Sell more cookies, Girl Scouts! Mama needs a new pair of shoes!

girl scout saleswomen

According to articles in today’s Boston Herald, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts are having a devil of a time unloading all their Girl Scout Cookies.

300,000 boxes remain unsold, and the deadline for getting rid of them is looming!

Now the organization’s leader, Ms. Ruth Bramson, is appealing to the people of Boston to “reach deep into your pockets” and make the investment in America’s future women leaders that is a Girl Scout Cookie purchase.

However, after reading up on the cookie crisis, we are inclined to question the sales pitch.

cookies

Here’s the main article in the Herald, entitled “Girl Scout cookie sales crumble“:

Cash-hungry local Girl Scouts have just six days to sell a staggering 300,000 boxes of Thin Mints, Daisy Go Rounds and other cookie favorites or else face possible steep fee hikes and deep cuts in their charity programs.

A harsh winter, a tough economy and a widespread peanut butter panic conspired to take a big bite out of this year’s cookie dough, leaving sales down 11 percent from last year and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts $1.2 million short of their goal.

“It’s been a difficult selling season,” said Chief Executive Officer Ruth Bramson – who’s hoping her Girl Scouts can avoid having to do “Samoas with less.”

Cookie revenue, Bramson said, pays for troops’ activities, sends underprivileged kids to summer camp and pays for programs such as Girl Scouting Beyond Bars, which reconnects some youths with their mothers incarcerated at MCI-Framingham.

Now jeopardized by the funding shortage, Girl Scouting Beyond Bars already has 60 girls on a waiting list, Bramson said.

Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, which serves 45,000 girls ages 5 to 17 in 178 communities from Cape Ann to Cape Cod, has sold some 2.5 million boxes of cookies since January – 300,000 less than last year.

Nationally, Bramson said cookie sales have crumbled 20 percent.

“There were a lot of contributing factors,” she said. “The economy has really had an impact, and God gave me peanut butter (panic) and really miserable weather. We’re reaching out to the public to say, ‘Please, reach deep into your pockets and your hearts because this impacts the young women leaders of the future.’ ”

We feel sorry for the poor Scouts out there hawking cookies in the freezing cold and seeing disappointing sales.

However, Ms. Bramson’s comments imply that the proceeds from the cookie fund are pipelined directly into funding for the Scouts’ causes, thus boxes sold -> money for summer camp and Scouting Beyond Bars.

This strikes us as misleading, because an important transaction is left out.

Before cookie proceeds can be allocated to needy kids, the Scouting organization has to pay all its overhead first.

Here’s an 2005 annual report from the Patriots’ Trail Council, one of three former Massachusetts Girl Scouts’ Councils that were ultimately folded into the Eastern Massachusetts Council. Although it is a few years old, it provides an interesting look at the bookkeeping that underlies the Girl Scouts’ operations. (We would have preferred an annual report from the Eastern Mass. council, but none was available on their website.)

The most relevant portion is the breakout of income and expenses for the fiscal year:

scout-expense

As you can see, 2005 was a pretty good year for the Patriots’ Trail, with a net income of half a million dollars.

That said, the single greatest expense for the Council was its administrative overhead, with over $3 million needed to pay the salaries of Girl Scout employees.

In this example, administrative costs essentially wiped out the net income from “product sales” – ie. Girl Scout Cookies, leaving grants, contributions and the like to make up the difference.

That’s not exactly the picture painted by Ms. Bramson in the Herald article. And this was in a good year for the Patriots’ Trail.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a nonprofit organization paying its employees decent salaries, that’s only fair. Someone has to be in charge of the Girl Scouts, and parent volunteers can’t possibly coordinate the complex logistics of a multi-million dollar cookie sales operation in their free time.

But it’s more than a little eyebrow-raising to see a cookie sales shortfall presented as a blow to charity per se, when the actual picture appears to be more complex than a simple cookies->charity transaction.

In reality, the Girl Scout revenue equation is more like cookie sales – cost of Girl Scout bureaucracy = money left over for charity.

And with sales down, there will be a lot less money left over to visit imprisoned mommies!

Meanwhile, little girls are enduring sometimes oppressive conditions to move units and pay the salaries of adults in the Girl Scout offices:

One reason the milk caramel chips are down: Madeline English School fourth-grader Samantha Mandracchia, 10, of Troop 71071 in Everett, a smart cookie if ever there was one, nearly froze to death this winter trying to persuade strangers to open their doors to her sales pitch.

“I had my hat on, my coat, my boots, my scarf, everything I could possibly put on,” she said, “but my face was still cold.”

What kept Samantha going? “I enjoy seeing people happy,” she said. “Not a lot of people on my street have breaks (at work). I figure they can at least eat cookies.”

Yes, Samantha, when working conditions are horrible, at least there are COOKIES to get us through!

Another valuable life lesson for the children on the Girl Scout sales force.

The nasty downside to this silver lining is that (a) Girl Scout Cookies are really unhealthy and (b) Massachusetts gets its cookies from the decidedly crappier of the two Girl Scout bakeries.

