The membership drop mirrors similar declines throughout the nonprofit and youth-serving sectors, with organizations across the country experiencing the residual effects of the 2008 financial crisis, and its lingering impact on the time and resources both girls and parents have to give to Girl Scouts and other activities. The increased demand and competition from other organizations, school, and extracurricular activities for the attention of girls have also cut into the time girls commit to Girl Scouts.
Much of Girl Scouts’ membership decline over the past several years can be attributed to a lack of adult volunteers to lead troops and deliver programming. With 30,000 girls on waiting lists nationwide to join the Girl Scouts, it is clear girls’ interest in joining the organization remains high. Declining time and interest on the part of potential adult volunteers to serve as troop leaders, cookie moms, and in other capacities has led to a net decline in overall girl and adult membership, as many girls no longer have a local troop to join. The recruitment and training of qualified adults is a top priority for the organization, as a single volunteer can take as many as five girls off of a wait list and into a troop setting.
“We are aware of the national trends in the youth-serving nonprofit space, and are investing heavily in innovative technological upgrades that will take the Girl Scout experience fully into the twenty-first century,” said Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. “As we head into our national convention this month, we are embracing new tactics, ideas, and strategies that will help us reach, recruit, and retain more girls and the adults who serve them. As we position Girl Scouts for its second century of service to girls, we are continuing to work to connect the organization to the fast-paced modern world, ensuring we deliver a unique leadership experience that is consistent with the needs of today’s girls while teaching the values and ideals our Movement has always upheld.”
More sophisticated social media campaigns and a first-ever online resource for volunteers, called the Volunteer Toolkit, are among the new tactics and strategies Girl Scouts of the USA has been investing in to assist in recruiting more adult volunteers. This fall Girl Scouts of the USA launched its first national Facebook ad campaign for the majority of Girl Scout councils. The campaign, which uses geo-targeted ads optimized for conversions, reached over nine million potential volunteers in the first month. The development of the Volunteer Toolkit is revolutionary for Girl Scouts of the USA, as it will ease the on-boarding process for new volunteers, and troop leaders will be able to plan an entire year of meetings and activities in one online visit. The mobile-friendly toolkit also provides easy access and constant support for on-the-go volunteers. The handful of councils currently piloting the toolkit have already seen a significant positive impact, greatly reducing the number of girls on waiting lists.
Though overall membership is down, the positive effect Girl Scouts has on girls continues to be indisputable. Studies from the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) show women who were Girl Scouts display positive life outcomes with regard to sense of self, community service, civic engagement, education, and income to a greater degree than women who were not Girl Scouts. And this is the case for all Girl Scout alumnae, across age/generations, social class, race, and engagement in other extracurricular activities. Results from a Girl Scouts of the USA summer 2014 pulse poll conducted with more than 3,500 volunteers and parents of Girl Scouts in the K−5 age range shows at least 90 percent of caregivers say their daughter is more confident, has more friends, and is happier because she’s in Girl Scouts, while 88 percent of volunteers believe their lives are better because they volunteer with Girl Scouts.
Additional GSRI data showcases the need for female leadership organizations in this country. Their 2013 report The State of Girls: Unfinished Business found that while progress has been made for girls in some areas such as educational attainment, many girls are being left behind. Particularly, African American and Hispanic girls face significant challenges in making successful transitions to adulthood. More recently, GSRI’s The State of Girls: Thriving or Surviving examines girls’ well-being across each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranking each state based on an index of girls’ well-being. Data like this showcases the significant need for organizations like Girl Scouts to work together with local communities to mobilize resources that address the most pressing issues impacting girls, especially those in underrepresented and vulnerable populations. Girl Scouts of the USA’s curriculum continues to be informed and shaped by research like this in order to best serve today’s girls.