US Girl Scouts Use Internet to Sell Cookies

08 March, 2015

Each year at this time, Girl Scouts of the USA raises money for its programs through cookie sales. Last weekend, girls across the United States were busy selling cookies for the fundraiser.

The girls went door to door in some neighborhoods or set up sales booths, stands, near the entrances of friendly stores. They sell chocolate-covered "Thin Mints," shortbread, peanut butter-filled "Tagalongs" and other tasty treats.

More than two million school-aged American girls belong to the Girl Scouts. The youth organization seeks to build character and good citizenship among its members. It does this through a combination of service projects and outdoor activities.

Most of the group's members are involved in the cookie fundraiser. So are more than 800,000 adults -- most of them parents of the scouts. Together they sell about 200 million boxes of cookies a year. That adds up to about $800 million in sales.

US Girl Scouts Use Internet to Sell Cookies
From left, Girl Scout Troop 2398 members Sara Paget, Nora Nowicki and Olivia Shea peddle cookies at a retail shop in Arlington, Va., Feb. 22, 2015. (Carol Guensburg / VOA)

Each of the 112 scout councils, or local groups, sets its own prices, averaging $4 a box. Each council also sets its own sales period, which extends from January into April.

Selling girl scouts cookies online

For the first time, the Girl Scouts are using the Internet to sell their products, a move that earned them praise from Fast Company. The media firm named the scouts in its Top 10 most innovative nonprofit groups for "showing girls technology is about more than texting."

Marissa Driscoll works at the Girl Scouts' New York office. She says it is too soon to measure the effect of online sales. A Digital Cookie "finder" app directs buyers to sales booths, such as the one set up last month by Troop 2398 at a small market in Arlington, Virginia.

"Would you like to buy some cookies?" asked eight-year-old Olivia Shea. She spoke as she smiled and waved her arm across brightly colored cookie boxes.

Nora Nowicki and Lia Musser, both 9 years old, worked on collecting money from customers. "Count one more time," Nora urged as they put down dollar bills they had just been given. The mother of one scout motioned to the girls. "Thank you for buying cookies!" they said.

Money management and people skills are among five main lessons, or areas of education, connected with the cookie program. One side of each box advertises those skills, including goal setting, decision-making and business ethics.

If a customer orders cookies instead of buying from a sales table, it usually takes a few weeks for the boxes to arrive. But this year, customers who order the most popular cookie, "Thin Mints," might have to wait a bit longer than usual. Some areas of the country have experienced a shortage of Thin Mints.

The Girl Scout website lists the five most popular cookies. After Thin Mints come Samoas, also known as Caramel deLites , follow by Peanut Butter Patties or Tagalongs , then come Do-si-dos or Peanut Butter Sandwiches, and finally Shortbread or Trefoils. Different names are used in different parts of the country.

Demand for Girl Scout cookies has been growing since the program's earliest days.

It all started back in 1933, when the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia Council sold home-baked cookies at a local company for 23 cents a box. Later, the Girl Scout Federation of Greater New York sold commercially made cookies. In 1936, the national organization began asking a commercial baker to manufacture the treats for nationwide sales.

Today, the Girl Scouts organization pays two companies to produce 12 kinds of cookies. They include two new gluten-free treats – Toffee-tastic and Trios – and Rah-Rah Raisin, an oatmeal cookie with dried fruit and Greek yogurt-flavored pieces.

While the cookies are sold only in limited areas, the Girl Scouts recognize the cookie program's influence worldwide. The website says the cocoa in Thin Mints, Samoas and peanut butter-filled Tagalongs comes from "conflict-free," responsible sources.

"Our bakers are required to provide assurance that cocoa sourced for Girl Scout cookies is child- and slave-labor free," it says. "... Our bakers are also working with third-party organizations focused on creating a sustainable marketplace that rewards cocoa farmers who prohibit unethical practices."

The organization has "a responsibility to provide leadership on the topic of slave labor and human trafficking," it adds. "We are committed to using our powerful voice and brand wherever possible to affect change in this area."

Scouting is about leadership, top Girl Scout officials say. Last weekend, with all eyes on sales, a few girls may have been chasing a record set last year by Katie Francis. The 12-year-old from Oklahoma sold a record total of 21,477 boxes.

Where does the money from cookie sales go? After paying the bakers, all the profit, on average 65 to 75 percent of the retail price, stays with the local councils and troops. The money is used to support activities such as crafts, technology training, service projects, field trips and camping.

As the Girl Scout website says, "Every cookie has a mission: to help girls do great things."

I'm Anne Ball.

VOA's Carol Guensburg wrote this story. Anne Ball wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

fundraiser – n. a social event held to raise or collect money for an aid group, political party or school.

sales – n. the act of selling something

character - n. the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves.

box –n. something to put things into; a container, usually made or paper or wood

ethics – n. rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally right and wrong

commercial – adj. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods and services

gluten-free – adj. free from gluten, which is a substance in wheat and flour that holds dough together. Some people have allergies to gluten.