Member Spotlight: Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho – Membership in a Time of Civic Decline

August 13, 2019

Let’s talk about membership. Membership organizations, like churches, fraternities, and other civic clubs, have seen decreases in member numbers over the last three decades. Research points to technology, mass media, changing family structure, and urban sprawl to explain this decline. Whatever the reason, only a quarter of Americans volunteered in 2015 and membership organizations are suffering as a result. 

A group of Girl Scouts in their uniforms outdoors.

Brian Newberry, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho (GSEWNI), talks about how they are dealing with membership in the time of civic decline. Traditionally the Girl Scouts require participation from the whole family. This level of involvement can be hard for modern families, resulting in many years of decreased membership for the local Girl Scouts chapter. 

Fortunately, this trend was reversed in 2018. Newberry believes this increase is due to two key strategies.

The first is straightforward: expand the GSEWNI’s presence into new areas. Here are a few tactics they used:

A group of Girl Scouts conducting a food drive.
  • Keep all service areas well resourced. But, focus more on places where your presence isn’t already strong.
  • Take the chance to expand services into new areas (geographic or demographic) where there is a significant lack.
  • Presence matters! Focus on letting new audiences know that your organization is growing and the time to join is now.

The GSEWNI does not use paid advertisements to facilitate this expansion; it relies on word of mouth from satisfied members. Newberry believes that this natural promotion is a result of the GSEWNI’s “flame growing brighter,” as the girls are instilled with confidence, character, and courage.

Teenagers in Girl Scout uniforms pose for a picture in front of the Capitol Building.

The second strategy to increase membership: uplift the Girl Scouts and continue to promote the values of courage, confidence, and character. The GSEWNI focuses on four pillars to promote their values: life skills, outdoors skills, STEM skills, and entrepreneurship. Each pillar encourages a different value. For example, the outdoors programs include avenues for girls to test themselves and find courage in new settings. The programs within the four pillars are crucial to graduating Girl Scouts with courage, confidence, and character, fulfilling the mission of the GSEWNI to make the world a better place.

Your values may be inherent to your mission, but actively promoting them through daily activities is the hard part. Here are some basic guidelines to bring back to your organization:

  • Retain a strong sense of self and values. Remind yourself of the key values that your organization is built on. At least one value should be expressed through every program and activity.
  • Focus on inclusion. This ensures that everyone, no matter their background, is able to benefit from programs and learn your organization’s values.
  • Strength is in legacy. When your organization goes through periods of change, it is hard to keep mission and programs aligned to your values.

For membership organizations, a strong membership is fundamental to a strong organization. We hope these tips help you to grow your membership, empowering you to accomplish your mission and continue doing your important work! In the words of Girl Scouts’ founder, Juliette Gordon “Daisy” Low, “always follow your North Star.”

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho‘s mission is: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. They have been a Washington Nonprofits member since 2012.

In our monthly Member Spotlight, Washington Nonprofits features members who are doing something worth sharing. It can be a best practice, implementation of a new idea, or something that may help others to tackle a challenge. Do you have a story that you would like to share? Contact us! We would love to hear from you.

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