News and analysis
June 15, 2016

Embattled Girls Scouts CEO Leaving

Paul Morigi, Getty Images for Girl Scouts of the USA

Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez will step down at the end of this month.

This article was updated June 16 at 3:10 pm.

Girls Scouts of the USA said Wednesday that Chief Executive Anna Maria Chávez, who faced heavy criticism as she tried to stem falling membership numbers and run a $1 billion fundraising campaign, will step down at the end of the month.

The organization named Sylvia Acevedo, a member of its national Board of Directors, as interim chief executive. A search for a permanent replacement will begin immediately, according to Kathy Hannan, president of the board.

In a news release, the Girls Scouts said that Ms. Chávez notified the board earlier this month of her intention to leave. She expressed a "desire to actively explore a return to public service," according to the statement. Ms. Chávez previously held several state government posts in her native Arizona.

Ms. Chávez’s predecessor, Kathy Cloninger, gave 14 months' notice when she stepped down from the chief-executive post to allow the organization time to conduct a search for her replacement.

The Chronicle was not immediately able to reach Ms. Chávez or Ms. Hannan for comment. A spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts said Thursday that Ms. Hannan would provide a written statement by the end of the day.

Initial Enthusiasm

Ms. Chávez took the helm at the Girls Scouts in 2011 to much enthusiasm. But she faced challenges. Membership numbers plunged by 20 percent from 2003 to 2012, to about 2.9 million. Its 312 local councils were consolidated into 112. The organization had financial problems, most critically, rising pension obligations.

By September 2013, Ms. Chávez had slashed the national staff of 326 by 25 percent. It included 40 terminations and 45 buyouts. Ms. Chávez soon faced serious criticism for her management style.

Current and former employees sent letters to the charity’s board and to news outlets with accusations of age discrimination and bullying. The CEO was damaging relationships with the heads of the local councils, and that in turn was hurting membership and fundraising, they alleged. In one such letter, dated January 2016, former employees took aim at Ms. Chávez’s leadership, saying she had created an exodus of senior staff while failing to deliver positive financial results.

“Employees are so afraid to get on Anna’s bad side that no one speaks up, asks questions, or takes action without worrying about what Anna might think,” the letter says.

Ms. Chávez earned a salary of $419,733, according to the organization’s 2013-14 tax fillings, the most recent available. Total revenue that year was $94 million. The Girl Scouts website lists its current membership as 2.7 million, or 1.9 million girls and 800,000 adults.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington earlier this week, she alluded to plans beyond the Girl Scouts.

"I think I’ll be called again to ministry," she said. "I think that the opportunities that I’ve seen, the people that I’ve met have taught me one thing, and that’s the power of kindness."

She said that she hoped she could "take that lesson and have an impact on more people around the globe."

Send an email to Megan O’Neil.