Nonprofit Phenomenons

How the Cookie Crumbles: The Girl Scout Cookie Factor

Last week, I was at my favorite beach spot taking in this view:


Just before the big orange ball dropped into the deep blue sea, a cute little Girl Scout approached me with a wagon full of cookies for sale. I was so impressed with her strategy of approaching a captive audience: we weren’t rushing anywhere, in fact, we were standing still waiting for the sun to set and we were probably starting to get hungry and think about dinner. Unfortunately, I only had my house keys on me otherwise I would have bought the entire wagon of cookies 2 boxes.

It got me thinking about the phenomenon of Girl Scout cookies. In these economic times, we are seeing cuts in funding to nonprofits. Boards across the US are responding with a demand for sustainable fundraising. Sustainable fundraising? Does anyone have this in his or her organization? If so, I know a lot of nonprofits who will pay good money for your sustainable fundraising model.

Nonprofits are also trying to find new sources of revenue like business ventures that generate income on an ongoing basis so they are not as reliant on the sometimes-fickle lady fundraising.

Girl Scouts has been so far ahead of the curve on generating revenue through a business venture. In 1922 – just five years after the organization was founded – Girl Scouts started selling cookies as a fundraiser and generating a healthy profit. With ingredients costing approximately 4 cents to make a dozen cookies and a sale price of 25 cents, a dozen cookies was generating a 21 cents profit – 84% profit!


Unless you are selling thin mints, no soliciting

The Girl Scouts were savvy enough to adjust their business venture with the economic times. When World War II broke out in the 1940’s, Girl Scouts began selling calendars to raise money for activities when there became a shortage on sugar, flour, and butter.

Today, approximately 200 million boxes of Girl Scout cookies are sold around the country each year at $4 each, generating a profit of $800,000,000. 70% of the proceeds remain in the local Girl Scout council with the balance going to the baker to pay for the cookies. That means $560 million goes to support local Girl Scouts across America!

I think that the Girl Scout Cookie business venture is highly successful because it raises funds through the sale of a popular product that has a cult following and is only available once a year for short period of time (6-8 weeks). What other nonprofit – or for profit – can you think of that successfully goes door-to-door selling a product? Those Girl Scouts may look sweet and innocent with their sashes and badges, but underneath their smiles are savvy businesswomen.


It is also not surprising that Girl Scouts has turned out successful business women like Cathy Coughlin, a former Girl Scout and now Senior Executive Vice President and Global Marketing Officer at AT&T. This Huffington Post article is written by a current Girl Scout who speaks to the business acumen she is gaining while selling cookies.

So, go out and buy a dozen or more cookies – knowing you are supporting one of the best revenue generators in nonprofit history!

2 thoughts on “How the Cookie Crumbles: The Girl Scout Cookie Factor”

  1. Wonderful to see the support of the Girl Scouts Cookie Program in the community. Everyone loves a good cookie, but don’t forget the most important factor, by participating, girls develop Five Essential Leadership Skills and Outcomes:

    1.Goal Setting: Girl Scouts set cookie sale goals individually and with their team. Each troop creates
    a plan to reach them, and develop cooperation and team building skills along the way!

    2.Decision Making: Troops decide how they will spend their cookie money,
    furthering critical thinking and problem solving skills that will help in many aspects of life.

    3.Financial Literacy: Girls take cookie orders, handle customers’ money and gain valuable and practical life skills around financial management.

    4.People Skills: Girls learn how to talk to, listen to and work with all kinds of people while selling cookies. These experiences help develop healthy relationship and conflict resolution skills that are used throughout life.

    5.Business Ethics: learning how to be honest and responsible is a key program factor and reinforced at every step of the cookie sale.

    And they taste good too!

    Erin Miserlis
    Director of Development
    Girl Scouts San Diego

  2. Love it! I saw some enterprising Girl Scouts at the Carlsbad Marathon finishers area, pulling a red wagon piled high with boxes of cookies. It was ingenious really — in the time it took me to hobble past them (good old 26.2 mile limp) I overheard quite a few people buying boxes as their sweet reward for crossing the finish line 🙂 If only I’d had some cash in my fuel belt!

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