Smart Cookies

Girl Scouts of Citrus is Empowering Girls in Financial Literacy

It’s a brisk day in January. You park the car, head toward the door and grab a cart. It could be any other trip to the grocery store on any other day, but then you see it out of the corner of your eye, a much-anticipated exception to the monotony of a produce run: a small table with a hand-lettered sign, green sashes decorated with a rainbow of sewn-on badges, and stacks and stacks of those instantly recognizable boxes.

It can all mean only one thing. Thin Mints are here. Or Peanut Butter Patties. Or Caramel deLites. Whichever Girl Scout cookie you can’t seem to resist — and we all have at least one — chances are it conjures up a kind of nostalgia-infused excitement. But when you pick up your cookie of choice, you might not realize that you aren’t just supporting the world-renowned nonprofit — you are directly supporting the beginnings of a small business, each run by its own small CEO.

A Unique Business Model

Cindy Lutrell

When Maryann Barry, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Citrus, jokes that “My boss is a group of first-graders,” she is more serious than most know.

“I love that comment she makes,” said Cindy Luttrell, vice president of Disney Financial Systems at Walt Disney World. “It’s a great reminder that she and the partners who support them are really working for the girls.”

While Luttrell might not have been a Girl Scout herself for very long — just a year before her family moved, she explained — she certainly has her fair share of experience working for the girls, serving as a leader for her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop for 12 years, from first-grade Brownies to 12th-grade Ambassadors. Even then, she wasn’t planning on leaving the Girl Scouts behind any time soon, so she joined the Girl Scouts of Citrus board of directors.

Her unique set of experiences gives her a vantage point on aspects of the program that not everyone often sees, including the business model. Cookie sales, which constitute just one major project a year, provide the majority of the revenue for the whole program, nearly $7.5 million out of $10 million.

Partnerships like those with Disney, Universal Orlando Resort, Publix and SeaWorld Orlando are integral to this model as well. But what’s even more impressive is while a portion of the money raised goes to support the overall organization, the majority of the funding goes directly back to the girls for programs and projects, creating a self-sustaining system that has lasted more than a century, teaching young women across the country just how important it is to invest in themselves.

Beyond the Cookies

With that kind of foundation behind them and the women leading it to guide them, it’s no surprise the girls in the program are getting the best possible education on not only financial literacy, but in running businesses of their own.

“They set the goal for what they want to achieve in their meetings at the beginning of the cookie season,” Luttrell said. “Sometimes that’s a cookie party, sometimes it’s a trip, depending on the age. They set it, figure out how to measure it, figure out how they want to sell. They do customer research, work with the competition, work with the markets. It really is a remarkable exercise.”

But it goes beyond just cookie season, Luttrell explained. No matter what badge they are earning, from philanthropy to camping, they learn to set budgets and monetary goals to complete the project, and how rewarding it is when they succeed.

“I think oftentimes there is a deficit in society in educating our kids in finance now,” she said, reflecting on her own experience with her troop. “As these girls got older, watching them sit there and lay out the budget, and watching them grow into their financial literacy was amazing. It was fascinating to watch the ones who had true accounting skills they didn’t even know they had discover that talent of theirs.”

As long as Girl Scouts of Citrus continues to break the mold, the organization hopes to continue to inspire and empower its Girl Scouts to do the same.

“I hope Girl Scouts, now and in the future, grow to understand their full potential,” Luttrell said. “Financial literacy is such an important brick in that wall.”

About the author

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham is a writer and communications manager for i4 Business magazine. A Florida native who graduated from UCF with her BA in English literature in 2017, she looks forward to more opportunities to share the stories of those shaping Central Florida.

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