First, the health issue. OF COURSE cookies aren’t a health food, nor should they be. However, we thought that the whole “trans fats are a horrible poison” issue had been largely settled.

But there are still trans fats in Girl Scout cookies! Fork & Bottle exposes the devious trickery of the cookie bakers…

Girl Scout Cookie Season has officially opened once again. What’s new? Not a lot. Trans fats are still lurking in Girl Scout cookies even though the per-serving percentage is listed at zero (meaning less than 0.5%), the same as last year. High Fructose Corn Syrup is still a component of some cookies. Palm oil is still a major player.

Over the past year I’ve received emails scolding me for this rant. I’ve never said not to support the Girl Scouts (meaning “the actual girls”) just to please question their corporation, the decisions of the officers to continue the insanity of this cookie program which has girls learning commerce by selling inferior cookies. The ABC/Interbake site main page especially irks me: “Girl Scout Cookies sales help girls stay active and make healthy choices. Click here to find out how.”

Loophole alert: If the “Serving Size” for any GS cookie having PHOs is increased by just one cookie, it would be listed on the box as having 1 gram of trans fat. You do the math!

[...]

The title of their web page is “Cookies — a healthy alternative!(Still says this!) Processed cookies are a “Healthy Alternative”? To what? But the key thing here is that the Girl Scouts *own website* implies that their transfat cookies aren’t healthy, and that’s why they are trying to eliminate the transfat in them. Their website article also focuses on ABC/Interbake’s cookies which now “have a nutritional value of zero grams trans fat per serving” and fails to mention that their other bakery, Little Brown Bakery, did not at all eliminate unhealthy transfats. Apparently, they are promising to eliminate transfat in 2006-2007 or rather offer cookies with zero grams of transfat per serving. That’s not quite the same thing (see below).

Another part of their Website:

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR GIRL SCOUTING
As a values-based organization dedicated to healthy lifestyles for girls, Girl Scouting can expect the media and the public to hold the cookies sold under the Girl Scout brand up for special scrutiny.”

Good, as I’m doing that right here!

I learned that Girl Scout Cookies are made by just two companies, ABC/Interbake and the Little Brown Bakery. Both make Thin Mints, which I believe is their most popular choice. This year, one of their two manufacturers, ABC/Interbake has “eliminated” transfat in five of their cookies. But, well, not exactly…

USDA on Transfat:
Zero = < 0.5g per serving

Q: Is it possible for a food product to list the amount of trans fat as 0 g on the Nutrition Facts panel if the ingredient list indicates that it contains “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?” A: Yes. Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less than 0.5 gram per serving as zero on the Nutrition Facts panel. As a result, consumers are seeing products that list zero gram transfat on the label, while the ingredient list will have “shortening” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on it.”

This means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving. (…and how many people do you know who confine themselves to no more than the specified serving size…how many eat 4 or less cookies at a time?)A: Yes. Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less than 0.5 gram per serving as zero on the Nutrition Facts panel. As a result, consumers are seeing products that list zero gram transfat on the label, while the ingredient list will have “shortening” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on it.”

This means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving. (…and how many people do you know who confine themselves to no more than the specified serving size…how many eat 4 or less cookies at a time?)

A healthy alternative, indeed…assuming you mean an alternative to dipping one’s finger in a vat of pure trans fatty goodness!

What’s worse for Massachusetts cookie buyers, Girl Scouts in the Boston area are dealing ABC cookies, instead of Little Brownie Bakery.

To the uninitiated, that means that Bostonians get “Caramel DeLites” instead of “Samoas,” and so forth.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to taste-test cookies from the opposing bakeries, believe us when we tell you, Little Brownie kicks the tail of ABC every time.

Forgive us for this heresy against all that is American and patriotic about Girl Scouting, but it looks to us like a large bureaucracy is sending schoolchildren into the cold winter to hawk an inferior, unhealthy product with a bogus market monopoly, with the proceeds going to support said bureaucracy. And if the sales fall short, the shortfall comes straight out of the charitable enterprises!

Why should we support this, again? How is this a good cause to “dig deep” for??

Selling cookies teaches girls how to plan, market, prepare a budget and work as a team, Bramson said.

“They’re a powerful force,” she said, the pride apparent in her voice. “They really put their thumbprint on the world at an early age.”

There is definitely something to be said for the encouragement of young girls to get all capitalistic, to compete, to learn to budget, deliver promised goods on time, to become little industrious citizens.

In other words, it’s not a TOTALLY exploitative enterprise.

Under the leadership of Ms. Bramson, three Girl Scout councils were folded into the Eastern Massachusetts council, without significant labor cutbacks, according to another Herald article:

Bramson’s first challenge with the new council was to develop the organizational structure and figure out who would fill which job best. Altogether, 92 percent of the three councils’ staffs – about 100 in all – remained.

“My human resources background has come in handy,” Bramson says of those first six months. “The whole idea of how you assess people and put them in the right job, how to set goals and reach them, everything from the job descriptions to recruiting, that’s all HR.”

