Baked into every Girl Scout cookie are critical ingredients that customers can see, but not taste.
These would be the Five Skills — Goal Setting, Decision Making, Money Management, People Skills, and Business Ethics — that form the foundation for annual sales of the iconic cookies.
“I have found that participating in the Cookie sales has taught me a lot of skills I wouldn’t have learned otherwise like knowing how to deal with money and give people change and other things like how to reach a goal and how to approach people,” says Emma Wilson, 14, of Macomb Township.
She is among more than 32,000 girls and adult volunteers who are involved in Girl Scouting through the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan Council, which serves Oakland, Macomb, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, and parts of Wayne, Monroe, and Livingston counties. The majority of the girls are selling cookies at drive-thru cookie booths and on virtual platforms to comply with restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So far this year all of my sales have been from posting on my digital cookie link and my parent’s social media,” Emma says. “It has worked pretty well.”
Her father, Kent Wilson, who is serving as her troop’s Cookie Dad, says Emma has already sold more than 300 boxes of cookies which is double the number that she sold last year.
The Direct Sales part of the annual Cookie sales begins on February 19 and ends on April 12.
The draw, he says, is that this virtual concept eliminates the need for physical contact because customers place and pay for their orders online and those orders are then delivered to their front porches.
In prior years, Emma has taken order forms with her wherever she went and last year brought a cart loaded with cookies to make sales. The pandemic put a stop to those in-person opportunities, but it hasn’t prevented her from honing her Five Skills in other formats where she is able to have limited interactions with customers.
Although some businesses opted out this year from partnering with troops to offer on-site space for girls to set up Cookie Booths because of concerns about the pandemic, others have continued to work with girls and leaders.
Kent Wilson says the drive-thru setup provides for that in-person interaction in a safe manner, which gives girls the ability to increase their confidence.
“People will walk by and Emma will say, ‘Would you like to buy some cookies?’ The fact that she put herself out there and expresses that she wants to sell something is just a way to connect with people,” he says. “If you don’t step forward and say something, nobody’s going to give you anything.”
Emma says she doesn’t take it personally when someone walks by without responding to her “ask”, but likes it a whole lot more when someone says ‘no’ and then keeps walking.
The cookie sales, her father says, is teaching Emma skills she may not otherwise learn.
“The fact that she’s learning to take the initiative is important for all humans and it’s a skill that’s underrepresented in girls. It’s important for we as parents to encourage our children to advocate for themselves.”
Skills that girls take Into adulthood
Michele Hodges says she learned invaluable skills and a painful lesson along the way that have contributed to her career success. Hodges, president and CEO of Belle Isle Conservancy who has been a longtime advocate and volunteer with the GSSEM Council, says she has made a conscious decision to keep her earliest experiences as a cookie salesperson in the forefront.
“I lost my envelope of money from my cookie sales and had to figure out how to replace that,” Hodges says. “I was taking money from people, fulfilling their orders and making the deliveries. Losing the money, you just didn’t do stuff like that. I was in elementary school at the time. That was a powerful experience.”
But, she says, “These are the kinds of experiences that I think are important and form you as an individual. It forms character and integrity.”
For her, the loss and replacement of the money is a formidable experience that has staying power.
“In today’s world if you want to succeed your competitive advantage is how competitive and entrepreneurial you are and if you develop those skills as a youth, it becomes part of your DNA. You are going to succeed,” Hodges says. “Selling Girl Scout cookies gives you the confidence to let someone know what you want. You’re selling a cause, a mission, and a purpose. Which makes you better prepared as an adult.”
She likens the cookie sales to a girl’s first experience with an economic club for and run by women.
The business skills, budgeting, planning, and goal-setting that each girl does really establishes the foundation for their future success, says Michelle Cochran, who lives in Lincoln Park and has been a troop leader for 23 years. She began that volunteer role while she was in college and is looking forward to finally being able to have her daughter join GSSEM as a Daisy next year.
“The leaders are there to make sure they’re safe, the rest of it is on them,” Cochran says. “They decide what they want to do with that cookie money. That’s their revenue. They’re running their troop.”
Her troops have traveled overseas and formed a connection with Girl Guides in the United Kingdom, which led to three trips there to participate in encampments with them. Last year’s cookie sale proceeds were going to be used to cover the cost of a cruise to Alaska. The pandemic forced them to put that trip on hold, but they have set a goal of having enough money by this August to go.
She says people can feel good about buying Girl Scout cookies because they are supporting a local girl who lives in their community.
“We show them. We make signs that say what the funds are going for and let them know that they’re making an investment in a girl’s future and her dreams,” Cochran says. “This is a small business that runs for a couple of months out of the year. They’re supporting a local, small business and making an investment in a girl’s future and dreams. “
Amanda Thomas, GSSEM’s Vice President of Customer Support, says, “You can buy cookies anywhere and in some cases for a lot less, but you’re buying more than a box of cookies from us, you’re also supporting a local girl and helping her to reach her goals.”
The annual cookie sales represent a “good portion” of each Girl Scout Council’s operating revenue, in addition to funding troop activities such as trips and community service projects, Thomas says.
She is confident that this year’s sales will be successful despite COVID-imposed restrictions.
“We have lots of cookie fans among the general public. Our focus this year is how we work with our volunteers and Girl Scouts to safely meet the demand,” Thomas says. “A lot of the ways for people to purchase cookies are contactless, most troops are accepting payments through apps. We’re are also doing a lot more drive-up booths and businesses like banks that aren’t typically open on the weekends are allowing us to use their parking lots.”
Cochran says her troop uses contactless readers and is not handling credit cards. They also aren’t doing many walk-up booths.
“We have disposable gloves, sanitizer, wipes, and spray. That’s something we have to take with us for everything,” she says. “We can hand the bag with the cookies in it through the car window without getting too close.”
Thomas says she thinks the procedures being used this year may continue on into future cookie sales.
“I definitely think there are lots of things we learned in this COVID world that we’ll be doing going forward. Our girls are learning skills from that,” she says. “Our continued reliance on an online platform is going to continue going forward. We’re hoping to have a good outcome.”
For information about the cookie sale or to place an order, go to www.gssem.org/findcookies.
This is the first in a series of monthly features about the leadership and life skills girls are learning as members of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. It is made possible with funding from the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan.