Scouting Report

by Jason Orme    March 7, 2013

Girls Scouts tapped into a social enterprise model before we were calling it social enterprise.

I got my Girl Scout cookies on Sunday. Now it’s Thin Mints in the freezer and Tagalongs for days!

I started to wonder how the Girl Scouts brand can have so much ownership over a bake sale. The answer: Girls Scouts tapped into a social enterprise model before we were calling it “social enterprise.” You see, “Florence E. Neil, a local director in Chicago, Illinois… provided a cookie recipe that had been given to the council’s 2,000 Girl Scouts. She estimated the approximate cost of ingredients for six- to seven-dozen cookies to be 26 to 36 cents. The cookies, she suggested, could be sold by troops for 25 or 30 cents per dozen.” Sounds like a lot of non-profits I hear about today. Teach a person a trade and give them some structure to sell there goods.

There is fascinating timeline that outlines the history of this fundraiser – from humble beginnings and the original 1922 recipe, to licensing local bakers in the 40′s, to the late 70′s when “all cookie boxes—regardless of the baker—featured the same designs and depicted scenes of Girl Scouts in action” and ”the brand-new, Saul Bass–created Girl Scout logo appeared on cookie boxes, which became more creative and began promoting the benefits of Girl Scouting.

It is evident that design played a significant role in the growth of the brand. The Girl Scouts needed a consistent face (or 3) to start sharing the story of the troops (not of the social enterprise concept, mind you.) Not many brand marks last for 35 years. It’s a testimony to the work of Mr. Bass to see the timelessness of the mark. (Even a nicely done freshening up done in 2010 didn’t make any drastic changes as shown above.) More than possessing and enduring quality, the mark is appropriate.

As a socially conscious business model to scale and ahead of its time, Girl Scout Cookies provided a touch point to promote the benefit of the organization. Also, selling cookies became a platform to activate the mission of the organization not merely a means to an end. As stated, “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” So much more than a fund raiser, the cookie sale allows the girls an opportunity to hone five outlined skills:

Goal Setting
Decision Making
Money Management
People Skills
Business Ethics

In an age when social entrepreneurship is ubiquitous, we need to take a cue (or 3) from the Girl Scouts.
1. What product or service are we offering that people actually want to buy?
2. How are we designing creative outlets to share our story?
3. How can our product or service serve our mission rather than take over all our time and attention?

I would also like to say “Happy Birthday,” to the Girl Scouts which turns 101 next week! They must be doing something right.


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