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Girl Scouts: Satisfying Our Appetites & Dominating P2P Fundraising

The Plenty Team
September 30, 2015

Ask anyone what their favorite season is and you’ll get a variety of responses, from spring to winter and everything in between. But for the dessert aficionados among us, the most highly anticipated season of all – Girl Scout cookie season.

Since 1917, the Girl Scouts of America have reaped the many benefits of peer-to-peer fundraising through their hugely popular cookie program. The organization's ability to engage supporters and volunteers to raise funds is a classic fundraising success story.

Like the Girl Scout cookie program, peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising isn't a new concept. Organizations have been using the approach for years to engage their supporters to increase donations.

The earlier forms of peer-to-peer campaigns included walk-a-thons, dance-a-thons, and races. While these events are still extremely popular (for example, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Dance Marathon or the Avon 39 Walk), today's peer-to-peer fundraising events have grown to also use online tools that empower their constituents digitally. Using these tools, supporters can participate in broader, longer-lasting campaigns, helping the organization to cultivate repeat and loyal participants who are dedicated to the cause. In fact, many online forms of funding campaigns have no event tie-in whatsoever and last indefinitely – and they’re still incredibly successful.

Today's Girl Scouts have combined the best of both worlds, and now not only reach people at their front door but also online, and throughout their neighborhood. While door-to-door sales have dwindled due to safety concerns, Girl Scouts have banded together to sell their precious wares at booths in neighborhood grocery stores and other public places; with this expansion, the one-on-one interaction between the persuasive Girl Scouts and the customers has remained intact.

But really, the success story here is about more than just cookies. From goal setting and business ethics to decision-making, money management and people skills, today’s Girl Scouts use P2P fundraising as the foundation for building leadership and sales skills that will last a lifetime.

Looking to replicate the Girl Scouts’ success in your own organization but don’t have Thin Mints and Tagalongs on your side? Here are a few factors that have set the Girl Scouts apart and contributed to their long-lasting success:

1. Incentives
Imagine being ten years old again and eagerly flipping through the thin booklet that outlined the prizes you could get for selling a certain number of boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Having your eyes on the prize can really help motivate your cookie selling – or at least, pleading to your mom that you NEED THIS PRIZE persuaded her to pass your sale sheet around to her coworkers.

While research varies on the effectiveness of interior and exterior motivation, the simple fact is that people are motivated by some form of an incentive. Tailoring your incentive to your constituents will help improve your peer-to-peer success. Take the time to get to know your constituents, whether it’s through interviews, questionnaires, or in-person interactions, and ask what kinds of incentives will motivate them.

2. A Quality Product
It’s true that your most loyal supporters are likely to donate regardless of the activity or product involved – but having a high-quality, unique product like the Girls Scouts do, hugely increases your success in reaching a broader circle of donors. Let’s face it, not many people are able to turn down a box of Samoas.

In addition to the cookie quality, the organization (wisely) offers unique products by changing the cookie flavors throughout the year. When rumors swirl that a certain cookie may be retired, sales skyrocket; in the same vein, certain cookies are considered to be “classics” and they consistently rank as best sellers.

The economic principles of supply and demand can be applied to peer-to-peer fundraising strategies. By offering your constituents a high-quality, desirable product, your demand will increase – as will your sales.

NOTE: If having a tangible product still feels out of reach for your organization you can still capitalize on a primary concept surrounding the program that makes the “cookie” so revered – tradition. The tradition of the cookies themselves and the selling process is a huge factor in the organization’s success. What traditions does your organization currently have that keep people engaged and motivated year over year? How can you expand on these experiences that make your organization unique?

3. Innovation
While the idea of a sweet, wholesome Girl Scout going door-to-door peddling her cookies evokes nostalgia in all of us, that’s just not how the world works anymore. Instead, social media, websites, email campaigns, and other online means of selling cookies have enhanced sales in recent years – a trend that will only continue to grow.

An example of this is the organization's Digital Cookie program, which shows supporters how to buy cookies online. With this program, the Girl Scouts are able to sell their cookies online, learning valuable skills along the way (such as online promotions and sales). Plus, they can take digital credit card orders, making it even easier for customers to pay and support the organization.

The takeaway here? While tradition is important, the way you engage your constituents shouldn’t stay stagnant if the market is changing. Your fundraising strategy must evolve to meet the needs of your supporters. Make your program flexible enough to adapt to societal trends and interests.

4. Participant Involvement
Sure, having a network of adults willing to spend money on Girl Scout cookies definitely enhances sales. However, none of that would be possible without the direct participation of the Girl Scouts themselves. Donors not only receive a tasty and valued product for donating, but also get to interact with the Girl Scout who will benefit directly from their donation.

Without this one-on-one interaction, the Girl Scout cookie program wouldn’t be as successful – nor would any P2P fundraising effort. After all, human interactions are the foundation of the peer-to-peer model: asking your constituents to reach out to their networks on behalf of your cause. Personal interactions are the heart of peer-to-peer fundraising, and by getting participants directly involved, you’ll connect your constituents to the cause in an impactful way.

5. Local Support
Local is having a moment right now. Local businesses and farms are spearheading “shop local” and “eat local” movements, and as it turns out, the Girl Scouts are local-oriented as well. Despite being a national organization, a stipulation of the Girl Scout cookie program is that 100 percent of the net revenue from sales stays with the local council. Donors are more likely to buy generously when they know they’re supporting girls within their own community.

Even if your peer-to-peer program is nationwide, incorporate local strategies into your fundraising efforts. Use your marketing and social media channels to show your constituents how their efforts are having an impact at the local level. A cause close to home will stay close to their hearts.

The Girls Scouts may be a young bunch, but there’s plenty of peer-to-peer fundraising tactics we can learn from them. By offering the right incentives, a quality product, encouraging innovation, and focusing on participant involvement and local support, your peer-to-peer fundraising organization can be successful as well.

Now, where can I buy some Thin Mints?

Once your cookie craving subsides, it's time to take your peer-to-peer fundraising strategy to the next level. Download our free e-book "The Participant Gears" which highlights the three driving factors behind participation. Download your copy below!

Ebook call to action for Participant Gears E-book

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