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Cookie rally teaches girls valuable skills
01:27 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Girl Scout troops are rolling out an online cookie-ordering system

Parents say online ordering could put responsibility back in hands of girls

Scouts are learning real-world skills, they say

CNN  — 

When I was a member of the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York, cookie time was my favorite time of the year, from first grade to 12th grade.

I was the girl who hit up teachers before anyone else had a chance, the co-worker’s daughter who showed up in person before it became the norm to pass around the order form. Camping was fun, but nothing beat the joy of watching my order form fill with names as I went from door to door in my apartment building until I reached the bottom.

If I did not finish the season with at least two order forms, I had failed.

Plenty has changed since I left the game more than a decade ago. For the first time this cookie season, some Girl Scout troops are using online ordering in addition to paper forms as part of the new Digital Cookie program. Part of me is jealous, but mostly, I’m skeptical. What about the value of the face-to-face sale? Would that get lost in digital interactions?

I don’t remember setting goals beyond “sell the most in my troop,” which I usually did. Winning badges, pins and bragging rights was good enough for me. But I like to think the people skills that went into making a sale somehow helped prepare me for adulthood. I’m no Luddite, but I wondered whether today’s “digital cookie entrepreneurs” will miss out on that experience.

To find out, I attended a recent cookie rally in Atlanta hosted by the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta – such rallies being another facet of the program that did not exist when I was growing up. The parents and Scouts I spoke to said they did not see Digital Cookie replacing face-to-face sales anytime soon. They see it as yet another tool that will generate more sales and foster technology skills that will prepare the girls for the modern workforce – once the tweaks are finally worked out.

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I met Elizabeth Carr and her 12-year-old daughter, Katie, before the rally. Katie would be attending Cookie University, a program introducing older Scouts to the financial and marketing aspects of running a business.

Carr, a troop leader and service unit director, was hoping to pick up tips on how to lead her girls to better sell cookies. She was also hoping Katie would learn how to make the most of the new online platform so she could share the knowledge.

“She’s my tech person. I hope she learns so she can teach us,” Carr said.

A ‘natural progression’

What else has changed since my days of selling cookies in the 20th century? For one, it turns out that many parents are no longer keen on sending their girls out to knock on strangers’ doors. Due to safety concerns, parents would rather have their daughters sell primarily to people they know or whom their parents know, said Shelley Johnson Carey, a former Girl Scout and troop leader in Washington (which is sitting out the beta phase of Digital Cookie).

Moreover, for families juggling a host of activities and commitments, booth sales and the familiar tradition of passing the order sheet around the office are more convenient than random door-to-door sales, said Carey, who spent more than a year researching the cookie program and following a troop for her MFA thesis at Goucher College, “Thin Mint Memories: Scouting for Empowerment Through the Girl Scout Cookie Program.”

The shift to online cookie sales is a “natural progression,” she said, one that has the potential to put responsibility back in the hands of girls, depending on how much parents let them do.

“Door to door builds persistence, but we’re in a new era with digital sales,” she said. “Digital sales seem appropriate for kids who have been on computers pretty much since they were born. It brings the cookie program into a realm where kids are spending most of their time.”

Girl Scouts of the USA says Digital Cookie is not intended to replace door-to-door sales, which are still a “cornerstone” of the program. In fact, a mobile app that some councils are using was designed “to help enhance in-person sales by allowing the girls to take orders more efficiently,” said Kelly Parisi, chief communications executive for GSUSA

“Door-to-door sales aren’t going away,” Parisi said. “Digital Cookie is taking our iconic cookie program to new heights, and allows girls to learn more about running a digital business.”

The focus on safety during in-person interactions was evident at the rally, where a self defense booth offered girls a chance to practice hitting a dummy. In another area, girls could knock on a makeshift door and learn what to say to people who invite them inside.

Cadette Kelci Trotter of Fayetteville, Georgia, said booth sales would probably make the biggest contribution to her goal of 2,015 boxes of cookies. The 13-year-old also saw value in the platform’s ability to reach untapped markets.

“More people use phones, and they’re not going out as much, so I think it will get me more customers,” she said.

“Last year, there wasn’t a way to reach everyone, but now there’s a way to reach people across the country.”

Her mother and troop co-leader, LaJoyce Perry-Trotter, also was eager to use Digital Cookie to reach out-of-town relatives and friends – if they were willing to pay a hefty shipping and handling fee, starting at $11.25 for up to six boxes. Or they can place the order online for a $1.25 handling fee and have the girls take care of delivery.

Mostly, she liked the idea of her girls becoming familiar with digital tools that have become the norm for modern business operations.

“Being in the 21st century, we need to give girls the tools to teach them how to be international businesswomen,” Perry-Trotter said. “We don’t just have to do face-to-face; we should take advantage of all available avenues.”

Learning ‘real world’ skills

Digital Cookie works in one of two ways, depending on the council: a Web-based platform or a mobile app. Both are customized order forms that include the Scout’s first name, a sales goal and a picture if they choose to add one. A “cookie earnings” blurb describes what the troop will do with the proceeds; a “cookie learning” blurb includes the Scout’s personal reflections on what she has learned from selling cookies.

Nearly 90 of the 112 Girl Scout councils nationwide are participating in Digital Cookie during the 2014-15 cookie season, with additional councils expected to be on board by the end of 2015 using an updated version, according to the Girl Scouts of the USA. A little more than half of the councils participating in Digital Cookie are on the Web-based platform.

Greater Atlanta uses the Web-based version, and troops are still setting up. At one booth at the cookie rally, program coordinator Sarnethia Sykes sat in front of a laptop showing anxious parents how to set up their accounts.

She pulled up a profile and pointed out features. The profile that administrators see includes pie charts showing a breakdown of cookies sold, a