We’re not the HR experts that Ms. Bramson is, but it seems a little odd that folding three quite similar organizations into one would result in so little redundancy – only 8%.

Numbers of staff don’t tell the whole story, though. What kind of jobs are the Girl Scouts’ sales  supporting?

Out of curiosity, we checked out the benefits package that goes along with being a Girl Scouts employee.

It turns out it’s pretty damn sweet.

Medical Insurance

Full-time employees of Girl Scouts, Patriots’ Trail Council, are eligible for medical coverage through Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Harvard Pilgrim offers 3 levels of coverage: Individual, Dual, and Family plans. The Council will pay a percentage of the monthly premiums for each employee’s coverage based on the level of coverage elected. Coverage becomes effective on the employee’s first day of work.

Dental Insurance

Voluntary dental coverage is available through Delta Dental. Delta Dental offers individual and family plans. The Council will pay a percentage of the monthly premiums for each employee’s coverage based on the level of coverage elected. Coverage becomes effective on the employee’s first day of work.

Domestic Partner Coverage

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Delta Dental allow Patriots’ Trail staff to enroll same sex or opposite sex domestic partners under their health plan.

[...]

Paid Leave and Holidays

We have an extensive paid time off plan for our staff. New full-time non-exempt hourly employees earn 10 days of vacation leave per year. New full-time exempt employees earn 20 days of vacation leave per year. All full-time employees accumulate one sick day per month and are granted 3 personal days each year. 13 holidays are celebrated as paid holidays throughout the calendar year.

Hot Damn!!

20 vacation days, 12 sick days, 3 personal days, and 13 paid holidays??

How many profit-sector employees score such delicious bennies?

Why did we waste time writing this piece when we clearly should have spent it prepping our resume for a job with the Girl Scouts?

bramson
CEO Bramson: Dig deep, somebody needs to pay for my staff’s 48 paid days off!

So attention, Boston.

If you don’t break out your wallets in the next week and start buying those damn cookies, little girls aren’t going to see their mamas in prison.

Because you best BELIEVE we won’t be surrendering any paid holidays in our new gig with the Girl Scouts.

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

4 Responses to Sell more cookies, Girl Scouts! Mama needs a new pair of shoes!

  1. katcampbell says:

    Thanks for dropping by my blog, Alpine. This was interesting reading, I’ve been bugged about the propoganda versus reality conflict of cookie selling since I was a girl scout.

  2. GoGoMrPoPo says:

    I dunno, man. I’m not entirely sold on this one. They may be overstaffed, I’ll give you that. But if they have budget shortfall, would you expect them to simply not pay their employees? Even if they lay people off, they’re still not going to be able to fund their programs, so the damage is done already. You talk a lot about that sweet benefits package, but that’s not any different than what most government or non-profit employees get. You know why? Because they get paid peanuts. How much does their executive director make? What is the mean salary? The median? Health issues aside, before we go excoriating the Girl Scouts of America for corporate skullduggery, I think we need to see the whole picture. The story, as it stands, seems incomplete to me.

  3. Great points, Mr. PoPo, and it would be awesome if the Eastern Mass girl scouts made their Annual Reports available online, as some of the earlier organizations did – this would allow us to know the answers to some of the questions you pose. Sadly, they don’t.

    What set me off in this case was the director of the organization pleading through the media for help from the public, asking us to “reach deep,” when it’s not at all clear to me that the cause is the best way to fund programs for girls in need. If selling the cookies is about nurturing young capitalists, then they should sink or swim in the market like everyone else. If it’s about charity, then why incur all the overhead of a large retail-sales operation? The fact that the cookies are misleadingly advertised as healthy alternatives is just the icing on the cake, so to speak.

    To say nothing of a child-labor sales force…sure, the young ladies are learning on the job, but the Herald articles made it sound like they’re out there enduring hardships for charitable purposes. If selling Girl Scout Cookies is really hazardous to your health, I think the organization ought to re-think the way it raises money.

    Ultimately, you’re of course right that this is a bit of a scattershot, muckraking attack. They’re certainly welcome to their awesome benefits packages in the nonprofit sector, and to handle their staffing any way they see fit.

    Just don’t come crying to me, claiming it’s all about the kids, when your sales figures aren’t what you expect…

  4. GSmom/FormerLeader says:

    In the Milwaukee, WI, area known as GSWISE, the council has figured out a way to be sure to collect the same pay as last year… The are asking each troop to order the same amount of cookies this year as they ordered last year BEFORE the girls actually sell the cookies. In the past, the girls took orders from customers and then submitted a cookie order to ABC Bakers. That way the girls were guaranteed to collect money to pay the baker and council for their order. Council will be pulling half of the money due out of the troop accounts two weeks after they receive the cookies to sell. I’m wondering if it’s council is anticipating having girls being turned away because a portion of the money supports abortion and Planned Parenthood? This could be their way of handling damage control. The poor girls! They might have to work double as hard as they did in the past to get these cookies sold…

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