Why don’t local Scouts get more than 20–30 percent for selling cookies, popcorn?

As an Eagle Scout myself, I support Scouting for my kids 100 percent. But something is not adding up in the annual cookie and popcorn sales.

Like every organization, Scouting has its good points and bad points. To many, the positive attributes outweigh the negative. It lends practical experience to concepts like leadership, working as a team, entrepreneurship, camping in the wild, survival, and more.

It also taught me some questionable songs that contained slurs, though they weren’t official ones and I learned bad ones as well in places like school and church.

Overall, it was a positive experience for me. I supported my son in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and continue to do so for my daughter in Girl Scouts. Her troop is in the midst of the annual cookie drive, a major fundraiser. After picking her up at a local grocery store recently, she said they had sold several hundred dollars worth of cookies.

Being nosy about the money parts of this equation, I had to ask how much of the $4 per box her troop gets. She said she thought it was something like 80 cents. I was surprised at that figure.

I remember when I was in Scouts, we would raise money through distributing phone books and doing chili cookouts and pancake breakfasts. We even sold some cheap burglar alarms that didn’t really work but made a loud noise. I think we earned more than 20 percent of the sale though. Perhaps not. I wasn’t exactly asking questions about that part back then.

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Girl Scout cookie sales total about $800 million annually. Local troops get about 20 percent of that. [Kevin Shay photo]

I did some checking, and yes, that figure of 20 percent to local troops is about right. The Girl Scout cookie business has grown to about $800 million in annual sales, according to the organization. Most of that money — some 55 to 60 percent — go to the national Girl Scouts office for programs, scholarships, and support services, much of which wind up as staff salaries as in most any organization or business. About 20 percent goes to the baking company and 5 percent to the regional unit.

The national group says their programs funnel down to the local troops, but that seems to be sort of like the old Reaganomics trickle-down theory. Why can’t local troops get more of the proceeds for their own programs?

The same can be said for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and their annual sales of popcorn. The local troops do not get nearly enough of the proceeds for selling popcorn, something like 30 percent. Most proceeds go to the national organization, which claims to funnel down those programs to local packs and troops.

Sales of popcorn by Boy Scouts doesn’t seem to approach that of Girl Scout cookies. The national Boy Scout organization listed sales from all products of $140.3 million in 2017. Salaries and benefits alone totaled some $85.4 million, with at least 16 officials making more than $200,000 in 2016. Three executives’ compensation totaled more than $690,000 apiece.

The national Girl Scouts listed total revenues of $145.2 million in fiscal 2017, including product sales, investment income and contributions. Salaries and benefits were about $45.8 million, with at least 14 officials making more than $200,000 in 2016. Three executives’ compensation totaled more than $430,000 each.

I point out such salaries to show that, for some, it’s not exactly a volunteer operation. It’s a pretty good living. We weren’t taught what these numbers mean back when I was a Scout, selling burglar alarms and tossing phone books as essentially free labor while a few at the top made out relatively well. I’m not sure what the Boy Scout CEO’s salary was in 1975, but I bet it was significantly more than what my parents made.

Some claim that the Girl Scouts fund Planned Parenthood, but that notion has been debunked. Some also quibble that you can buy virtually the same cookies for less at a local store, as you can buy almost the same popcorn for less there as well.

But stores don’t carry every brand the Girl Scouts sell. My daughter says she can taste the difference between the store thin mints and the ones she sells. And she and other scouts are gaining some funds, while learning entrepreneurship, perseverance, and other important skills.

Still, it’d be nice to see the girls and boys who do the work to sell the cookies and popcorn get more of the money for their own troop’s projects.

Maybe that’s not realistic in our bottom-line society where nothing is really as it seems. But wouldn’t that be nice?

Written by

Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J.-Shay/e/B004BCQRTG. Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

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