How the Girl Scouts Work

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scouts Janice Olivieri and Sydney Lezberg sell cookies to Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and his son Jackson on March 8, 2005.
Girl Scouts Janice Olivieri and Sydney Lezberg sell cookies to Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and his son Jackson on March 8, 2005.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

What's a Girl Scout without her cookies? With $700 million in annual sales, cookies are big business for the Girl Scouts [source: McKenna]. The idea to sell cookies to raise money dates back to the organization's earliest days. In 1917, a Girl Scout troop baked cookies and sold them in their high school cafeteria as a service project. In 1922, an article published in The American Girl, the official Girl Scout publication, gave a recipe for the cookies and stated that the ingredients for six to seven dozen cookies should cost between .26 and .36 cents. It then stated that the cookies be sold for between .25 and .35 cents a dozen. The girls weren't bashful about turning a profit.

Selling cookies to raise funds snowballed within the Girl Scout community, and in 1934, a troop in Philadelphia became the first to sell cookies that had been baked by a commercial baker. By 1936, the national Girl Scout leadership began to license commercial bakeries. Girl Scout cookies continued to grow in popularity, despite a brief break in sales during the World War II -- due to flour and sugar shortages. The Girl Scouts sold calendars during that time. In 1978, the Girl Scouts of America began to oversee the packaging of the cookies, and all of the boxes of cookies across the country sported the same look.

Daisy scouts are not permitted to sell Girl Scout cookies, but Brownies, Juniors and older Girl Scouts are all encouraged to participate. Brownies can earn Cookies Count and Smart Cookie try-its; Juniors earn The Cookie Connection and Cookie Biz badges; and, older teens can earn a Cookies and Dough charm. Badges and charms are not earned by those who sell the most cookies, but by those who complete other activities, like goal setting, studying advertisements and creating a poster advertising for the cookie sale, or writing a story about the cookie sale and submitting it to the local newspaper. All Girl Scouts who participate in the sale earn an activity pin.

To be an approved Girl Scout bakery, of which there are currently two in the U.S., the bakery must agree to make Thin Mints, Do-si-dos and Trefoils. The other five varieties can be any type the bakery wants, although Caramel DeLights (Samoas), or , and Peanut Butter Patties (Tagalongs), are the two most popular non-mandatory flavors.

Selling cookies is a major fundraiser for Girl Scout councils. Seventy percent of the money stays within the local council, and the remaining 30 percent goes to the bakery. From the 70 percent the council receives, each troop receives funding, typically 12 to 17 percent of the amount that they sell. The money goes into its treasury, and the girls vote to determine how it should be spent. Selling Girl Scout cookies is an important part of the scouting experience. The girls learn how to set goals, money management and teamwork skills by participating in this project.­