If I Were CEO of GSUSA

With the search underway for a new Chief Executive Officer at GSUSA, I started thinking about what I would do if I were CEO.

1. Relocate Headquarters

Earlier this year GSUSA announced its intention to sell part of its suite of floors at 420 Fifth Avenue in New York. Why not sell all of it? Let’s relocate to a less expensive, more centralized city, how about Chicago or Memphis or Kansas City? Personally I vote for bringing HQ back to Washington DC.

In addition to corporate offices, archives, and an expanded museum, let’s include a conference center and hostel facilities for traveling troops. Girl Scouting promotes active citizenship, which is enhanced when girls tour the Nation’s Capital and see how our government works. The Rockwood National Program Center served a similar purpose for decades but today still suffers from a lack of public transit options. A better model might be that of the National 4-H Conference Center. Nice, affordable space near public transit.

2. Return to a Skills-based Program

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The October 1963 issue of Leader magazine highlighted new handbooks for all levels.

Girls learn by doing activities, not by reading about them. They like challenges and stretching themselves. Let’s dump the Journeys and emphasize learning by doing with a rich range of badges. Put them all in ONE handbook, available in print and online. As Miss Frizzle always says in the Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Wouldn’t Miss Frizz make a great troop leader?) She had great field trips and new the importance of getting outside.

 

3. Invest in Staff Stability

Girl Scout councils have become pass-through workplaces. Few staff stay as long as two years, regarding the jobs as temporary stages in their careers. But younger doesn’t necessarily mean better in terms of employees; it simply means cheaper. How do we get them to put down roots? We could ask new hires to make a two-year commitment. We could also recruit from another demographic—current volunteers. Would empty-nesters, long-time volunteers whose troops have graduated, be interested? They are already  familiar with the program, so they would have less of a learning curve. We can’t build strong relationships and continuity with fleeting partners.

4. Promote a Culture of Collaboration

The various components of our movement must commit to improving communication, treating others with respect, and not going off to pout in our tents. This is OUR movement. It is up to us to find ways to perpetuate it.

APR23AR07The old recipe for Brownie Stew applies in the conference room as well as the campsite: everyone brings something to the table—new ideas, hard-earned experience, and enthusiasm, to name a few. Just because an adult wasn’t a member as girl doesn’t mean they can’t contribute today.

We must eliminate the fear of being expelled or fired that intimidates leaders and staff into silence.

Staff must learn to value the contribution of volunteers—that means recognizing the hours they serve as well as the dollars they give. Both forms of contribution are equally vital to the future of our movement.

National, council, staff, volunteer, girl—we’re all part of the same big troop.

5. Promote Girl Scout Pride

The Girl Scout uniform is a symbol of an internationally respected organization devoted to the development of girls. Wearing your uniform identifies you as a member of Girl Scouts of the USA and of a worldwide movement rich in tradition. It shows Girl Scout pride and provides for recognition and visibility. (“The Girl Scout Uniform,” Leader Magazine Fall 2003).

TakomaParkUnifThe best way to improve our visibility is to, duh, BE VISIBLE. Part of that means wearing a uniform. The public won’t know what we’re doing if they don’t realize who we are. This includes staff, perhaps just one or two days a week, but we’re all in this together. Plus, uniforms are one segment of merchandise whose profits go to GSUSA. Is it a coincidence that the budget deficits swelled when uniforms were all but eliminated?

Getting off my soapbox now. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the members or staff of my council, my family, or even my cats.

GSUSA Executive Search Team: Interested? You know where to find me.

©2016 Ann Robertson

God Bless America and the Girl Scouts

Today musicians across the country will play both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Over the years, many people have called for making “God Bless America” our national anthem. Among other arguments, it is a much easier song to sing.

I happen to agree, but I have an ulterior motive. I want the royalties.

 

Written in 1917, “God Bless America” debuted on Kate Smith’s radio show in 1938.  It was an instant hit.  Irving Berlin’s lyrics captured his love of the United States, the country that had welcomed his family when they fled Russia in 1893.  He decided to use the royalties from this song to invest in the country’s future, especially its youth.

Sheryl Kaskowitz's book from Oxford University Press, is available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon, among others.

