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Parting Thoughts On The Cookie Mafia

After my rants earlier this week about the girls in green – otherwise known as the cookie mafia or the Girl Scouts, I sent a letter asking why their Internet sales policy seemed to be so incredibly ridiculous. It just didn’t make sense the reason for banning Internet sales could really be online safety concerns. As it turns out, I was correct.

I received the following e-mail in response to my inquiry. Everything in bold is my emphasis, not their’s.

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your concerns and taking time to write about them.

We have a number of issues, one of which is the fact that our councils (around 200 plus right now and moving down to 109 in 2009) each contract individually with the cookie company of their choice. Individual boards set cookie prices and choose cookie companies. (We have prices that run from $3-$4 across the country.) Although GSUSA provides the guidelines and overarching licensing agreement with our two cookie companies (and other vendors) and control the GSUSA brand, we do not sell cookies, our girls do as part of our girl program, and each council does it in a slightly different way.

The initial issue was girl safety online, which can now be handled in a lot of different ways (Paypal, Kinera, etc. as models. You have an excellent point in comparing current Internet Safety for sales to door to door and both sales. The next issue is girl involvement (it really is a girl entrepreneurial activity–and we were advised to keep it that way by the IRS) and there are lots of ways to incorporate the online business into girl-driven activity.

Currently the greatest issue to rear its ugly head via our lawyers is selling across council and state lines and figuring out how to regulate that internally. I think it could be done with zip codes with the increased sophisticated levels of programming, but it has opened up a whole new kettle of issues, including interstate trade, price fixing, etc. Until we get the legalities straightened out, we risk losing our IRS tax exempt status and might face some potential legal issues.

Despite our reputation, we are not primarily in the cookie business. Our “business” is creating opportunities for girls to develop “courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.” And yes, I agree, we need to be exposing girls to business online.

Our National Board of Directors passed a guideline when the Internet became a big thing that we are working to change to allow us more flexibility. Currently we are testing an online program with magazine subscriptions which seems to be working well, but unfortunately, comparing our cookie program to magazine selling is like comparing apples to oranges.

Believe me, there are a lot of us trying to move in that direction…and I too, hope that by the time your daughter is old enough, we are able to allow girls to sell online. I am going to share your note with folks around here…


So there you have it. There are a whole bunch of reasons the Girl Scouts don’t sell online, but it sounds like the absolute least of them is child safety. Above that on the list is the IRS tax exempt status, lawyers, and business deals. I guess those don’t sound as good when you write it out in your FAQs, though.

I’ll be writing back to share some thoughts on how technology can mitigate most of the concerns outlined in their letter. Who knows, maybe if I keep up the discussion this ridiculous policy may get changed before Baby Quip is old enough to start peddling sugar.

Written by Michael Turk