comes to them indirectly.
Also I have one request for you and RAY, please do not voice your opinion of the corporate structure directly to the little girl at your door. She really can’t do anything about it and her only goal is to get that worthless trinket, not to scam you. I can speak from experience and to the 7 year old girl at your door it's life shattering to be yelled at by a stranger (especially if they go on to rant/ cuss) and really are you much better than the money hungry organization if you make a little girl at your door cry her eyes out because she doesn’t understand what she did wrong?

oh! Jamie Dawn, if you would prefer not to buy cookies, the girls ( and their leaders!) love it a lot more if you choose to donate anyway. It makes the younger girls feel special that you chooose to help out their troop just because.

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Anonymous said...

RC just sounds like an ignorant jerk. "...chubby elementary school girl come to my door..."? Really? Is that accurate? And if so, so what?

Maybe the scout learns a little about running a business, whether they sell 1000s of boxes or not.

No one's forcing you to buy them, just like no one is forcing these girls to do this "backbreaking" work.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a GS leader and I am considering quitting because I agree with this post. Our whole troop sells and we make about 500 which isn't even enough to cover individual girl scout fees and a couple days of camp! It's absolutely not fair.

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