CEO: May 2012 Archives

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This is the time of year we do planning for the next Girl Scout year. We look back at some of what we have tried and experienced in the previous year and work to improve on it, mutate it into something else, or try something new. As we do that, we look at the data we have collected to shape these decisions, events, programs and activities going forward.

The trends are always interesting in this exercise. We are always working to grow membership, but have found that our membership is a tad flat this year. Growth in membership is accomplished primarily through in-school groups in rural areas, not with traditional troops that are volunteer-led.

In terms of council programming, we continue to create some of our own competition in the program area by offering good events in different parts of the council on the same weekend. This is always a difficult thing to juggle, since we want to offer girls as many opportunities as we possibly can.

The cookie program continues to grow, which is counterintuitive in many respects. It is fortunate, since proceeds from that program fund council operations. Hence, it pays the bills. Funds above where we set the budget from the cookie program are used to provide improvements at camp properties. This is where the funds for the new bathhouse at Camp Scoutshire Woods, zip lines at two resident camps and stand up paddle boards come from. We received a lot of feedback from the SNAP survey and service units about the change to a direct sale, and we will be integrating that feedback into the coming program. I think we all learned some things during that experience.

We have worked on growing the camp enrollments, which continue to be in a decline. This is not a good test year for this, since many troops are going on trips they have saved for to Washington DC, Savannah and other much larger trips. We have done some advertising to attract new girls to resident camp, but that didn't result in any change, so we will be looking for new ideas to grow this program in the future.

This coming year we need to do better work asking girls what their experience is in various programs.   Much of our funding is moving to an outcomes based model.   Funders are no longer interested in the number of girls involved in a program.   They want to know the program changed the girl.   Expect to see many more online surveys for us to provide outcome metrics for funding.

We are doing more aggressive fund raising, so that we may decrease reliance on the cookie program and increase funding from other sources.   The Boy Scouts rely heavily on funding from the community, and our initial experience is that the community will support girls.   We are looking for suggestions and assistance for the fund development staff on businesses, individuals and other opportunities we can use to improve the girl experience.   Please send any thoughts you have to communications@girlscoutssa.org .   We will be having a large fund-raiser in Lee County on August 24 to replace funds that the United Way used to provide for us there.   If you have any items (small or large) that we can auction off, please let us know, the auction theme is sports, travel and entertainment.    We are planning that this will be a free event, so stay in tune for that might be a great evening of fun for adults.

We work hard to provide better experiences for the girls each year.   Most of this is predicated on the feedback from the previous year.   If you have suggestions, ideas, or thoughts, please let us know.   I receive a lot of feedback about things that other councils do, most are much larger, so we work hard to provide what we believe works for the girls of this area that leverages the resources we have.

Thank you for your assistance in this important endeavor.

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I was talking to someone this past weekend about the new bath house we are building at Camp Scoutshire Woods; the "pretty potty" as I like to call it.   It isn't large, but it is constructed of reinforced concrete block.   It will serve as a place of refuge should a storm come up unexpectedly.   This person, the troop leader who did the conceptual drawings, asked if someone donated the money for the "pretty potty."   I told her no, it is hard to raise money for bathrooms because a bathhouse is not something most folks want their name on.   However, because of the success of this year's cookie program, we are able to build this bathroom, add the zip lines to two camps, purchase more stand up paddleboards, and buy a new banana boat.   If girls do a lot of work on the cookie program, they deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Our counterpart in Alabama to the north has completed strategic learning (a strategic planning process), and as a part of that process, found they can no longer afford all the property they own and have to maintain.   They will be closing many camps and selling office buildings throughout their council.   We already have received e-mail requests and petitions pleading for signatures not to close or sell these properties.   Selling property is painful for all involved, those who have to make those decisions and those who feel their childhood memories are going by the wayside.   I ache for all involved in these difficult choices.

As someone who walked outside this morning with the electrician to discover the brick on the façade of the building is pulling loose, I do understand the tensions of giving the girls something to strive for, while paying the bills to maintain aging facilities.   One night when I was staying at Kamp Kiwanis, I counted, and across our properties, we have more than 36 bath houses and 36 buildings to maintain.   That is a lot of roofs to replace, toilets to fix and exteriors to stay painted.   We are able to do this by working with a Spartan staff, who works very hard, and building the cookie program, so when I recently read two pages of complaints about the cookie program I always wonder what the balance is. 

 It is hard to make things work in this poor economy, yet you have been extraordinarily successful in selling cookies during this time.   Our cookie program has increased, part of it because of an annual increase in the number of girls, but also because the girls' efforts have resulted in increased sales.   Even though this past cookie program with the direct sale felt like it lasted forever, the sale increased 9.45 percent, which is what pays for the "pretty potty" and many other things our girls will enjoy.

