Modernizing the Girl Scouts for the 21st Century

Digital technology will underpin the 105-year-old girl empowerment organization’s efforts to make the Girl Scout experience relevant in the 21st century.

For over 100 years, Girl Scouts has pursued its mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. They do this by providing girls with a wide variety of learning experiences such as attending and leading troop meetings, earning badges, selling cookies, exploring the outdoors, and participating in community service. Currently, there are 2.7 million Girl Scout members around the world, comprised of 1.9 million girls and 800,000 adult volunteers [1].

As the world changes, the Girl Scouts are faced with several external realities that present challenges to their business model. Central to these changes is the increasing role of technology in all aspects of the lives of girls and teens. According to a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 92% of teens report going online daily, including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly,”. Nearly 75% of teens have (or have access to) a smartphone and approximately 71% use at least one social media site [2]. As these trends increase, so do girls’ expectation that using such technology would be part of their daily educational and recreational experiences. At the same time, a multitude of other extracurricular activities and entertainment options have drawn girls’ attention away from more traditional activities, making them less likely to choose Scouting as the way to spend their free time. Volunteers trends have been shifting as well. As more and more women enter the workforce, fewer stay-at-home moms mean an increasing shortage of volunteers, as well as busier volunteers who have no time to waste on administrative tasks. In light of these changes, leadership at headquarters of the Girl Scouts are faced with the following questions:

  • How do we ensure that Girl Scouts are receiving progressive, relevant, and fun experiences that they love?
  • How do we attract, retain, and motivate our group of diverse and passionate adult volunteers?
  • How do we leverage new mobile and digital marketing to reinforce our brand?
  • How do we effectively measure and track our success?

 

Digitalizing the Experience of Girl Scouting

“Girls are digital natives…so we have to change a hundred-year-old program, keep what’s great and what we love about our legacy, but also update it to meet today’s girls’ needs.” [3] – Anna M. Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA (2011-2016)

In 2014, Girl Scouts introduced the Digital Cookie, a digital platform that allows girls to expand their existing cookie businesses to online and prepares them to be leaders in the high-tech, fast-paced, e-commerce world of today. Through the platform, girls can create their own Web pages, conduct cookie sales online, manage their finances, set goals, and track progress real-time. Additionally, through partnerships with Visa and Dell, girls now have the option of accessing a wide variety of interactive features, such as games and quizzes, to supplement their entrepreneurship experience [4]. As a result of these efforts, Girl Scouts was named one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Non-Profits in 2015.

Girl Scouts is also leveraging technology to streamline the management and training of its volunteers through the creation of a proprietary digital training resource, Volunteer Toolkit. Volunteer Toolkit provides the busy, on-the-go volunteer with an integrated online planning tool, complete with rich program content and fully customizable lesson plans [5].  This allows the volunteer more flexibility to allocate her time towards value-added activities with girls, rather than burdensome administrative tasks or long training sessions, resulting in higher volunteer satisfaction and higher retention over time.

Business Enhancements

The National Girl Scout organization and its 112 local affiliates are working together to make several technological enhancements in its business operations, including:

  • Moving towards a shared Web platform and email system across all 112 local affiliates to leverage scale and ensure branding consistency
  • Revamping existing CRM system to improve recruitment and conversion of new members, both girls and adult volunteers
  • Leveraging digital marketing channels and social media to communicate the organization’s brand promise to current and potential members
  • Investing in collecting higher quality data over longer periods of time [6]

Looking Ahead

Girl Scouts has made tremendous investments in technology over the recent years. Looking forward, additional opportunities exist to push the envelope even further. These include investment into the girl and volunteer experience such as a broader Digital Girl Experience Platform, beyond just the cookie sale, and additional functionality to allow for collaboration and sharing of best practices by volunteers across the country. Another opportunity is in data. As the Girl Scouts continue to collect better quality data, can they leverage insights to design better programs, attract funders, and generate revenue through retail merchandising sales? While a seemingly daunting task is ahead, these questions represent a unique opportunity for the organization transform into an institution that is truly relevant to future generations of girls to come.

 

Citations:

[1]          Girl Scouts of the USA. (2016, November). About Girl Scouts: Who We Are. Retrieved from http://www.girlscouts.org/en/about-girl-scouts/who-we-are.htm

[2]          Lenhart, A. (2015, April). Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/

[3]          Murrary, S. (2016). Upgrading a Network. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/upgrading_a_network

[4]          Dell Corporation. (2015). Dell and the Girl Scouts – Inspiring girls to build skills in STEM and Entrepreneurship with Digital Cookie. Retrieved from http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/vn/corp-comm/digital-cookie

[5]          Girl Scouts of the USA. (2016, November). Volunteer Resources. Retrieved from http://www.girlscouts.org/en/adults/volunteer/volunteer-resources.html

[6]          Murrary, S. (2016). Upgrading a Network. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/upgrading_a_network

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8 thoughts on “Modernizing the Girl Scouts for the 21st Century

  1. Super original and interesting post Joy, Thanks!
    I find the scouts very important to the “digital native” generation, mainly because of the fact that digitization has many side effect related to damaging children communication skills and learning abilities. Today, the scouts is one of the only extracurricular activities that force young generations to interpersonal relationship.
    I like the fact such an old organization thinks forward on how to still be relevant, I mainly liked the “Volunteer Toolkit”.
    Would also offer to leverage this young generation technological skills to form a different kind of volunteering – maybe instead of selling cookies girl scouts can leverage their digital abilities to help the elderly or poor populations use digital devices in a way that can improve their lives?

