What selling Girl Scout cookies teaches girls

I wrote this column five years ago, when my daughter was a second-grader. Five year’s later, she’s still a scout and I’m still their leader:

“Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?”

That is what you’re going to hear outside stores starting today. Though Girl Scout cookie sales started Wednesday, things really get rolling on Saturday, the first day of booth sales.

I’m a Girl Scout troop leader for 11 second- and third-graders. Cookie season is about so much more than the 2.1 million boxes girls in this area will sell in the next five weeks. Selling cookies gives my Girl Scouts life skills that hopefully will serve them well.

Setting a goal: Each girl decides how much she wants to sell and forms a plan of action. In my house, Ava set a goal that is one-third higher than last year. Though her number made me take a big gulp, I see a determination that I don’t always see.

For my troop, we know that we want to go to the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi in May. We’ll figure out what it will cost us and how many boxes we’ll need to sell to have the money to go.

Forming a plan of action: At home and in my troop, we’ve talked about what you have to do to hit your goal. My daughter’s plan: a booth a weekend, asking our neighbors, asking at Mom and Dad’s work, asking at our temple, asking our friends and family.

Sticking with it: It’s a long way from Week 1 to Week 5 of cookie sales. I’ve seen girls get tired after the first day, but cookie sales teaches them perseverance.

Money doesn’t grow on trees. Maybe it would be easier for the girls in my troop to ask Mom and Dad for the check for the trip, but working for this trip teaches them the value of hard work. And without selling cookies, the reality is that many in my troop couldn’t afford the $50 a person it will cost for the weekend.

The girls also earn “Cookie Dough, ” which they can use to pay for camp, uniforms, yearly dues or Girl Scout events.

Self-reliance: Cookie sales is one thing Mom and Dad cannot do for them. Sure, parents supervise them at a booth, set up a sign in the office break room or help send out the email, but the asking should be the girl‘s job.

Public speaking: Even my daughter, whom I think of as a spitfire, gets shy sometimes. Standing at a booth and asking a stranger if he or she wants to buy a box of cookies helps her develop confidence to speak to people beyond her friends and family.

Treat everyone with respect: Last year at my daughter’s first booth, she shied away from talking to a man with a physical deformity. He returned and told her that if she had asked him, he would have bought 10 boxes. It was an important lesson for her, and we still talk about it.

Marketing: Girls love designing their posters. They learn about having a clear message, using proper spelling, good handwriting and offering complete information.

Handling rejection: Yes, it’s true, even the cutest Brownie gets told “no” sometimes. We practice how to react to adversity, how to smile and say, “thank you, ” even when you want to cry or scream.

Following the rules: The policies and procedures for cookie sales fill a three-ring binder for many reasons. No. 1, we want to keep girls safe. Always go with an adult, pair up with two adults and two girls at a booth. Never sell to a person in a car. Never go inside a house. No. 2, the council establishes universal rules for all girls. Last year, one of my girls went to her father’s office to sell cookies only to discover another girl was selling her cookies for less. My troop learned that not everyone plays fair.

Manners: Always say, “Thank you, ” don’t eat at a booth, don’t sit down at a booth, greet people when they are leaving a store, not as they are going in. In a world in which I see girls forget to say “please” and “thank you, ” cookie time reminds them to do so.

Working as a team: Girls working in pairs at a booth have to work together. They sort out how to handle money and cookies and who’s turn it is to do the asking.

Money management: We teach girls great lessons in math. By the end of the season, they know multiples of $3.50 (now$4), and often, they can make change. Last year, we visited our troop’s bank, and they saw me make a cookie sales deposit. They saw our account and how much money was in it. They’ve also had to learn about counterfeit bills and bounced checks. (You know who you are and shame on you!)

Where the money goes: The girls get a great lesson in what is essentially a $700 million fundraiser for a nonprofit agency. Our troop gets 35 cents a box, (now 50 cents) plus an additional bonus if we follow all the rules and do not return too many cookies. We talk about how the council uses the rest of the money for camps and programs that we as a troop have enjoyed. Cookie profits also help those girls who cannot afford the $12 dues (now $15), the cost of the uniform, transportation to events and more.

Giving back: In 2011, girls in our local council sent more than 41,500 boxes to soldiers. It becomes a teaching opportunity about what our military does. It also allows girls to ask others to support a cause.

Yes, there’s a lot that happens when you buy a box of Girl Scout cookies, and even if you don’t buy a box, just treat the girls with respect, just like we train the girls to do to everyone they ask.


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