July 30, 2007 | last updated May 25, 2012 7:54 pm
ONE TOUGH COOKIE

Girl Scouts' CEO Breaking The Mold | Venerable organization recasts itself as a business that needs to act like one

If there's one thing the local Girl Scouts organization has learned from the Boy Scouts, it's not about camping, and it's not about doing good deeds.

It's all about money.

For years, the Girl Scout councils around the state have run in a loose confederation, and they've taken a similar soft approach to raising money. They have, literally, supported themselves almost exclusively with a bake sale.

Now, the organization that works to teach and empower young women is going to impart a new lesson. To get by in a corporate world, you'd better start acting like a corporation.

The Strategy

Lesson one: Focus on revenue. Lesson Two: Cut costs. Lesson Three: Streamline the organization. Lesson Four: Benchmark yourself against your competitors.

"Organizational change is always difficult," noted Jennifer Smith-Turner, who was recently hired to be CEO of the new state Girl Scout consortium. Smith-Turner comes to the Scouts after stints with the state Department of Economic and Community Development, Aetna Inc., and The Travelers, as well as service on the board of the Hartford Stage. She is no novice to running an enterprise.

Smith-Turner is not casting her attention to the details of Girl Scouting, but to the strategies necessary to keep the organization healthy. She's overseeing the Oct. 1 merger of five Connecticut Girl Scout councils (each with around 10,000 members in a variety of troops) into one. And she's committed to upending the Girl Scouts' revenue streams, seeking out more donations and federal funds.

She is going to have help: the Girl Scouts are snatching the chief financial officer of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Tess Flynn. But the reorganization also means that a number of jobs at the state's councils are disappearing.

Positions in the new organization are being filled up with people from the existing councils. "Employees in the five councils have just got their notices about what the jobs are, how to apply for them, and where they are located," Smith-Turner said. Lynn Raymond, CEO of the Southwestern Connecticut Council, is going to retire after the merger.

Despite the changes, Smith-Turner is convinced that the girls will only notice positive changes in their scouting experience. "Right now we are putting together a book of all the programs that exist around the state, and we are amazed by how many programs the girls can apply for because of this new council," she said. She also emphasizes that nobody has to be afraid that their beloved camps will be sold, or that they have to commute to far away Girl Scout centers: No camps will be sold and all the offices – more than 20 around the state will remain open.

Emulating The Boys

Girl Scouts USA found that, across the country, there is an over-reliance on product sales (mainly cookies), so it plans to create a greater culture of philanthropy inside the organization. "It has not been given a great emphasis," says Smith-Turner, explaining that similar organizations, like Boy Scouts, get a much higher percentage of their revenues from donations and grants.

The difference in 2004 is obvious: the Hartford-based Connecticut Valley Girl Scout Council received almost $370,000 in public support, while its gross profit from sales of inventory was three times that amount, nearly $1 million. At the same time, the Milford-based Connecticut Yankee Council of Boy Scouts received $1.4 million in public support, and its gross profit from product sales was only a small fraction of that, about $70,000.

So Smith-Turner is concentrating on fund raising. There are two ways she is trying to raise money: setting up an alumnae organization, and seeking out state and federal money that the individual councils did not apply for. The main source of revenues — the cookie program — is getting more organized, too. From this year on, Connecticut's Girl Scouts will hold one statewide cookie sale, unlike past years when the five councils had their own sales at different times of the year.

There is also a need to change the current, not-so-cool image of Girl Scouts. The change in branding will focus mainly on middle school girls because they are those who tend to drop out easily.

"We need to make scouting relevant in the 21st century," said Smith Turner. "We were celebrating our 95th anniversary this year, and this world is not about what it was about 95 years ago."

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