Thursday, January 14, 2010
Girl Scout Cookies and the Fall of Western Civilation
There always someone to blame. Or some company. Lately, we've been blaming Wall Street for everything bad about America. I blame the Girl Scouts.
There was a time when the whole idea behind the selling of Girl Scout Cookies was admirable and maybe even valuable. The Girl Scouts even have a little explanation on their website that talks about all the good things that can come about through the selling of over-priced cookies.
The problem is, the program doesn't work that way any more. I cannot tell you the last time I actually bought Girl Scout Cookies from a Girl Scout. For over 15 years or so I have only purchased my delicious Samoas from the PARENTS of said Girl Scouts. The parents bring the paperwork to their place of employment and, literally, just pass it around for their co-workers to commit to purchasing the cookies. Occasionally, (on rare occasion, I might add) the young ladies will deliver the purchases. More often than not, however, the moms or dads will just bring the boxes in to work and leave them on the appropriate desks.
How do these girls "practice useful life skills like planning, decision-making, and customer service" when Mom and Dad do all the work? The past few years or so, organizations like the Girls Scouts have been in trouble. They, along with the Boy Scouts and other like minded youth organizations are fighting to remain relevant in a world. In fact, many youth based organizations are struggling to survive in the 21st century. From sports stalwarts like AYSO to the venerable scouting programs, membership numbers are plummeting.
Of course, I know the reason why. I also know the solution. Let me share the secret. Now, realize, the people running these programs will blame the membership retreat on technology, drugs, globalization, the media, and a host of other plaques that the world is facing now. You have head that video games and MySpace are the enemy. Complaints that cell phones and PDAs are contributing to the de-socialization of our children. Bull shit.
The reason for the decline is two-fold: First, parents are doing all the work. Second, parent volunteers run the organizations and refuse to evolve with their children.
Proof is in the pudding to the first point by way of the cookie example. How can a young Girl Scout possibly benefit from the lessons, indeed the MISSION, of selling cookies if they don't actually do the work. Parents, listen up. You are not helping. In fact you are cutting the legs out of the program. You are teaching your children that they don't have to actually in order to meet their quota. "If Mom and Dad sell enough cookies for me, I'll get my badge." (Don't even get me started on the whole every-child-should-get-a-prize-just-for-participating thing!)
The second part is the hardest to address because the volunteers will deny it. If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you got. Parents, volunteers, administrators listen up: YOU must change the way you view the organization. YOU must allow it to grow beyond your historic perception of it. YOU must be the ones to let go of age old, tired, worn out ways and traditions. YOU must be willing to let the brand evolve with the times -- and yes, maybe even change the logo or the uniform or the rules to reflect that evolution. Remember, your logo is NOT your brand. YOU are not the organization. You may run the organization, but you are not the reason for it, the mission of it, the essence of it.
The solution? Give these all of these organizations back to the kids that define them. Allow the kids (the actual members in the title) the power to be mentors and teachers. Let them be the ones who are the ambassadors for the good things done, the events, the games, the lessons, the fun. The only way you do that is to give them ownership of the organization.
AYSO has been struggling with this for years. The volunteers who run the programs, from the National Board of Directors down, actually view themselves as the most important piece of the puzzle. All company communications are directed at the volunteers. All training is focused on the volunteers. The rules and regulations are so complicated and convoluted that growth cannot occur organically because there is some worn out belief that "the way we've always done it" is sacrosanct and cannot be tampered with. The result? Kids stop signing up. Oh, sure, there's a lot of smoke and mirrors as these volunteer groups dance around problems and run-in-place while they try to convince other volunteers they are trying to do something. but the results are obvious, your membership numbers are declining.
On the AYSO front, I speak as someone with some specific knowledge as I was it's director of marketing for several years. I've seen first hand the stagnation that comes from very well-intentioned adults failing to let go of traditions and policies that just don't work any more. Not because they are bad, but because the world has evolved and the organization has failed to change the way it pursues its mission. A mission statement isn't an end point. A mission is something you must always be in pursuit. You must always be trying to figure out new ways to fulfill it. Because it is always in front of you, you must adapt with the road. If it's bumpy, either fill the bumps or steer around them. If it's hilly, know when to accelerate and when to take your foot off the pedal.
As a consultant that deals with local chapters of many of these other youth-based organizations, I can also tell you, they all are facing these same troublesome times. The causes and solutions are the same. Give the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts back to the girls and the boys. Give your local soccer and baseball leagues back to the kids. Let them have a say in how things are run, what the company looks like, what they want to hear and who they want to hear it from. You will be surprised at how smart, savvy and adaptable kids are. You'll also be surprised at how fast the membership slide will stop. You still have to help run the programs as volunteers. Just get your egos out of the way and understand that you volunteer for the kids not for your own personal and social satisfaction. Although, if you do your job right, with selflessness and humility, those will come. Empower the kids and thrust their judgement and your organization will grow. Yes, you may have to change a logo, or a uniform, or an attitude. But the brand will remain stronger for it.
So, until I actually have a Girl Scout approach me to buy some cookies -- I'm just gonna have to learn to live without my Samoas.
The image is from http://ninethreestudio.com/