Girl Scouts

Innovation in Action

Maryann Barry
Maryanns selfie while leading a virtual meeting.

Girl Scouts of Citrus Leaps Outside the Familiar
During COVID-19 Crisis

By Maryann Barry

Maryann Barry
Maryanns selfie while leading a virtual meeting.

[Unprecedented.] The adjective we use to capture and frame a unique point in time or new experience. A perfect word to mark a timeframe or event that, by its very nature, will shape and inform, if not define, our next steps as organizations or communities — and in the case of COVID-19, test our mettle as leaders.

I have faced many challenges and navigated plenty of uncharted waters in my more than 30 years in not-for-profit executive leadership. However, I am not sure any experience in my life could have fully prepared me for the roller coaster of heart-wrenching decisions and quick pivots that would begin on, of all days, my birthday, March 12, which I happen to serendipitously share with the Girl Scouts organization. It was to be a day of celebration with local dignitaries and community partners as the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council ceremoniously broke ground for our Women’s History and Cultural Center and marked 108 years of Girl Scouting in America.

We modified the event to align with emerging recommended practices for limited gatherings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we carried forward. However, with information changing quite literally hour to hour, by evening I had arrived at the difficult decision to close our offices and suspend all events and activities pending further notice.

I have no doubt every business, church, school and government leader at some point experienced that same unprecedented, visceral moment of realization that the worst of the storm was yet to come.

Like many of my peers, I was intent on trying to do more than simply manage the operational disruptions and service delivery shifts that would be required to simply “get through.” There was no greater impetus or time to leap outside the familiar and, as we teach our Girl Scout Brownies, Try It! Nothing else would do but to challenge ourselves to innovate, grow, lead in our field, and thrive in our mission.

I determined the foundation for our plan to emerge stronger on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis would be to build and nurture a sense of comfort and connection for our team and the thousands of families we serve. Thus, operation #CitrusFamily was born. We clicked into gear, pivoting to create a 100% virtual work and service delivery environment, innovative strategies, and mindful actions to keep our Girl Scout families connected, supported and continuing to benefit from the mission.

It was clear to me that much of our success would be reliant upon our ability to maintain staffing, thus achieving a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) grant/loan at the outset of the program was a critical win. While team member roles were modified to meet new needs, all remained active and productive contributors. The past few months have, no doubt, seen the epitome of “other duties as assigned!”

The core undertaking in our strategy required an all-hands-on-deck approach — we called it the smile and dial, and it is still underway. Our goal is to reach every household we serve with a minimum of one personal phone call or letter from the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council. In addition, we invested great innovative energy into social media outreach and events as well as pushing to launch our council app, All Things Girl Scouts (atGS), months ahead of schedule to provide an upgraded engagement experience to our membership at a time that demands digital versus in-person contact.

The results have been beyond encouraging! Our council membership and constituents pivoted enthusiastically right along with us, leaning into Zoom meetings, virtual service delivery, livestreamed programs and events (to include traditional campfire singalongs!). Most importantly, they felt the love we have for our shared mission and the connection it brings to us as a #CitrusFamily. We believe positive attitude, quick pivots and embracing innovation, in concert with maintaining our heartfelt connection to the community we serve, has made all the difference in leading us from surviving a business crisis to thriving through it.

We are currently experiencing the highest spring member renewal figures we have seen in years, which is a significant key performance indicator in our industry. We are both inspired and humbled by this vote of confidence from our customers and constituents during such a challenging time for families.

The take-away is a simple reminder of the secret sauce of all success. People. One of the most valuable assets for any public-serving business, whether not-for-profit or traditional, is customer loyalty. It takes effort to build and can be very fragile. Nurturing connection with the people we hope to serve must always be at the heart of our decisions and strategies as business leaders, whether in time of crisis or just “another” day.

Maryann Barry has served as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Citrus Council since 2011. The council includes 15,000 girls and 7,000 adult volunteers from six Central Florida counties: Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia.

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