Girl Scouts of the USA: 110 Years of Adventure and Impact
I've long admired the work that the Girl Scouts organization has played in our country, and more specifically, in my local community. They have been such a force for good for so many, and as a marketer, I've long wondered what was behind some of the magic of creating such a strong gravitational pull with its community.
In fact, just this past week I had a firsthand look at the remarkable engagement of the Girl Scouts community as my friends at Town Hall produced their "Paint the World Purple" virtual event hosted by Kristen Bell. They had tens of thousands of girls across the country tuned in and fully engaged in ways most brands could only dream of. It was so impressive to see.
To shed some light on the magic of the Girl Scouts of the USA brand, I sat down with Dana Siegel, VP of brand and product marketing, for a conversation about how they think about building community engagement. Dana sits on the front lines of the strategic thinking behind this amazing brand and didn't disappoint with some fantastic insights.
Damian Bazadona: Girl Scouts is an organization that was created to be a space where women could "embrace their unique strengths and create their own opportunities" at a time when those opportunities, both professionally and personally, were incredibly limited for them. What has been at the core of how an organization that began with only 18 women in 1912 has become one of the most successful international women's empowerment organizations—with over 2.5 million members—today?
Dana Siegel: This year Girl Scouts of the USA celebrates 110 years of adventures. As you mentioned, Girl Scouts was founded by Juliet Gordon Low in an era when women's place in society was very different than today. What she created was an opportunity for girls to have a safe space to be themselves, make friends, support their community, explore their potential and make the world a better place.
Since then, Girl Scouts has grown a tremendous amount from 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia, to a global movement with chapters representing every ZIP code in the USA and members in 90 countries. What remains consistent is the girl at the center of the organization.
Our programming is girl-led to allow troops the ability to customize the experience by curating their girls' interests, selecting across the hundreds of badge programs available, ranging in topics from outdoors to STEM. Girls setting their own path forward is what sets the Girl Scout Leadership Experience apart.
When someone thinks of Girl Scouts, they may assume your target audience is just that—girls. But as you note on your site, there are many roles that men and dads can get involved in at the organization as well. Have you ever had difficulty reaching these other demographics who may not initially think they have a place in your community?
The Girl Scouts community is much larger than our K-12 members. Our membership includes our volunteers, who come from all walks of life, driven by the common desire to support our next generation to lead with courage, confidence and character. It is our troop leaders who are the backbone of our movement. The Girl Scout community is also made up by moms, dads and families who support their girls' experiences. Our community is supported by the 50 million alumni who share the legacy of the program, and our community is made up of the businesses and supporters who fund our work and help to raise our girls' voices.
Our troop leaders play the role of cheerleader-in-chief and guide to the limitless possibilities ahead. The experience doesn't just change the girls in the troop, but deepens the troop leaders' own leadership experience and community ties. It is a big commitment to be a troop leader, so it is not always an easy task to bring new troop leaders on, but when they see the incredible and fulfilling impact they can have, it is time well spent. We cast a wide net in recruiting troop leaders, so if you believe in girl-led experiences, learning by doing, discovery, collaboration and making a difference, perhaps you too have what it takes to lead a troop!
From video tutorials for activities, to educational resources, to events, your website is full of opportunities for your community to engage virtually, whether you're a member or not. Was that something that existed prior to the pandemic? Or out of a need to keep your community doing what they do best—learning together?
Digital resources have been a part of the Girl Scout experience for some time, but when the pandemic hit, the organization pivoted very quickly to develop content to keep the girls connected to each other, their troop and the community at large in a meaningful way. This led to the development of the Girl Scout Activity Zone where content is created by girls, troop leaders, volunteers and councils to explore the Girl Scout experience, with topics ranging from finding shapes in nature, to measuring your carbon footprint, making a snack, to learning sales techniques to improve your cookie business. The best part is that all of this content is available for non-members as well!
Virtual events also became a key component of how we bring our members across the globe together. Last spring we produced an event in partnership with Michelle Obama and Penguin Random House centered around her book Becoming, and this year Girl Scouts painted the world purple in a virtual event with Girl Scout alum Kristin Bell on May 19th.
One of our most popular digital resources was around long before the pandemic and caters to parents at large. Raising Awesome Girls is our Girl Scout blog, which aims to make raising girls with confidence a whole lot easier. Our blog covers everything from how to address current events with your daughter to the mental health crisis that girls are facing today. It is one of the largest traffic sources to our website and helps us to reach families beyond our current membership.
Beyond being an organization that helps young women thrive through the Girl Scouts program, Girl Scouts also plays an active role in cause advocacy, with issues ranging from ocean conservation, to refugee resettlement, to gender equity in the workplace. Has taking a stance on issues at all impacted your community? How do you manage bringing together all of your members who may have differing opinions on these topics? How do you expand your inclusivity while not alienating?
For 110 years, Girl Scouts have been changing the world. In 1918, the Girl Scouts supported the Red Cross during the flu epidemic. During World War II, they contributed 15 million hours of volunteer service. And today, our girls contribute 3 million hours of community service annually in their local communities.
Making the world a better place is central to the Girl Scout experience. Girls participate in our national service projects like the Tree Promise to join the mission to protect the planet from climate change by helping to plant 5 million trees. By participating in projects like this at a young age, girls learn to partake in projects that are bigger than their local community. They become stewards of the environment, they learn to work together to make changes that are bigger than themselves, and they learn that their work can have an enormous global impact.
