Looking to change your organization? Look to the Girl Scouts for inspiration

Sun, Apr 22, 2012 at 11:15AM

Hardy Smith, Nonprofit Speaker & Consultant

I’ve always been a big fan of Girl Scout cookies.

Faced with declining participation of both girls in their scouting programs and adult volunteers, the Girl Scouts sought to find solutions to reverse these trends.

Their focused approach to a restructuring of the 100-year-old organization is truly impressive. An excellent case study of their experience is outlined in the book Tough Cookies by Kathy Cloninger, former CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.

The Girl Scouts are not alone. Nonprofits and associations dependant on volunteer and member participation are faced – now more than ever – with the tremendous challenges that have affected such organizations for decades.

Many organizations mistakenly believe a new slogan will fix whatever issues are to blame for not attracting desired participation numbers. However, re-painting a house with cracked walls and a crumbling foundation won’t keep it from falling down.

Likewise a new marketing phrase or catchy tag line won’t fix what needs rebuilding.

An examination of the approach taken by the Girl Scouts reveals very important action steps responsible for their successful results:

  • They had the willingness to admit change was needed, and they backed it up with the willingness to take action.
  • Recognizing that no quick fix would offer needed solutions, they made the commitment of time and resources necessary to get the job done properly.
  • They developed a structured course of action to keep their effort on task.
  • They took extraordinary steps to maximize participation by their members, volunteers, and other stakeholders.
  • They resolved to be inclusive of diverse opinions.

Change from past behavior can be challenging. However, the Girl Scouts were willing to make tough decisions and take difficult steps for the good of the organization and its future success.

While their strategic thinking activity was intensive, the Girl Scouts are equally committed to the all-important implementation aspects of their plan.

If declining membership and volunteer participation are plaguing your organization, a process similar to that undertaken by the Girl Scouts can make a positive difference.

Once you decide to engage in a course of rediscovery, rebranding, and reorganization; having a supply of Girl Scout cookies on hand will provide added inspiration!


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