CEO: January 2012 Archives

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I was at a meeting last week where we had a troop of Brownies visit to sell us Girl Scout cookies.   They brought paper carnations they had made in green.   Each one went up to those in the room, individually, talked to the person, took their order and returned with money in hand to have the order filled. 


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 It was a wonderful thing. The girls were excited about being there, and all the folks in the room were excited to have them there.   The girls were talking to strangers without fear, having a decent exchange of information.   I saw girls counting money and making change with their leader.   There was a lot of learning going on in those conversations.   There also were cases of cookies sold at this encounter, but, more than that, I watched girls learning self confidence.   It takes courage if you are a Brownie to talk to someone you don't know, and by doing so, they are investing in their own education.

I've heard some fun stories about the walkabouts through neighborhoods.   I've also heard stories about people's vicious dogs, not so pleasant responses and how ugly people can sometimes be.   But if you ask, have they learned anything, Daisy through Ambassador, I'm sure the response will be the same -- yes, they have learned.   They know more about themselves, they know more about how to set goals and achieve them, and they are more in tune with what is possible.

So, when you trip over that case of cookies in your house and think you cannot stand to see another one, just remember, those cookies have the power to change the world.   GSUSA estimates that the cookie program generates $700,000,000 across the US annually.    Think what girls can do with that!

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 Okay, we are almost three weeks into the cookie program. Does it feel like an eternity to you yet?   Have cookies taken over your dreams?   Well, even if that's the case, so far everyone has done excellent work!  

I've tried to talk to as many volunteers as I can while they load cookies, and generally the conversation goes something like, "I was trying to unload cookies to a parent in a parking lot, someone saw the cases, came by and purchased two cases before I got them loaded."   Or my personal favorite, "I sold some cookies to some of my friends; they have now eaten them and are back for more."

Despite any chaos, you have successfully survived the first payment.   We have heard over and over again that, what makes you crazy about this isn't that you need to pay for the cookies, but chasing that errant parent or two in your troop who doesn't pay.   You have to bug them; you have to nag them; you have to call them again, and it makes you CRAZY!   And further, this is the same parent that drops their daughter off late, picks her up late, cancels attending an event the troop has paid for, or worse, forgets to tell you she isn't coming and you sit waiting.   At this point, you are entitled to the PRIMAL SCREAM!

Most of the volunteers I talk to, at some point in the conversation, talk about this very parent, and almost all troops have at least one them.   They are not necessarily apologetic about it.   When you are most frustrated with the hassle, it is this parent that you believe might well just send you over the edge!   SCREAM NOW!

So guess what, you are going to get your reward.   For 30 years I worked in student discipline at a college.   I would meet the student and think, "wow, they are impossible."   When things got really bad with the student, I got to meet their parents.   My conclusion was that, at least with the student, I had a chance for some change.   Too often the child was simply a lesser version of the parents, and some of the parents were pretty scary, and this was a very expensive university.  

You, as a volunteer, are getting the opportunity to change how it turns out.   You are going to do your level best to be sure that girl from the impossible parents doesn't turn into one.   You have made the world a better place.   And thanks for always being patient, always understanding and trying to make the best of a situation that is very hard.   It shows who you really are.   It's okay if you need to SCREAM again, we totally understand. We do it, too. 

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When I was a young assistant dean of students at a university, one of my favorite targets for criticism was the director of athletics.   He was my parents' age and spent the bulk of his time filling the soda machine in his building.   Meanwhile, I had to deal with all types of noise from athletes, coaches and other chaos I felt that he had created.  

For retribution, when I became the dean of students, the director of athletics reported to me.   But there's more to this story.   Not long after I was appointed the dean of students, the athletics director had a heart attack.   It wasn't clear for at least six weeks whether he would be able to return to work or not, and I wound up being the acting director of athletics during basketball play-offs.   I stayed in that position for eight months, doing my job and his job.   I had to walk in his moccasins, and at a point, I came to understand why he filled the soda machine.   At least when he did that, he could see that he had accomplished something that day.

Scroll ahead 30 years, I'm the CEO of a Girl Scout council, not something I would have anticipated then.   I spend hours listening to others complain, and I'm always stunned when someone thinks that being insulting will help make her point.   My grandmother always said, "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar."   And she was definitely right.

We have made a huge change to the cookie program this year and received lots of feedback.   First, volunteers don't really like the earlier date to have part of the cookie funds in.   We hear you on that, and next year, that will change.   We take advice from other councils on best practices for a change of this magnitude, and that is how those dates were established.   We will adapt pieces and parts of the program predicated on your feedback, so we are asking for this feedback as we go along.  

The second most feedback has been on the ACH sweep of your troop bank account.   This was done to make it easier for you.   It is optional.  In fact, I wrote an entire blog on it being optional.   Last time I checked, we had one troop signed up for this, and the noise on this given those participating doesn't mesh.   If you aren't doing it, I'm not sure why you are upset about it?

