News and analysis
April 25, 2013

New Grass-Roots Group Puts Pressure on Girl Scouts

Jeff Siner KRT/Newscom

As Girl Scouts of the USA struggles with financial woes over its pension program, protests from its local affiliates, and criticism of the organization’s leadership, it faces new pressure from a grass-roots coalition called the Future Is Ours, a group of about 30 Girl Scout employees, volunteers, and alumnae in their 20s from across the country.

Last week, two members of the group relayed their concerns in a phone call with Nhadine Leung, chief of staff at Girl Scouts of the USA, and other staff members at the charity’s New York headquarters.

In a letter the Future Is Ours sent this month to Anna Maria Chávez, the national organization’s chief executive, the grass-roots group said a decline in the number of young girls joining the organization is its biggest concern.

Figures from the Scouts show a 20-percent drop in members from 2003 to 2012.

The Future Is Ours also said it is troubled by the deficit of at least $340-million in the charity’s pension plan.

“With serious concerns about the future of the Girl Scout movement,” the letter says, “we want to make sure that we inherit a financially sound organization poised to last another 100 years. We do not think things are headed in that direction currently.”

“Something needs to happen from national to reverse that,” said Amanda Kremer, a development specialist from the Heart of Michigan Council who chairs the grass-roots group, in an interview with The Chronicle. “This has really hurt the national movement.”

Compensation Increases

A copy of the letter is posted on the Web site of the Future Is Ours, and the group also created a “Dear Anna Maria” video that lays out its worries about the organization.

Among them: The group asked why the Girl Scouts national headquarters has not tightened its spending as much as the local councils, which pay dues to the national group.

At a time when many councils are struggling, it says, Girl Scouts of the USA maintains offices on New York’s Fifth Avenue, “one of the most expensive real-estate markets on the planet.”

They also note that the Girl Scouts national office has increased salaries and benefits at a time when, it says, many affiliates say they cannot afford to do so. According to the Girl Scouts informational tax returns, total compensation costs at headquarters rose by 23 percent from 2008 to 2011.

Victor Inzunza, vice president for communications at Girl Scouts of the USA, defended the cost of the headquarters office building. He said because the charity bought the space in 1992, its operating costs are $17 a square foot. (Typical Manhattan rental rates are at least $50 per square feet, according to commercial real-estate experts.)

The group also wants to discuss how Girl Scouts of the USA can help local councils meet their pension liabilities.

When the Girl Scouts merged many of its local affiliates from 2005 to 2010 as part of a plan to shrink their number from 312 to 112, employees were given the option of retiring earlier and getting more lucrative benefits than they would otherwise have received.

The pension plan faced a double hit when 1,850 employees accepted the offer and the stock market plunged in 2008. The plan now has a deficit of at least $340-million, according to a lawsuit filed against the national headquarters by the Nashville Girl Scouts council.

Few Specifics

Ms. Kremer said that the officials from national headquarters were polite and receptive during last week’s conference call but have not offered any specifics about how they will deal with issues raised by the group.

“We’ve reached out to the Future Is Ours group, and we look forward to exploring how we might engage with them,” said Mr. Inzunza in a statement. “We remain committed to collaborating with our constituents.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Kremer of the Future Is Ours remains hopeful that Girl Scouts of the USA will work with her group. “We would like to see them engage younger people at a higher level,” she said. “We want to do something positive.”

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.