By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — As a first grader in rural western Canada, Lisa Jones joined the Girl Guides, the Canadian sisters of the Girls Scouts, where one of the first merit badges she earned was for drama. The experience changed her, she says, and led to a career in theater management.
“It led me to an interest in the performing arts, which I had not been exposed to from our rural upbringing,” says Jones, who joined the Girl Scouts – North Carolina Coastal Pines as CEO in January 2013 after 15 years at Carolina Ballet, including 12 as executive director.
Now, Jones wants girls throughout the 41 counties the Raleigh-based Council serves to have the same kinds of opportunities she found in Scouting.
Guided by a three-year strategic plan it developed last year with input from volunteers, board members, girls and staff, the Council aims to boost training and support for volunteers; strengthen traditional troops, particularly for younger girls; recruit more alumnae and strengthen the bond of Girl Scouting; focus on underserved regions and the potential for growth; and diversify its funding.
With nearly 29,000 Scouts and nearly 9,800 adult volunteers, the Council operates with 243 employees, service centers in Raleigh, Goldsboro and Fayetteville, and four camps. It plans to open a fourth service center in Wilmington by this fall, and is trying to sell a fifth camp.
The effort to boost its traditional troops program has intentionally resulted in a short-term reduction — from 33,500 two years ago — in the number of the Council’s girl members overall, Jones says. That mainly reflects a decline to 45 percent from 60 percent in the share of girl members participating in “outreach” programs, compared to traditional troops.
For girls who participate in its outreach programs, which are designed for girls who otherwise could not afford to participate in a traditional troop, particularly in rural and low-income urban areas, the Council subsidizes its $15 annual membership fee with funds it raises privately.
“We were willing to decrease total membership, short-term, to allow us to focus on our core business, which is building that K-5 traditional troop experience,” Jones says.
“It’s critical to do both” for the long-term, she says. “We want to be able to serve all 41 counties and assure that all girls are receiving a fantastic Girl Scout experience.”
To boost its traditional troops program, the Council hired a program director for girls in kindergarten and first grade, known as Daisies, and in first and second grade, known as Brownies.
The Council also has formed partnerships with Golden Corral and Capitol Broadcasting Co. to pilot year-long outreach programs for girls living in public housing communities.
It has hired volunteer recruitment directors, all new positions, for markets it has targeted for growth in Wake, Cumberland, Pitt and New Hanover counties, as well as outreach coordinators, also new positions, to assist volunteers in Wake, Cumberland, Johnston and Pitt counties.
And it has hired a corporate gift officer and an individual gift officer, both new positions, to secure gifts of $5,000 or more and help increase overall contributions to $1.4 million from $1 million within at least two years.
A key fundraising initiative, Jones says, will be to support the purchase of a bus to deliver materials to community partners in regions, particularly in rural counties, where a lack of transportation may keep girls from participating in day-long programs that are more easily accessible to girls in traditional troops.
The Council also is investing just over $1 million for improvements to its camps.
“The key for us is having Girl Scouts be a philanthropic priority for our communities,” says Jones, who expects to spend 50 percent to 60 percent of her time on fundraising, compared to 40 percent of her time at Carolina Ballet. “We haven’t told our story, and it’s an incredible story.”
Eighty percent of all female corporate executives in the U.S., as well as two-thirds of women in Congress, were Girl Scouts, as were 12 astronauts, eight First Ladies and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Jones says.
Girl Scouting now involves 3.2 million girls and women, and its cookie program is the largest girl-led business in the world, generating $790 million in annual sales — and accounting for nearly 65 percent of the local Council’s annual budget.
“We build girls of courage, confidence and character,” Jones says. “It’s critical for our future leadership in the U.S. that girls have that level of confidence to truly make a difference.”