More and more non-profits are looking at ways to earn revenue through social enterprise initiatives. Girl Scout Cookies are one of the earliest examples of earned revenue for non profits. The cookie program started innocently enough at the turn of the century with Troop moms raised money through bake sales. The idea took off and in the 1970′s (just when you’d expect), the cookies were processed and sold in boxes.
Pictured above is one example of “girl-centric” crafts being sold under the “Girl Scouts” brand. The line consists of scrapbooking kits, stickers, beads, stationary, etc.
What’s wrong with the social enterprise initiative? While it might do its job to create earned revenue for Girl Scouts, in the long term this kind of social enterprise undermines the Girl Scouts’ brand. Here’s why:
- The Product Cheapens the Brand: When you’re a values based organization, producing “stuff” risks cheapening your brand. That’s because it takes your organization’s mission and tries to turn it into a “thing.” This is a process that has to be undertaken very delicately, especially because there’s alot on the line. Girl Scouts is a 150 year old organization with the following stated mission: “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” The foam beads pictured above don’t demonstrate that mission to me. In fact, the cheap, throwaway nature of the products makes me question Girl Scouts’ sincerity in all they do.
- Avoid Contradicting Yourself: The Michaels/Girl Scout craft products may capture the “girly” and “friendship” dimensions of the Girl Scout brand, but many essential elements of the brand are left out–or worse, contradicted. The Girl Scouts are connected to all kinds of good stuff beyond the obvious–they teach girls about community service, the outdoors, how to be people of character. This year, the Girl Scouts have decided to shine a light on their “Green” platform by encouraging scouts to plant trees, reduce waste, etc. Somehow these Girl Scout Adhesive Foam Shapes aren’t communicating that message to me. In fact, the crafts fly in the face of the nature-centric dimension of the brand. This doesn’t mean that the Girl Scouts should never be in the business of partnering to sell “stuff.” But what they choose to sell has to connects to all of their values–and not just the easy “light” ones.
- Dig Deeper: Instead of creating a social enterprise based on the most obvious or glaring dimensions of your brand (Girl Scouts = Girls = Girly Crafts) think about reaching into the places that are a bit deeper in the gullet of your soul. That’s where there’s less competition and greater chance to develop an enterprise that provides something truly useful that resonates. What if Girl Scouts’ social enterprise helped girls establish and reach community service goals? Or, what if their products helped girls learn survivalist skills or play more team sports? There’s a rich legacy behind the Girl Scouts and its founder Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low. It’s worthy of a deeper, richer interpretation of the brand and its core value as a women’s organization.