The Girl Scouts was started by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912 with the goal of teaching girls practical life skills. In 1917, an Oklahoma Girl Scout troop organized a bake sale as a service project to finance troop activities. Nearly 100 years later, the Girl Scouts of the USA command a cookie empire upwards of 200 million boxes sold per year. According to the organization, the primary goal of selling cookies is to teach young women goal-setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. But there’s no doubt that cookie sales serve as a primary source of income for the Girl Scouts organization, generating more than $700 million in annual revenue.
Here’s what you should know before purchasing a box of Girl Scout cookies:
- Girl Scouts of the United States of America is a registered 501(c)(3) organization – view their annual report for important information on their programs, structure and finances.
- Our local council, Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys, meets Charities Review Council’s standards.
- Approximately 65–75% of the profit from each box of cookie goes directly to the local Girl Scout council, with 10–20% going to the troops. The remaining profit accounts for royalties to the national Girl Scout headquarters.
- Your box of cookies is not tax-deductible if you keep the cookies. If you leave the cookies with Girl Scouts as a donation or give the cookies to a different charitable organization, you may treat the purchase price of the donated cookies as a tax-deductible charitable contribution.
Here are some lessons nonprofits of all sizes can learn from the Girl Scouts:
- Earned income must always directly serve an organization's mission. To remain tax-exempt, a product or service must specifically accomplish the nonprofit’s goals. The Girl Scouts have established an entrepreneurial program focused on five skills that girls acquire through selling cookies, successfully integrating the fundraiser into their mission.
- Make sure your product is competitive in the private market. Over the years, the Girl Scouts have built their booming business thanks to decades of smart organizational choices, like knowing when to outsource baking and empowering local councils to make decisions for their region. People buy Girl Scout cookies over and over again.
- Be responsive to the changing landscape. The Girl Scout cookie recipes, packaging materials, and sales platforms have all evolved to remain relevant and modern as society changes.
- Be thoughtful and transparent about your organizational structure. Avoid conflicts of interest by clarifying philanthropic and business goals. All 501(c)(3) organizations must give priority to the nonprofit's stated mission, using caution when pursuing other business opportunities.
Do you know an organization that does a great job of building earned revenue into its mission? Tell us about it!