At every level of the program, Girl Scouts encourages girls to think about the issues that matter most to them and identify ways that they can make a positive change in their lives, the lives of their family and their community. They carry this mission with them from their early experiences as a Daisy through to their independent projects in our Highest Award programs. Our Bronze, Silver and Gold Award Girl Scouts work to make sustainable lasting change on issues that matter most to them. They learn to collaborate while solving the kinds of problems that most adults shy away from. When girls lead with passion, compassion and ambition, they can accomplish anything!
Having been around for well over 100 years, how has your messaging to both your own community and the public at large balanced honoring Girl Scouts' long-standing legacy and traditions while still adapting to the times? Is there any particular approach that you have found to be most effective?
As you said, the Girl Scout experience is a legacy. While the program is the same generation to generation, what you do as a Girl Scout continues to evolve year-over-year. The Girl Scout Leadership Experience centers around outdoors, STEM, life skills and entrepreneurship. We release dozens of new badges each year to meet the evolving needs of our girls. In 2021, new STEM, cybersecurity and civics badges were released along with a new mental wellness program, which is available for all girls to participate in, not just existing members.
While the program continues to evolve, what remains consistent is that Girl Scouts is not just an activity that you participate in. Girl Scouts is a way of life, it is who you are. This identity and connection with Girl Scouts is longstanding and goes back to the founding of the organization. When Girl Scouts is part of who you are, you carry it with you into your adulthood. The lessons you learn in Girl Scouting help shape the kind of adult and parent that you become, and the legacy continues on.
Girl Scouts may be the only nonprofit with a branded product as prolific and successful as Girl Scout cookies. In a space that perhaps hasn't needed a ton of innovation to hit its goals year-over-year, have you still sought to continue to up your cookie game over time? Whether that's in adding new flavors, changing names, or you even recently teamed up with DoorDash to make same-day delivery a reality, didn't you? Dangerous.
Oh yes! Cookie innovation is an important topic for us. This year we launched the new Adventureful (a Brownie-inspired cookie with a salted caramel center) and keep your ears open for next year's new cookie. The cookies themselves are not the only innovation, though. The pandemic drove the need to innovate on how girls sell in their community beyond the traditional cookie booths and door-to-door sales. When the pandemic hit in the middle of the 2020 cookie season, the organization pivoted quickly and launched a nationwide digital platform to connect consumers to girls' digital cookie pages in just nine days!
As you mentioned, DoorDash is an important partnership to provide girls the ability to distribute at scale in their community. Through the Girl Scout cookie program, girls learn to run their cookie business with 21st century entrepreneurship tactics, from developing and fostering leads, to managing their digital business on Digital Cookie, to delivering the product to their customer in person, through DoorDash and through our shipping partners. The girls learn and innovate their own personal businesses year after year as well with creative marketing tactics—including booths outside of our national partners like Walmart, Joanne's and GNC, creative pitch videos and even drone delivery.
From a marketing perspective, we are as concerned about the girl's experience as a first-time or seasoned entrepreneur as we are with the consumer experience. The consumer is not just buying delicious cookies, they are supporting the birth of a new generation of female entrepreneurs while helping to fund all the exciting programs that the girls will do all year long. This includes trips to the Girl Scout birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, supplies for STEM activities and even funds for troops to attend Phenom, our Girl Scout Convention in Disney World in July 2023. Cookie sales support everything that Girl Scouts do, so the next time you chomp into a delicious Thin Mint, remind yourself of all of the ways that you supported Girl Scouts' ambitions with your purchase and buy a few extra!
Girl Scouts, as a community, is as much about the young girls and women currently participating as Scouts as it is about its alums who stay involved with the organization long after they've completed the program. What do you think has been the key to these individuals so wanting to stay an active part of the community in the long term?
More than 50 million women in this country were Girl Scouts in their youth (that is one-third of the female population), along with 54 percent of the women in 117th Congress and 56 percent of female NASA astronauts. Being a Girl Scout is a badge of honor that we wear proudly. I mentioned earlier that Girl Scouts is not just an activity that you did as a kid, it is part of your identity. As you step into your adulthood, your Girl Scout identity is a bond, a shorthand, a connection with women you don't know, have never met, but understand. You know what they value and the experiences they had as girls. Our alums are some of our strongest supporters, stepping in as volunteers, troop leaders and cookie buyers, lifting up the next generation in countless ways.
Many of our girls also bridge from Ambassadors to Lifetime Members. They celebrate their Girl Scout experience in college applications because college admissions officers recognize the experiences acquired in Girl Scouting—from independence, to collaboration, to being a contributor to their community—as the values they look for in their students. Employers know that hiring a Girl Scout means that you are resourceful, hardworking, trustworthy and a leader. Our alums stay connected to the Girl Scout movement both because of the identity that is ingrained in their way of life and because it is important to them to help provide the experience that helped shape their childhood with a new generation of girls of courage, confidence and character.
Building Passionate Communities is a regular interview series where Damian Bazadona, president and founder of Situation Group, sits down with extraordinary leaders at organizations that have paved the way in both cultivating passionate communities and driving them to meaningful action. For more about Building Passionate Communities, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.