News and analysis
September 30, 2013

Girl Scouts Cuts National Staff by 25%

Michael Reynolds/EPA/Newscom

Girl Scouts of the USA, plagued by continuing membership losses, has cut its national staff by about one-fourth in recent months, chopping 85 positions through voluntary buyouts and layoffs.

“Like many nonprofits around the country, Girls Scouts of the USA has been facing challenges due to membership declines and economic realities,” the organization said in a statement, adding that it was in the midst of “a major, multiyear transformation effort” to become more agile.

In a memo to local Girl Scouts councils, Anna-Maria Chávez, the chief executive, said the national office needed to “streamline its work and resources—including staff—to focus on the strategic initiatives that most help councils reach, retain, and serve more girls.”

The departures include 40 who were terminated and 45 who accepted buyouts offered to those 55 or over with at least 10 years of service. The cuts were made from a staff of 326.

Membership Decline

The Girl Scouts, which started a new recruitment campaign this week with the aid of Michelle Obama, has seen the number of girl members plummet by 20 percent from 2003 to 2012, to about 2.9 million.

A Girl Scouts spokeswoman said final numbers have not yet been tabulated for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Monday. But several people who are familiar with the figures that have been reported so far said membership of girls and adult volunteers fell by more than 5 percent.

Ms. Chavez said in her memo that “merchandise sales”—which includes items like uniforms—also fell.

The departures follow other turmoil in the Girl Scouts national office since Ms. Chávez arrived in August 2011. At least seven senior managers have left, and employees have sent a continuous flow of anonymous letters to the board complaining about her leadership.

New 'Customer Officer’

The national board has stood by Ms. Chávez, however. Connie Lindsey, the board president and an executive at Northern Trust, told The Chronicle last spring that Ms. Chávez was the right person to help transform the Girl Scouts so it would stay relevant.

Ms. Chávez has led an effort to revamp the national office so it becomes more responsive to the needs of councils, scouts, and volunteers. In May, she hired Daniel Boockvar, a former executive at Weight Watchers International, to serve as the charity’s first “chief customer officer.”

The organization’s financial woes have been exacerbated by rising pension obligations. The national office told local councils in a memo this summer they might have to increase their pension contributions by 40 percent in 2014, to a total of $36.1-million, to help cover the plan’s deficit under federal law. It said it would help cushion the blow by providing financial assistance of $5.9-million.

The youth group is pushing Congress to tweak the pension rules that apply to charities with multiple entities to bring them in line with what it says are less onerous obligations that apply to corporate plans.

Meanwhile, it is fighting a lawsuit from a Tennessee council that charges that the national office increased the pension’s costs by offering generous early-retirement incentives to people who were at risk of losing their jobs when mergers shrank 312 councils to 112. (The Girl Scouts declines to comment on the lawsuit.)

'I Can’t Wait to ...’

The theme of the new recruitment campaign is “I can’t wait to ...” and one suggested answer is “be the star of my own story.” The campaign aims to increase both young members and adult volunteers through a grass-roots effort.

“As a Girl Scout volunteer, you can show girls that anything is possible,” the first lady says in her video, “and you can inspire them to dream bigger and go further than they ever imagined.”

Send an e-mail to Suzanne Perry.