Lately there have been some challenging articles written by the mainstream media about our parent organization, Girl Scouts of the USA.
The focus is GSUSA has hired a consultant to reimagine its configuration now that there are 112 high-capacity councils across the United States, rather than the 330 councils, as it was six years ago. They have pared the staff at GSUSA from more than 600 full-time employees to what is reported around 400 full-time employees. Last week, those employees were offered retirement packages to encourage some to retire as Anna Marie Chavez works to "right size" the national organization to fit the needs of the councils.
As you may know, GSSA has had to "right size" a number of times to address tight budgets and a concern that we are too reliant on the cookie program for income. We recently had to lay-off a number of staff because of the DEFUNDING by the Southwest Alabama United Way (Mobile and Clarke counties). These budget shortfalls have consequences for those who work for Girl Scouts and for those we serve.
Just to provide some clarity about GSSA's situation in the context of the larger assertions in the media. Yes, our retirement liability increases annually. The staff members and I have spoken to Congressional aides about supporting the legislation providing relief from the requirement of having the retirement plan fully funded.
GSSA's membership bounces around and is very reflective of the national scene. We had three years of modest growth, this year we are down in membership. A large number of our members are girls in Head Start and other federally funded programs that were cut on sequestration, so the outlook there is a challenge. There seems to be no logic in what years our membership is strong.
This past year we encouraged service units who grew membership and cookie sales with a bonus to the service unit. Of the 43 service units in GSSA, three received the membership bonus and eight received the cookie program bonus. When we asked one of the service unit managers what she did differently to dramatically increase her girl numbers, she said she didn't know.
Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama were working to sell several of their camp properties. Some of their long-time adult members were so irate about the plan that they have sued the council and been elected to the board of directors.
We are very fortunate in regard to property. I had GSUSA property consultants in over two years ago, and we spent a week traveling each property with him making recommendations. Our properties are adequately spaced apart from one another and in reasonable shape. We would like a higher utilization of the properties. I am looking at renting the properties to others on the weekends when they are not being used by Girl Scouts, since replacing lost income with new revenue streams is critical. We have a long-range facilities master plan that we are working on. You see some movement at each camp and office that comes directly from that master plan.
Camp Scoutshire Woods is getting new kitchen equipment as we can find it (we try to buy government surplus items to save money) and a storage building near the recreation hall. Kamp Kiwanis has a new sailboat loft being built. Camp Humming Hills saw the addition of canoe racks and some canoes moved to that property. At Camp Sid Edmonds, we worked replacing boards around the waterfront.
Clearly, as Girl Scouts we are at a crossroads. We need to find more ways to raise funds from sources other than the cookie program. The funding by United Way agencies in our community is struggling with more requests than funds. There are more opportunities for troops to raise funds for their own activities, and we at GSSA are always interested in opportunities you see that we are not capitalizing on to strengthen our fiscal strength. This is a girl organization focused on what is best for the girls who participate.