Sheryl Kaskowitz’s book from Oxford University Press.

In July 1940 Berlin set up the God Bless America Fund and instructed its trustees to equally distribute all royalties to two all-American organizations: the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America (Note: We are NOT the Girl Scouts of America).

Berlin sat on the board of directors of the Boy Scouts and his wife on the board of the Girl Scouts.  The Fund’s trustees explained the selection of beneficiaries: “It was felt that the completely nonsectarian work of the Boy and Girl Scouts was calculated to best promote unity of mind and patriotism, two sentiments that are inherent in the song itself.”

Originally the funds were distributed to councils across the country, but since the 1990s the fund has focused on the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and the Greater New York Councils: Boy Scouts of America. Both organizations used the funds to provide programs in low-income neighborhoods.

At the time, right-wing fringe groups attacked the Girl Scouts for accepting Berlin’s gift. Noting that the composer was Jewish, they denounced the song as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Historian  Sheryl Kaskowitz reprints excerpts from some of these startling letters, including one that claimed the Girl Scouts had accepted $15,000 from Berlin as part of the conspiracy: “Millions of Christian Americans resent certain forces using a great Patriotic organization such as yours to further their own selfish interests, and further the lid is about to be blown right off this slimy trick.”

The Girl Scouts persevered, and ten years later, in 1950, Fund president Herbert Bayard Swope cited the movement as “a leading factor in the fight to end race, color, and religious discrimination in the United States.”

Annual income to the two organizations has ranged around  $100,000-$200,000 in recent years. According to a 1996 article in Billboard, other patriotic Berlin songs have been added to the Fund’s catalog, including “This Is the Army” and “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.”  The bulk of the royalties still comes from “God Bless.”

Royalties swelled to $800,000 for 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  By 2011 some $10 million had been distributed to both organizations.

However, Fund trustees became increasingly uncomfortable with the Boy Scouts’ official policy of discrimination against homosexual members, upheld in a 2000 Supreme Court ruling. Fund publications began to stress that royalties went to the Greater New York Council, not the national organization.  Each year the Greater New York Council had to assure the Fund of its non-discrimination policy.

The Fund was not satisfied by the council’s statement in 2012, and it refused to cut a check to the Boy Scouts for several years. However, eventually the Fund was satisfied and donations resumed. For 2015, the New York Boy Scouts received a donation of between $50,000 and $100,000.

 

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

Girl Scouts representing Justice, Liberty, and Peace strike a pose during a June 19, 1915, rally at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The Fund has never had a problem with the Girl Scouts. For 2015, Girl Scouts of Greater New York reported a donation from the God Bless American Fund of between $25,000 and $49,999. (See Greater New York Annual Report 2015.)

The Girl Scouts of the USA has long advocated inclusion and maintained a strict policy of “For All Girls.” Period.  We know there is always room for one more around the campfire.

God Bless the Girl Scouts, indeed.

©2016 Ann Robertson

Open House a Success

On Sunday, June 26, the Nation’s Capital Archives & History Program Center in Frederick, Maryland, opened its doors to the public.

The Center’s grand opening was September 19, 2015, and programs are held there for troops on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday each month. Otherwise, the all-volunteer-operated center is open by appointment only.

We are re-evaluating hours and program opportunities for the 2016-2017 Girl Scout year and hope to have more drop-in days. We are also planning a few training classes for adult volunteers.

I was especially happy to finally meet fellow Girl Scout Historian Sandy Dent in person. She’s with the Central Maryland council, and we’ve been Facebook friends for years.  Most of the photos here are hers. (Thanks Sandy!)

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One guest–and now a new committee member–had several questions about former camps. She also shared memories of wading at camps in the 1960s. That reminded me of one of the most treasured items in our collection, the Murray Camp Scroll. Naturally, I had to pull it out.

The scroll is the 1960 Camp Committee report, but rendered in a truly unique fashion. The scroll is about 80 feet long and was donated by the family of Ann Murray, a former Camp Committee chair. Isn’t it amazing?

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Archives and History Committee members LOVE to share our collection. If you haven’t been able to schedule a visit yet, contact me (ann@robertsonwriting.com), we’ll try to work something out.

Who Is Sylvia Acevedo?