    1. Totally agree with Orly – this was a really interesting topic and I loved reading about it. Thanks, Joy! I hadn’t thought about how much the Girl Scouts’ operating model would be impacted by more women working. Do you think that having parent volunteers is essential to the Girl Scout model going forward? I was also really interested in your comment on data; I totally agree that the ability to measure and demonstrate outcomes will be a huge boon to fundraising. How do the Girl Scouts think about identifying and measuring key outcome metrics?

  2. Joy this was a great post! I think it is great that the organization is adapting and incorporating technology into its business model. The Digital Cookie initiative seems like a great way to engage the girls and really give them business and financial exposure. Going forward, I think the Girl Scouts can really make a difference in the future career paths of the girls. They could partner with Girls Who Code and other organizations to give young women the tools they will need to succeed in their future jobs. Given that the number of women holding computing roles has declined from 35% in 1990 to 26% in 2013, the importance of equipping young women with technical skills is more important than ever [1].

    [1]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/27/women-in-tech_n_6955940.html

  3. Joy

    Great article on the Girl Scouts. I didn’t realize that they were facing challenges in recruiting both girls and leaders to the organization. While I agree that there’s great opportunity to use digital platforms to engage girls in collaboration & train volunteers, I struggle with seeing how data can help them grow through attracting funding. When I think about what data they would capture through an online platform, it seems as though it would be data surrounding sale type/concentration/frequency – do you think this would be of value?

    I do agree the digitization of their platform is beneficial for a stronger organization. I think this would be beneficial for a more unified Girl Scouts, higher revenue and an opportunity for the Scouts to learn valuable leadership and financial skills through this process. If you see the link below, the Boy Scouts have a centralized platform available where someone interested can select the Troop to support and then donate/etc. The results have been great including one Troop raising over $300,000 through this.

    https://www.trails-end.com/

  4. It’s great to learn about how a 105-year old non-profit is adapting to the digital age. I agree there is a lot of opportunity in a digital platform to stay relevant and grow the organization (both girls and adult volunteers).

    A digital platform could also balance the supply and demand between volunteers beyond local geographies. Volunteers from 1 hr away could support administrative tasks for a troop and engage in-person with regular frequency. While it would be important to balance the number of local and virtual volunteers for troops, lowering the barrier to volunteer could distribute administrative tasks better for everyone.
    Increasing connections across geographic boundaries could also increase girls’ access to mentors with different skill-sets. Another way to develop the value proposition of Girl Scouts would be to connect girls to more mentors who can teach them about coding, engineering, fashion, etc. in virtual setting.

  5. This is very interesting- thank you for sharing Joy! Given that the organization launched the Digital Cookie platform as the girls’ interests transformed, I wonder whether the Girl Scouts is interested in incorporating digital and/or engineering education in its 100+ year programming. While the business model of the organization has sustained generations and generations of girl scouts, I think it’s critical for the organization to move beyond earning badges for exploring the outdoors and selling cookies. Given the demographic shift, I wonder if the Girl Scout operating model would support incorporating programming like computer coding and/or STEM based activities for girls. If the operating model would support it, do you think it would fit into the business model or would restructuring the programming completely change the business model altogether?

  6. It’s really interesting to see how the “traditional industry” like Girl Scouts get digitalized. The digitalization saves a lot of volunteering time and is really helpful for the NGO. But does it also mean that the Girl Scouts’ skill and course need to be changed too? For example, with the smartphone, the ability to use compass and read maps are less important. Maybe the digitalization also changes the nature of the Girl Scouts’s “Business model”. It’s a really fascinating topic!

  7. I thought the point about the lower number of stay-at-home moms was so interesting– its funny thinking about how you balance the happy fact that more women are working longer in their careers with the effect this might have on the number of weekday volunteers — I never would have thought of that. This makes it more salient of a point that we need more efficient and cost-effective ways to maintain important charitable programs like the Girl Scouts. Digital Cookie seems like a fantastic way to get girls engaged in the skills that will be important to them in the future. I wonder if they should continue to focus more on integrating digital ways for Girl Scouts in specific regions to interact with ones all over the country. Getting to see Girl Scouts throughout the USA could encourage the conversation and understanding that appears to be lacking in our country and world right now. I hope the Girl Scouts takes advantage of its platform and awesome culture and new technology to push these messages forward!!

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