Financial Success of Boy Scouts vs. Girl Scouts—What’s the Story?

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BS and GS

November 12, 2013;Counting on Charity

For the last three weeks, NPQ’s Rick Cohen has been delving into the stories behind the story published by the Washington Post on nonprofit diversions. In these situations, it was critical to understand the details in context before making any sweeping judgments about the group as a whole. Cohen urges a reframing based on a closer look. This is generally important for nonprofits to do before accepting an inadequate frame of reference offered by the media. Here, Brian Mittendorf looks a little closer at the finances of two national organizations. He reveals some interesting information and raises a lot of additional questions. 

The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts have both been going through fairly intense internal strife over the last few years. The Girl Scouts tried to consolidate its councils perhaps too severely, causing dissension in the ranks. The Boy Scouts have been addressing their evolutionary status with regard to gay scouts and gay scout leaders. But both have also suffered financial setbacks that may have due been in part to the recession, but perhaps to some of the internal factors as well.

Brian Mittendorf has published an interesting, albeit short, financial comparison of the Boy Scouts with the Girl Scouts:

 Chart 1
Annual Changes in Net Assets

In it, he suggests that any analysis that concludes that the Girl Scouts are suffering from relative inefficiency is on the wrong track. In fact, he writes, “Comparing their most recent financial statements, the Girl Scouts of America pays salaries and benefits that amount to $14.83 per member, whereas the figure for the Boy Scouts is $28.39. In terms of total expenses, the Girl Scouts’ expenses amount to $37.72 per member, whereas the cost for the Boy Scouts is $81.69 (these reflect the national office financials and exclude contributed advertising). In other words, it’s hard to paint the Girl Scouts’ problems as being solely rooted in waste and excess.”

The groups are relatively the same size, with the Girl Scouts claiming 2.3 million scouts to the Boy Scouts’ 2.6 million.

 Chart 2
Revenues per Member (2012)

Mittendorf points out that the net assets per member are $54.54 for the Girl Scouts and $333.61 for the Boy Scouts, and this clearly feeds at least one big piece of the puzzle in the investment income that for the Boy Scouts is its largest dollar source.

NPQ would love to invite its many readers associated with these two organizations to weigh in with your own analyses.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Tricia Maddrey Baker

    The Boy Scouts of America do one thing better than Girl Scouts: they solicit direct, large, contributions from adults. Since so many more men are at the top of their profession than women, (here’s the glass ceiling again) they usually have more accessible funds for donations, and thus make larger gifts. Fewer girls are involved past elementary school, leaving fewer adult women with personal engagement memories with which to connect. Many boys become Eagle Scouts, and pursue scouting beyond 6th grade, in numbers well beyond that of girls.
    Girl Scouts need to learn how to request better funding, not only from today’s business leaders, but also focus on estate planning. The organization can do better!

  • Bill Louree

    The article says he looked at the national financial reports. This does not include the incomne/expenses of the 300 local Boy Scout counciils which are separate llegal corporations and their finances would be in addition to the national income and expenses. The national organization publishes 2 magazines and operates 4 national activity bases, as well as a division that sells the uniforms, equipment, literature and badges. National also provides support and training to the local council boards and staff, operating a training center in Roanoke TX. Their income and expenses would be very different from the local council operation.

  • Judith Kidd

    Girl Scouts earn a substantial part of their budget through the work of the girls in cookie sales. The Boy Scouts do not have a similar program requiring the boys to help pay for the program. Additionally, as long as men control corporate wealth Boy Scouts will do better than Girl Scouts because of their prior association with the organization and because, at least in Boston, the Boy Scouts chief money maker each year was a big dinner at which a male corporate leader was honored and other corporate leaders bought tables to support the event. Until there are enough women in charge of large corporate giving, this situation will not change.

  • Catherine Peila

    This is a very weak analysis. The public is offered an anorexic amount of information. We are offered a select set of numbers that do not show expense nor an understanding of their level of accomplishments. We do get to glimpse the rift between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scout income (fees and investments) and are told about compensation differences – but we do not know the numbers of employees, practices or geographic positioning. The two groups are close in sales making the statistic per individual close to equal (there are 300,000 more Boy Scouts) – they are equally hard working. There is a discrepancy between the contributions base if we look at the investment comparative (one might think with big investment income the contributions would be larger for the Boy Scouts). There is no information about why the Girl Scouts had a deficit in 2011 and such a large gain in 2012 (congratulations). The income for Boy Scouts is almost equal in the fee and investment areas which would offer explanation as to why they can invest enough to earn such high gains. We haven’t access to either groups’ portfolios to understand this financial report over time. I would like more information because there are so many factors in a financial analysis in regards to a non-profit. It isn’t about the money – it’s about the work being done and the benefit to the community, otherwise, it would be a for-profit endeavor that served only those with $. My take away on this is that we need to look at the demographics of both groups – find out their demographics and then begin to ask more questions about their financial positions.

  • Catherine Peila

    Bill, this is obviously a complex group and the whole picture should be presented. If the model helps the communities as well as is successful and profitable maybe the Boy Scout Model could inspire the Girl Scouts to adjust their own model.

  • Fred Hofstetter

    The Boy Scouts reports on 4% of Scouts attain the rank of Eagle. Also, one must consider the addition of programs such as Venturing, which is co-ed, and attracts both senior Scouts from both the BSA and GSA into its program, blurring the lines.

  • Bill Louree

    Most of the corporate contributions are solicited at the local council level, but some is at the national org level also. Family contributions also make up a sizeable chunk of the local budget. Also on the local level the Scouts have sold popcorn for about 25 years similar to GSA cookie sales. The profit is split between the local unit and the council, and has become a major income producer in recent years for the local council.

  • Chester Nephi

    The real Story of the BSA: Mormon money = Mormon control

  • howarthe

    This article contained one bit of data I have been searching for: The groups are relatively the same size, with the Girl Scouts claiming 2.3 million scouts to the Boy Scouts’ 2.6 million. I don’t know why it was so hard for me to find this data, but I have been looking for about a year, so I’m glad this article finally put it together for me. I have a son and a daughter, and they are both scouts. In my experience, Boy Scouting is much more expensive than Girl Scouting. My son’s camp fee is $185 for two-nights. My daughter’s camp fee is $30 for two-nights. Admittedly, my son attends a camp with a professional staff, so the quality is much higher than my daughter’s camp where she has to make due with the same volunteers who have been delivering the program all year. The Boy Scout council gets most of it budget through camp fees and the Friends of Scouting, charitable giving campaign. The Girl Scouts seems to rely almost exclusively on cookies. The Boy Scouts also realigned all their councils “recently,” though not as recently as the Girl Scouts. Michigan was very recently reorganized again! I suspect the Boy Scouts have a lot more professional scouters per scout than the Girl Scouts, and I suspect they make a lot more money. I think this might be the tricky balance point between expense and quality.