Girl Scouts shrink cookies, customers shrink sales

I would love to hear of a business or organization that is not struggling under this tough economy. No such luck, and one of my favorite non-profits is in the news today for its money woes. The Girls Scouts of the USA rely on their annual cookie sales to bring in a nice chunk of money, and this year has been difficult.

Early regional numbers are suggesting a drop of about 19% in cookie sales, based on a comparison of the early ordering activity of this year to prior years. There is still time to catch up on sales with shopping center booths, but I wouldn't count on doing well there, either.

Girl Scout Cookies are somewhat of an American icon. They're not necessarily the best cookies anyone has ever made, and the portions certainly aren't of a generous size. In fact, the Girl Scouts are taking heat this year for reducing the number of cookies in each box by about 2, thanks to drastic increases in the price of ingredients. But there are plenty of consumers who have their favorites (such as Thin Mints) which they wait for each year (no matter how many cookies are in a box!).
Even better, many consumers understand the importance of selling these cookies. It's a chance for the Girl Scouts to learn a little bit about the business world and entrepreneurship. Sure, their parents and troop leaders often do the bulk of the work. But for interested Scouts, there is an opportunity to learn firsthand.

Last year we debated here about how worthwhile the exercise of selling cookies is. The local troops get a small portion (about 15%) of the sales price of a box of cookies to fund local events. Some consumers say that's just not enough for all their hard work. I'd say it's a fundraising model that has worked for years to fund local operations, as well as national and regional operations.

If you can spare a few bucks, please buy a box or two of Girl Scout cookies. If you're on a diet, give the cookies away. The Girls Scouts of the USA has done so much for so many young girls, and I can't bear the thought of it not surviving this recession. I know consumers have to be careful with their money, but this group is really a cause that is worth of a few dollars from you.

Forensic accountant Tracy Coenen investigates corporate fraud and consumer scams, and is the author of Expert Fraud Investigation and Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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