Girl Scout Fundraising is Very Unhealthy

You don't need cookies to be a good fundraiser.

You don’t need cookies to be a good fundraiser.

Every spring they come a-callin’. You salivate over the brochure and place your order.  It’s usually a very big order. I think maybe Weight Watchers owns stock in the cookie manufacturer. You are delighted.  So is the cute little girl in the green outfit with the sash.

The girl smiles an earnest smile and walks away. You shut the door, dreaming of Samoas.  Just one quick question: except for the possibility of the cost of the uniforms and maybe the cookies themselves…

Do you have any idea how the Girl Scouts will spend your money?

I’m gonna go with ‘no’ on that one.  And how about this question:  If the Girl Scouts came a callin’ without cookies, would you make a donation?  I think I know the answer to that one, too.

You see, for decades, we’ve all been trained.  Make a donation and get a box of cookies. This is unhealthy. And I’m not just talking about the sweets. It might just be better for the company to fund raise the haloxyl skin care product.

They have trained us all into believing that people won’t give to causes unless there are treats.

But guess what? You don’t need treats to be a successful fundraiser!

Here’s what you DO need!

First, let me tell you some other things, besides cookies, that you don’t need.


  • The exact number of “free” tickets he/she will get to the Super Ball if they give $X.
  • The exact number of times the donor’s name will be mentioned on the event screen.
  • The list of celebrities confirmed to attend and the celebrity that will be assigned to the donor’s table.
  • The last really tangible thing our organization did that I can tell them about so I can be sure they know they are getting something for their money.
  • A list of every single objection question they could raise and really good answers for each.
  • A box of Thin Mints.

OK, so what do you actually need?


1)   Donor research in bullet point form. Not her/his giving history to your organization, but political giving, alma mater, etc.  You need to have philanthropic context.

2)   Notes from Raiser’s Edge or your donor database. (Or the scraps of paper in a folder somewhere on the Development director’s desk) from the organization’s last contact with this donor.  Anything to know about his family, his dog, his ailing mom?

3)   The donor’s giving history to your organization.

4)   The current budget for the organization.  Donors like to know that you have some basic information about money and some context for the gift they are being asked for.

5)   A suggested ask amount.

These first five items should come from your staff.  There is absolutely no reason this information should be on more than one page. It should be given to you several days before the meeting and you should be able to read it en route to the meeting.

What else?  Well, everything else you need you already have.  Just like those old ruby slippers.

6)   One story about your motivation. Why did you join the board and what ignited your passion about the organization.   Told eloquently, articulately and persuasively.  Your enthusiasm should feel contagious.   It could be about the staff, a client, a particular program.  It could be a personal connection between the organization and you.

7)   One story about the work.  It should be one you can easily tell and easily remember.  It should be very sticky.

8)   One story about the staff and leadership.

9)   Your own commentary about the organization’s place in the larger movement.  What role is your organization playing in moving the larger set of issues forward?  Be able to describe how your organization works with others (donors love this)

10)  A small index card with ten words written clearly on it.  At some point during your meeting, excuse yourself and hit the rest room.  Read the card.  Here’s what it says:

My love for this organization trumps my fear of asking.

Then go back out there and get to work. What’s the worst thing that can happen? 

The Girl Scout syndrome happens to the best of us.  One of my biggest donors called on the eve of our biggest fundraiser.  She called four times in one day to find out what celebrity would be at her table.  She literally said, “Joan, you know that’s why I’m a big donor to your organization.  I love celebrities.” I went right back at her.  “Really?  I didn’t know that.  I thought you were so generous because you believe so deeply in the mission of our organization and the power of the work we do.”

She continued to give for years.  Remember. It ain’t about the cookies.