Finally, most of the feedback has been positive.   Those who actually took the risk, ordered cookies and got them out to their parents have said they didn't order enough cookies and have come back for more.   Many have said this is simpler, that it cuts a step out of the process.   And troops are surprised how easy Girl Scout cookies are to sell when you have them in hand.   We are grateful for this feedback.   Making this process easier certainly was our goal.

At the council, we recognize you do all the heavy lifting on the cookie program.   And we try to support you by being out on cookie trucks, at the warehouse, chasing cookie trucks and refilling the pantries and cupboards to make this a success for the girls.  

Please don't assume that during the cookie program we are sitting in the office eating cookies.   On this three-day weekend, the entire product sales team has been on the phone and e-mail all weekend long.   We might not be in the office, but we have been responding to questions, concerns and issues.   Most of us had multiple 12-hour days last week, the first week of the sale.   That remains the case throughout each sale.  We are working to assure the cookie inventories are in the warehouse and available to meet your needs.   We are listening. We are working hard to walk in your moccasins to make this easier for you and most important, a learning experience for the girls.   Thanks for all you do.

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Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama's newest staff member is John Ferguson, who is joining the team as Director of Major Gifts. John is no stranger to GSSA, having served  on the Governance Committee between 2007-2009 writing bylaws, policies and procedures after consolidation of the seven Alabama Girl Scout Councils. He also has an extensive background working with the United Way having served in a variety of capacities, including President of the Alabama State Association of United Ways and Chairman of the Alabama State Association of United Ways budget committee. 

John is married with three children and is an avid marathon runner, most recently completing the First Light Marathon in Mobile on January 8. His goals with the organization include helping diversify and increase funding with a primary focus on leadership level giving, major gifts, and bequest and endowments.

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The cookies are here!   Happily, we are busy loading them into cars, trucks, and right now there's a U-Haul in the back parking lot.   That's FANTASTIC!   Eric, our new PR director, was working on 45-second videos yesterday on what a cookie can do.  

I was musing on that subject this morning.   A Girl Scout cookie represents the nation's largest and most successful girl entrepreneurial program.   But what does that really mean?   It means that Isabella learns to talk to people she doesn't know about purchasing a box of cookies.   It means that Olivia understands that everyone won't purchase cookies from her.    It means Jasmine learns that, if she sells 300 boxes of cookies, she earns a really cute plush penguin.   Destiny, Kaylee, Emma and Bella, as a group, have planned a trip to Washington, D.C., this summer to ROCK THE MALL!   If they sell enough cookies, it will pay for them to see the country.   Makaly, Serenity, Mabel and Joan have worked for two years to visit the Girl Scout Our Chalet in Switzerland.   All the girls who participate in the cookie program learn about themselves by building confidence, courage, and character.   It's amazing what a cookie can do, really!
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The 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts has been named the YEAR OF THE GIRL! What a great thing, so much more fun than Year of the Dragon, which is the Chinese zodiac this year. As I sit here and type this, the movers are filling the cookie pantry with cookies. One of our goals for the YEAR OF THE GIRL is to ensure we have sufficient funds to provide programs, events and adequate properties to serve our girls going forward.

The cookie program accomplishes this: more than 75 percent of GSSA's income is from the cookie program, but that is too high.  We need to ensure that girls will have what they need for the future. So, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting, we will also embark on increasing our fund develoment efforts. We rely on the community to understand the value of what we do with the girls, understand that we build leaders for our future, and understand that we teach responsible citizenship.

We know the community will support girls, but part of our problem is that we haven't asked.  We ask the community to purchase cookies and they do, but is that enough of an investment in their future? As we move forward, if you know of any companies, corporations or individuals who would become partners with us to make every year the YEAR OF THE GIRL, please e-mail or let us know via communications@girlscoutssa.org. Thanks for all you do to be a partner for GIRLS!
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The end of the year always provides the perfect opportunity to reflect upon the accomplishments of both individuals and organizations, and GSSA is no exception.  We feel that 2011 has definitely been a good year for Girl Scouting in southern Alabama, and we are eager to start 2012 - the Year of the Girl!  Before we say farewell to 2011, though, we want to share with you some of our council's accomplishments.  We think you might be impressed!

In 2011, our council's staff, with your support:

·         Increased membership across our 30 counties.  

·         Presented more than 65 council-wide program events, filling more than 6,500 slots for girls to attend programming.

·        Processed 1,532 volunteer applications, served 167 volunteers are fall kickoffs, certified 105 volunteers in camping, 18 in canoeing and 49 in first aid and CPR. Fielded thousands of questions and phone calls in an effort to assist our volunteers, parents and constituents   

·         Served 1,551 girls through our outreach programs who otherwise could not afford to participate in Girl Scouting.  To serve these girls, we implemented 13 grants, which provided programming in their communities.

We believe Girl Scouts made a difference in the lives of countless girls and their families in southern Alabama in 2011, and we certainly hope you agree. 

We are looking forward to another great year with you and all our Girl Scouts  in 2012!

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