Girl Scout Cookies

The other day the doorbell rang and we found ourselves facing an unfamiliar Girl Scout and her father. She was going around the neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies. I guess it is that time of year again.

I know very little about the Girl Scouts as an organization. In fact, everything I know about the Girl Scouts centers around the selling of cookies. That’s can’t be a good thing.

I am sure that the Girl Scouts do a lot more than sell cookies. I imagine that their activities are similar to what I’ve seen in the Cubs Scouts. They learn things, they make friends, they volunteer their time, they socialize. But if the only thing I really know about the Girl Scouts is that they sell cookies, then a PR problem exists. The Girl Scouts should be about a lot more than selling cookies.

The Little Miss recently joined the ranks of the Daisy Scouts, and so far, there has been no talk of hocking baked goods. Frankly, I am not looking forward to the time when selling cookies becomes a significant activity. I don’t like the idea of kids hocking things as a way to raise money. It is emotionally manipulative, for one thing. Who can say no to a cute 6-year old? For another, selling isn’t for everyone. Some people are uncomfortable pushing things on family, friends, and especially strangers.

When the Little Man’s scout pack recently raised money for a new Pine Wood Derby track, they attempted to do so by sending the kids home before the holidays with a catalog of junk to pawn on family and friends. The pack would earn a percentage of whatever was sold.

I took the packet home and immediately tossed it. I told the Little Man that he didn’t have bother selling junk to his family and friends. Instead, we would just make a donation to the pack, specifically for the Pine Wood Derby track.

Setting the emotional manipulation aside, the other problem with Girl Scout cookies is one of scale. It is one thing to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies for four bucks from a neighbor kid. But in the area that we live in, the scale of things is much larger. We don’t get asked to buy Girl Scout cookies by one neighbor kid. We get asked by dozens of people:

  • Neighborhood girls.
  • Parents of Girl Scouts at work.
  • Out-of-state relatives.
  • Friends whose kids attend different schools.

If we bought one box of Girl Scout cookies from every person who asked us to buy cookies, we could open up a cookie store.

What gets lost in all of this is what the scouts themselves get out of selling cookies. Sure, there are prizes they can win if they achieve certain sales benchmarks. And some of the money from the cookie sales must go back into the local packs. Here is what the Girl Scouts website says about revenue from the cookie program:

One hundred percent of the net proceeds from Girl Scout Cookie sales are reinvested back into the originating council to fund activities and Girl Scouts’ Take Action projects, which positively impact their communities. Each council determines its own revenue structure depending on its cookie cost, local retail price, and the amount that is shared with participating troops and groups. On average, Girl Scout council net revenue is approximately 65–75 percent of the local retail price; the amount shared with participating Girl Scout troops, referred to as troop proceeds, is approximately 10–20 percent of the local retail price.

I think it says something that Girl Scouts require cookie sales to fund their programs, when the Boy Scouts don’t require a similar stream of cash to fund theirs.

The Girl Scouts should be about more than selling cookies, and probably it is. But the only time I hear about the Girls Scouts is during cookie season, and that, I think, is a problem.


  1. My son just started college, but he spent many, many years from Tiger Cub to Eagle Scout selling things to help fund his council/pack/troop activities. In our neck of the woods it was all about popcorn for Cubs (and they flogged it as relentlessly as Girl Scouts did their cookies). Never loved it and never competed to be “top sellers” or anything, but he did participate.
    I don’t think it hurt to learn early that things in life don’t happen magically — that important things require a personal investment of effort. If you can see that helping sell popcorn or cookies helped pay for an event you enjoyed, that’s not a bad lesson. I think it carries over to other things too (studying ->good grades, practice->better athlete or musician, saving now->big purchase later). I agree that can be a big leap at 6, but I definitely saw my son’s ingrained work ethic at work later when he was a Boy Scout creatively fundraising for a week-long backpacking trip in the mountains of Philmont, New Mexico, or when he raised over a thousand dollars to build an information kiosk at a nature preserve and develop a website for his town promoting its parks and open spaces.
    Scouting was great for him – he went from a shy and quiet boy to someone very comfortable dealing with his peers and adults and who confidently tackles challenges and new situations. Some of that, I think, comes from years of meeting and working with — and sometimes selling popcorn to — people he’d never met before.
    Don’t know as much about Girl Scouts (my daughter tried it for a year and then jumped to her real loves of gymnastics and dance), but imagine some of their reasoning for cookie sales are the same. They definitely both do more things than just sell snacks — for instance a big push for both groups is incorporating STEM into their programs!