Today, Sylvia Acevedo was named interim CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, following the resignation of Anna Maria Chávez. She is the CEO of  CommuniCard LLC, which “provides solutions in education and healthcare for America’s rising generation.” She also is the secretary of the GSUSA Board of Directors and a real, live rocket scientist.

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Sylvia Acevedo, acting CEO of GSUSA

I had the pleasure of hearing Acevedo speak at the 2014 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. She gave a moving presentation where she talked about how her childhood Girl Scout leader had gone above and beyond the call of duty by tutoring Sylvia’s mother in English so that she could pass her US citizenship exam.

Her biography included with the Annual Meeting packet describes her as:

a lifelong Girl Scout. Earning her science badge as a Girl Scout Junior inspired her to become a rocket scientist. Learning to sell cookies sparked her dream of being an entrepreneur. Elected to the Girl Scouts of the USA’s National Board in 2008, Sylvia was the Girl Scout Gold Award keynote speaker in 2012 for the Girl Scout councils of Texas.

Girl Scouts of Central Texas named her a Woman of Distinction in 2013 and profiled her. The profile also mentions her partner, Dr. Janet Osimo, and their two rescue dogs.

 

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Look, this patch has a rocket on it!

I can’t wait to see what exciting changes will come with new leadership at GSUSA!

©2016 Ann Robertson

The views reflected here are personal and do not represent the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital. 

UPDATE: Lunch with Anna, FORMER CEO

UPDATE: Anna Maria Chávez has resigned as GSUSA CEO, effective June 30. 


Yesterday I had lunch with GSUSA CEO Anna Maria Chávez at the National Press Club. It was just Anna, me, and 400 or so of our closest friends. There were also about a dozen CEOs of various Girl Scout councils, former GSUSA CEO Marsha Evans, and many many past and present Girl Scouts.

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I forgot my camera yesterday, so this 2013 photo of Chavez and I will have to do. (I’m on the left)

It was a typical Washington lunch presentation, with a berry, walnut and goat cheese salad; a breaded chicken breast, fresh vegetables, and a light, 20-minute speech.

What did Chávez have to say?

First, to answer members’ frequent question, Chávez wore a fitted navy skirt suit. It definitely qualified as “business attire” and thus as official uniform. She was also wearing an official Girl Scout scarf and pins. She specifically commented that she was wearing her newly received Catholic St. Elizabeth Ann Seton  medal.

Second, Chávez did not dwell on the Gold Award. It was mentioned, certainly, several times, but it was not the focus of the presentation. (She did not even ask Gold Award recipients present to stand.) Instead, the overall theme was reasons to “invest” in girls and Girl Scouting.

Third, Chávez acknowledged the previous day’s tragedy in Orlando, Florida, where over 100 patrons were shot at a gay nightclub. Several times she emphasized that “inclusion is in our DNA,” suggesting that Girl Scouts could be a positive force in expanding tolerance.

Fourth, when asked about plans for the future, Chávez twice mentioned that she is expecting a “call to the ministry.”

The entire presentation is available online.

©2016 Ann Robertson

 

An Affordable Mannequin Solution

Girl Scout historians know how challenging it can be to display vintage uniforms.

Commercial mannequins can be expensive and usually are several sizes too large for the dainty uniforms of old.

Dressmaker forms can work for adult uniforms, but are difficult to find in child sizes.

I found a fantastic, very affordable solution at…..IKEA.  Yes, the assemble-it-yourself Swedish furniture store! Who knew?

IMG_2358

IKEA mannequins in use at our Archives and History Program Center.

The NÄPEN mannequins are sold in IKEA’s children’s department for the budding fashionista.

They are sold in two parts: the stand and a cover. You could use the stand without a cover, but the covers give the torso more definition. The stands are light enough to take with you for programs, but heavy enough not to tip over.  Total price is $19.99.

Here are the details:

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Napen stand (402.379.15) , $14.99.

The stand is metal and plastic and the height adjusts from 30″ to 50″.

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Napen cover (503.065.26) , $5.00

The cloth and wire cover comes in either lilac or turquoise. There is no size difference.

If you don’t have an IKEA near you, consider ordering from the website. You can get an entire troop for $100.

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©2016, Ann Robertson