Girl Scouts is an organization for the girls and about the girls.   At this juncture, I am very appreciative that we aren't in a position where we need to discuss consolidation of properties.   This is because you did a lot of the heavy lifting.   I'm looking forward to a summer where our girls have a great trip to Rock the Mall, fly down some zip lines for the first time in their life, or learn to sail in a strong wind.   I'm grateful for the support you have shown the girls by being engaged and involved to make this endeavor successful -- it is all about the girls.

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This is the time of year when Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance march can be heard in the air.   People are moving on, they are moving toward their future, their goals, and hopefully, achieving their dreams.  

I used to sit at graduation exercises watching students cross the stage and think, I'm glad this one is moving on.   While most of them provoked the thought, this one will be moving out of my daily life and existence, and I will miss them.   I imagine that many of you have the same thoughts about the girls in your care.   Some of you will remember the challenges, helping girls face their demons and move out of their comfort zones.  

As they bridge to the next level, move to a new troop or move out into the world, there is a sadness coupled with an exhilaration that life is moving all too fast.   A few weeks ago a very kind volunteer sent me the nicest note outlining the council staff that she really appreciated and thanked me for their good work.   As your girls face their next adventure, move on to different challenges, and have the confidence and courage to move out of their comfort zones, it is important to know that you have played an important part in their life.   You have helped make them a person with character.   Remember, commencement is a beginning, not an end.   Thank you for all you do.

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I frequently have volunteers say to me that it must be really fun working for Girl Scouts, and frankly, most of the time it is.   But there are pieces and parts of the job, like any work, that is difficult.   Sometimes that occurs on Monday morning after a weekend program, other Mondays our telephones are ringing with complaints from parents about other volunteers;this is no fun.  

The topic usually focuses on the volunteer taking responsibility for a child, then not paying attention, resulting in something happening that might not have, had the volunteer been paying attention.   I was recently at a large event where the leaders were talking to one another, while the girls were doing all sorts of things they should not have been on someone else's property.   We have had girls lost at events, in a group outing with insufficient numbers of adults with them, wandering away, or asking to participate in activities for an older age girl.  The majority of the guidelines for the Safety Activity Checkpoints are based on experience across Girl Scout councils across the U.S., meant to maintain the safety of all the girls involved.

After a Monday morning, with a few of these phone calls from irate parents, I always wonder, what is better  -- another volunteer stepping up keep girls safe, or these close calls and near misses where their troop leader isn't paying attention.   I want to applaud those of you, and there are many of you, who see what needs to be done and do it, whether it is your girls or someone else's.   Thanks for taking responsibility.  It happens frequently, often gently, and with the girls' best interest in mind.

Please don't misunderstand:  I certainly recognize you are working with girls and attending events on your time off. You need some down time, and you have taken on the responsibility of not only your own child, but also many others.   Some adult conversation during these two-day events is welcome, but I encourage you to pay attention. If your attention is drawn elsewhere, have a co-leader or parent monitor the girls while you are busy.

 Often Girl Scout activities are in locations where girls can be hurt, even if you are paying attention.   But if you aren't, the likelihood of something going wrong increases geometrically.  If you are at a large event and have parents attending, it might help to assign each parent a small group of girls to keep track of. Thanks for all you do to shape the lives of those you pay attention to and care for.

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Do you ever wonder why we collect all this end of the year paperwork?   Do you believe it is like some of your term papers in college and wonder if someone really read this?   With the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, there were many changes made by the IRS to not-for-profit reporting for tax purposes.   

Each year, we file a voluminous tax return that comes right from our audit, and last year, we were asked to voluntarily provide troop account information to our auditors.   This happened at the last minute, just as you were getting started in the fall.   After a voluntary request, we received about a 10 percent response with your troop account information.   Thanks to those of you in that 10 percent, we appreciate it.  

This year this information will be required by the IRS and our auditors.   You ask yourself, why is it any of our business?   Essentially, each troop account operates under one tax ID number, which is assigned to our council, as a whole.   The council and the hundreds of troop accounts in this council all use the same IRS tax identification number.   All of that information is now required to be reported in our financials and our audit.   To assist in this process, our volunteer services team has created a Google form that you can fill out and submit.   If you do this in a timely fashion, we will give you a small credit in the council shop.  

Other councils are moving to an easier way for everyone to operate where individual troop accounts are authorized only by the council through a master agreement with the bank.   As we work to comply with the laws Congress lays out for us, we will work on ways to make it easier for you to provide what is necessary for us to continue to operate as a recognized not-for-profit.   

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