    1. I think there is value in both Boy and Girl scouts. My son started as a Tiger and is now a Wolf, and he enjoys it. We don’t have to do much fundraising beyond things like the track, probably because their school sponsors the pack, as well as few other organizations. It’s not the programs that bother me. My real problem is that I just don’t like getting inundated with requests to by cookies. The market is oversaturated. How many boxes of cookies does a person really need!?

  2. Notice they say 100% of net. They don’t talk about the overhead, which includes GSA’s cut. Most of the cookies are commercially available. I am always wary of supporting an organization that tells girls to ply their wares on street corners.

  3. Just say no. It’s easy. If you want to support a particular scout do so but it doesn’t mean you need to support all scouts. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I already bought”. Try it sometime.

  4. Here’s an idea. Post on your blog that you don’t like being inundated with solicitations for Girl Scout cookies.

    In all seriousness though, I did a quick search and found this link to show you how the “cookie crumbles” in D.C., as an example.

    You can also ask a Scout or their parent to provide you with the info – as each scout should have access to “how the cookie crumbles” in that area. We give it to each scout when cookie time rolls around here in NY.

    And while, yes, GS cookie FLAVORS are available in other forms (coffee mate, ice cream, etc…) you cannot buy a box of Girl Scout cookies unless it’s sold by a scout or a troop. In other words you won’t find them in the cookie aisle at Target or Safeway.

    As a Girl Scout leader I can tell you first hand, a troop that sells a lot of cookies can earn enough to fund the next years activities. That’s a big deal. Our troop has gone on several field trips and participated in many service projects with money they have earned from selling cookies. Other troops I know of are entirely self funded (no cost to parents, no troop dues, or cost for uniforms, badges, trips, etc…) after selling cookies for a year or two. I don’t like cookie season either but it does have value beyond the dollar. If a girl is selling she is learning skills she will use throughout her life.

    1. I did not mean to imply that there are not valuable life skills to be learned from selling cookies. I understand completely the need and desire to raise money to do good things. My view is from the other side, where I am the recipient of many requests to buy the cookies. I hate saying no to anyone especially someone I know. We usually buy cookies from a few people (as you know) and Kelly and the kids are happy because they like the cookies, so it is a win-win. But after that? The requests don’t stop. There are more people asking me to buy cookies.

      Actually, I almost didn’t publish this post thinking it would stir up too much controversy. The takeaway would not be about cookies, it would be He doesn’t like Girl Scout! But then I decided, what the heck, you need some controversy now and then. And the reaction to the post was minimal, anyway. 🙂

  5. The “Cookie Crumbles” breakdown is interesting, especially to a DC cynic like me. I don’t mean to disparage the cookies and I’m sure GSA does a lot for the girls just as BSA does for boys (who sell popcorn).

    I am spending $4-5 for a dollar box of cookies.

    For every $4-5 box of GS Cookies (percentages assumes $4/box):
    – $0.69 (average) goes to troops, so some make more some make less; (17%)
    – $1.05 goes to product and GSA-incurred costs in running the cookies program (26%)
    – $2.26 includes (56%)
    — GSA regional facilities and salaries (but not national), GSA property maintenance, GSA national marketing and IT support
    — scholarships (an probably its administration costs), and adult leader training and regional activities

    So 17% goes to troop activities and 56% goes back to six GSA regional activities with an unspecified portion being allocated for supporting disadvantaged girls. It would have been interesting to see the scholarship separated as the troop earnings, and to see the salary and facilities costs breakdown of that 56% portion.


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