Girl Scouts Teaches Us a Few Lessons

The Girl Scouts of the USA is recreating itself – again. Their new efforts are shared openly on their website and are chronicled by Megan Greenwell in Blogs In, Badges Out as Girl Scouts Modernize in The Washington Post, March 2, A1.

The Girl Scouts gave us a number of lessons following ASAE & The Center’s research on 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t. Today, they are teaching us a few additional ones.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

The cookies stay (well except for my favorite but let’s not go there), as does the system of earning badges. But they are trying and testing new waters including a pilot curriculum that move from earning badges to focusing on broader themes, including teamwork and healthy living.

Don’t fight ‘em, join ‘em.

Girl Scouts has seen an 8% decline in membership that is attributable in part to a discontent with a program that feels more like schoolwork and ignores the changing focus of today’s young girls. Shifts in programming and in strategy that embraces technology meets the girls where they are. This quote by Susan A. Miller, who has written a book about the rise of girls’ organizations, sums it up nicely: “It would be silly for them to try to run counter to the dominant culture that girls are embedded in.”

Consistency where it counts not where it subtracts.

“But we’re always done it that way” doesn’t wash. The challenge is to maintain what is at the core while encouraging change. For Girl Scouts, they are maintaining the goals that have defined them throughout history. The are shifting the delivery of those goals in ways that are “fun, edgy and challenging for modern-day girls,” as described by Eileen Doyle, Girl Scouts’ senior vice president of program development.

Speak their language

Girl Scouts is taking this to heart in a number of ways from moving to on-line dialogs, to giving girls their own voices, to simply the naming of their new website LMK, text-speak for “let me know.” In doing this, Girl Scouts is also opening itself to greater awareness of its constituents. One of my favorite quotes about language comes from Federico Fellini who said “A different language is a different vision of life.”

Learn from others.

This is a big one for any of us in the association world seeking to survive and thrive … Girl Scouts called on two resources in its quest. First they borrowed from the corporate world and hired the first-ever brand manager, Laurel Richie, a former senior partner at advertising powerhouse Ogilvy & Mather. Second they teamed with Microsoft on their student-driven website with blogs, videos and discussions on hot topics.

Embrace diversity.

Girl Scouts is doing this in two ways we can learn from. The obvious way has to do with embracing ethnic, racial and generational diversity. One initiative reaches out to immigrant parents and children; another taps college students as troop leaders.

Another less talked about angle is troop autonomy. This isn’t new to Girl Scouts but has been ramped up in the new era. They give wide latitude for scouts, leaders and troops to choose their programming.
Will Girl Scouts succeed? The jury is still out, but given they were highlighted as one of nine remarkable associations in 7 Measures, the odds are in their favor. In that study, they were singled out in part for their “clarity of purpose marked by a real pragmatism about the means necessary to achieve those ends.”

The question for us is can we learn from the lessons of others?