How do you feel about an organization that uses second graders as their sales force?

Yes, we are talking about the esteemed Girl Scouts of America. 

Honestly, I have a lot of nice things to say about the Girl Scouts.  Each of my three daughters has had a great, no, lots of great experiences with their respective Girl Scout troops.  They’ve been to every sort of museum, had every kind of outdoor experience you can think of, and volunteered for deserving charity organizations.  They have learned to work and play with other little girls without the three’s-a- crowd drama that happens between little girls in elementary schools and at birthday parties. This last one is big.  If you have daughters you know what I mean.

The Girl Scouts have also given my daughters excellent female role models. Every Girl Scout leader we have ever encountered has been unbelievably generous, and each has been patient.  God knows they are patient.  Each has been very organized; they have to be.  Most are working mothers who truly don’t have the time to give all they do to my daughters, but they do it anyway.  Girl Scout leaders, I thank you, truly, from the bottom of my heart. 

The only thing that gets under my skin is the annual cookie sale.  And the Cookie Sale REALLY gets under my skin.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m told that learning to sell is a great experience for children, and that it’s a skill that will serve them well in life.  Maybe that’s true, but the annual cookie sale is a gargantuan pain in the neck, and not for the little girls so much, but for their parents. For the better part of four months, we moms and dads are expected to get our daughters to regular meetings, to extra  “cookie meetings” and activities, to find the time, energy, and locations for our daughters to sell, manage the forms, the money, the pick- up and delivery of cookies, and the return of cookies that don’t sell.  I would be remiss, in this rant of mine, if I did not mention how difficult all this is to add to the schedules of other children we might have, the other activities of our girl scouts, and some other stuff we might like to do (like eat and sleep).

Around Halloween the leaders start feeling around to see who might be willing to be a cookie mom.  God bless the cookie mom!  The best advice I can give you is to run and hide.  One year I volunteered to be the cookie mom, not really knowing what I was getting into.  Let’s just say I would have benefitted from a Harvard MBA, which I don’t have, to handle all the money issues that arose.  Sales proceeds were lost and/or miscalculated.   Customers ordered too many boxes of cookies, too few boxes of cookies, and the wrong boxes of cookies.  Customers asked for refunds if they didn’t like the cookies.   All the money problems gave rise to emotional problems.  More than one Girl Scout mom wound up crying in my kitchen.  It wasn’t pretty.   I ended up fifty bucks in the hole, and I was irritated.  Wouldn’t it have been much easier to just give my fifty dollars to the Girl Scout troop?  They would have gotten the entire fifty dollars instead of just a small percentage per box, and I would have been much happier (and thinner).  

Now that I know better, I don’t volunteer to be the cookie mom.  But I still dread selling cookies all through the Christmas season.   Sometime shortly after New Year’s Day it begins:  the first e-mail arrives announcing all the cookie events that are coming up.  Last year my two girl scouts were taught about marketing at one meeting and were asked to make a promotional poster to send to their parent’s job, so their dad could sell cookies at work.  Has it occurred to the powers-that-be that perhaps some employers may not be thrilled for The Girl Scouts to do business on their company time?   If so, they haven’t acknowledged it.   My husband’s company has been extraordinarily understanding. They’ve been happy to allow our little girls to come in for an hour one afternoon every year to do their selling.  They would be well within their rights to say no. One Girl Scout Dad I know works for a company that has banned the sale of cookies in their building. His bosses say that he isn’t paid to raise money for charity.  I’m afraid I agree.

There was also a cookie “rally”, in the tradition of Amway, where the girls go to get all pumped up so they can go home and bug their mothers relentlessly to knock on the doors of strangers to beg for money.  I’m told that many little girls commit at the rally to sell hundreds of boxes of cookies!  I’m opting not to send my daughters to the rally this year.  More pressure to sell is the last thing I, I mean they, need.     

Oh, and don’t forget the booth sales.  That’s four hours selling cookies, in February, outside a grocery store, in Colorado.  It’s just eight more hours in the cold I’d rather be doing something else.  Truth be told, booth sales are the easiest way to sell cookies.  There always seems to be an older gentleman who stuffs a couple of twenties in the jar but won’t take any cookies.  Last year, however, an honest- to-God paranoid schizophrenic glommed onto us (as we froze our brownies off) and told my eight year old all about how she got probed by aliens.  Lovely! 

The absolute worst, though, is that both my second grader and my fourth grader were put on a sales quota!  Each child was responsible to sell eighty boxes.  Turns out they made their quotas, but it wasn’t because we care all that much.  Sure, we’re happy to offer cookies to the friends and coworkers that want them but we won’t be applying pressure or “marketing” to anyone. The kids have school, homework and an array of extra-curricular activities, which is as it should be. Children should be spending their precious childhoods (and I use the word precious in the truest sense of the word) learning and growing, not fueling the huge machine that Girl Scouts has become.

What I don’t get is how competitive some of the parents get about the cookie sale.  I’ve seen numerous cars painted with advertizing.  I’ve seen a sales banner across someone’s front door.  I’ve been told behind the backs of hands that some moms are cheating by selling too soon, or after the deadline, or over the internet (which apparently wasn’t allowed last year, but will be this year).  Accusations are flying around the neighborhood via e-mail about unfairness, and that some girls are selling in someone else territory.  What?  Territory?  Wait just a minute there, mama, calm down and take a breath… aren’t your daughters supposed to be doing the selling?

And another thing, is it even moral to sell Girl Scout Cookies?  A look at the ingredient list will tell you that they are basically chemicals wrapped in transfats and then dipped in sugar.  That’s not healthy for anybody, is it?  I wonder how many heart blockages were caused in part by Thin Mints, which have 25% daily allowance for fat, or by Samoas which have a whopping 30% daily allowance!

Back in the days when Girl Scouts sold cookies to fund their camping trip, it was cute.  Likewise, it’s not a bad idea for children to learn to sell something.  But four months of training, added activities, and relentless pressure to sell, sell, sell, is a little over the top.   It takes over my life.  And the mommies, I’m telling you, seem a little out of control.  Somewhere, a line has been quietly crossed by the Girl Scouts.  This is the line that, when crossed, turns a band of gap toothed smiling little girls with mismatched clothing into an army of a sales force almost solely responsible for funding a very large non-profit organization.  I find it distasteful, at best. 

I want back on the other side of the line.   I have fantasized about taking my girls out of scouting altogether, just to get out of selling cookies, but that isn’t a viable option because they love their leaders and their scouting friends so much.  So, Instead of responding to the pressure by selling more and more cookies this year, I think I’ll limit the selling to an hour or so in the safe, well-known setting of my husband’s office.  That way they’ll have the experience without all the pressure.  I’ll let them off the hook for all the other stuff, stop feeling resentful, and if they don’t make their quotas, I’ll make a donation large enough to cover their activities for the next year.   Bitchy and elitist? Probably.  Go ahead and judge me for having the money to throw at this problem.  It will be worth every penny, I say.  And…. I’ll be so much happier.