Tactics: Shannon Evers Is Guiding the Next Generation of Girl Scouts

Jason E. Kaplan

‘When people look at boardroom tables across the world, usually when there’s a woman at the table, she was a Girl Scout.’

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At the end of January, Shannon Evers celebrated her one-year anniversary as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Originally from California, Evers attended college in Eugene, where she studied business administration with a focus on sports marketing and management: “I’m one of those Bay Area transplants, but I’m an Oregon Duck.” Evers has spent much of her adult career working with the Girl Scouts. Most recently, she served as CEO of the Girl Scout council in Oklahoma City for nine years; before that she worked for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington as the chief fund development officer and for the Girl Scouts Columbia River Council.

January 2022 was not an easy moment to take the helm of any organization, let alone one driven by in-person meetings and camps — and funded by cookie sales, which traditionally happened at grocery stores. But a survey conducted in early 2023 found members and caregivers are happy with the direction Evers’ council has taken, with 73% of caregivers saying their child wants to stay in the organization, 62% saying the Girl Scouts provided “an important sense of normalcy during the pandemic” and 67% saying it helped them feel less isolated and lonely. Members themselves report the organization has helped them have positive values, with 95% saying they’re more likely to try something new at school as a result of Girl Scouts.

Still, the organization has struggled with the longer-term effects of COVID isolation, as well as a funding model Evers bluntly describes as an unfair one. Just as Girl Scouts across the country were getting ready to set up virtual and in-person cookie sales, Evers talked to Oregon Business about how the organization has fared through the pandemic and what’s next.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

How has your first year been?

Starting a new job in the middle of a global pandemic really requires you to be creative and innovative and open to trying new things. My very first meeting was with a group of girls from all throughout the state. We got on a Zoom call and asked a lot of questions; they gave me incredible advice for the year ahead. And that has grounded me for dealing with incredibly difficult challenges that are not only facing Girl Scouts but facing a global market: We’ve got inflation, we’ve got supply-chain issues, hiring people and retaining staff is challenging, and Girl Scouts is facing all of those same challenges that businesses are facing as well.

We’re starting to recover as an organization off of COVID. We’re seeing great results from our girls: A lot of girls are getting a lot out of Girl Scouting. But there’s so much more need now than there has been.

When you say that you’re, as an organization, starting to recover from COVID, what does that mean? How did COVID impact the Girl Scouts?

We had a pretty significant decline in our membership numbers with COVID, just because girls weren’t able to meet in person. And our volunteers were really scrunched for time and overwhelmed. We had a lot of people just leave the organization, and that has impacted us a lot.

I’d also say that a lot of people don’t realize, but a lot of our revenue is dependent on the Girl Scout cookie-sale program, which is the largest girl-led business in the world. It brings in about 70% of our revenue each year. And without as many girls selling, we sold a lot fewer cookies. We were thankful at the height of COVID to get federal-relief dollars. But now that those things are over, we still don’t have as many girls selling cookies. I don’t have as many volunteers helping us. Our fundraising is going OK, but it could be stronger. So it’s really just starting to get focused on the basics of recruiting adult volunteers, encouraging girls to participate in high-quality programs, and encouraging our funders to reach deeper into their pockets and help us as we recover to get stronger. Those are the big impacts that we’ve seen across the organization.

I think when a lot of people think of scouting, they think of things that are in person; they think of camps and they think of service activities, and of outings and cookie sales. I know there were online cookie sales. As far as other activities go, how has the Girl Scouts pivoted in terms of keeping kids engaged?

When people couldn’t go anywhere, we leveraged a lot of online programming. Girls were able to connect to people across the country and in other foreign countries that they wouldn’t normally be able to connect with. As we’re recovering, we’re keeping what worked. We’re making it easier for our volunteers to volunteer with us by offering a lot more online trainings.

There’s a huge education gap that girls are facing. The social skills that they used to have at certain ages aren’t there like they used to be, because they’ve lost out on almost three years of engaging with other people personally, especially at the younger ages. During our summer camp programs, we’ve really tried to increase our focus and attention on giving girls some of the basic interpersonal skills: How do you make a friend? How do you deal with conflict when conflict arises? How do you solve problems?

And you mentioned earlier that staffing and hiring has been a challenge. What are the particular challenges that you’ve seen and how have you addressed them?

Hiring talented people is a challenge for any business. Working for a nonprofit adds an extra layer because there’s an extra layer of financial responsibility. Being able to pay people a livable wage is challenging, especially when you consider that girls are selling cookies to pay our basic bills. We’re relying on 8-year-olds to pay the salaries of grown adults, which isn’t very fair. We’ve got to do a better job fundraising to help fill that gap. I’m working on that.

Our board has invested a lot in increasing our wages and in doing market-pay surveys so that we are providing a livable, competitive wage. We made a significant decision to do that this year with our budget. I’m so proud of the work that we do. It doesn’t get fixed overnight. Not very many people get to actually show up and work for an organization where they know when they wake up, and they turn on their computer or they’re interacting with somebody that day, they have the opportunity to change somebody’s life. We remind our staff of that. I think when we look at employee surveys, they’re showing up because they want to make a difference, and they are making a difference. And that feels really good. That feels better than a paycheck on many days.

Can you talk about how you’re diversifying your funding?

We’ve been pretty stagnant with fundraising over the last decade, and we’ve got a stable source of revenue, but we really are encouraging our organization to push it further so we can do more for girls in our state. We are launching a new program this summer called the Daisy Dash, which is going to be a 24-hour adventure race where girls and families and people who are not connected to Girl Scouts actually will participate in teams on it and use an app to do everything, from making a canoe out of cardboard and floating it on a body of water to serenading a group of strangers on the street with their favorite song, things that are very connected to our Girl Scout brand. We want to connect to a little bit of a younger audience, the Girl Scouts, because a lot of our donors are actually aging out. They’re getting older. We need to really engage the next generation of givers.

We’re also looking for all kinds of program partners. We really are looking for companies and foundations to connect with us to invest in the next generation of female leadership, and we’re looking to make partnerships with companies and organizations that are like-minded. So it’s a win-win. Investing in us is helping to create the workforce pipeline of the future. And so many businesses don’t have female representation at the table, especially when it comes to industries in the STEM fields. When people look at boardroom tables across the world, usually when there’s a woman at the table, she was a Girl Scout. We’re kind of leaning into that a little bit more to hopefully create more partnerships.

How did supply-chain issues affect the Girl Scouts?

Supply chain issues have actually affected the Girl Scout cookie sale. Last year we were challenged because we didn’t have enough cookies when we needed them. This year we started to see some challenges as well. So we’ve decided to delay our cookie sale by about a month to make sure that we had all the cookies on hand that we needed. Everything from the cost of flour and sugar to transportation is going up and that increases our costs. It’s hard to find drivers to deliver the cookies when we needed them. We’re hoping to mitigate some of that by delaying the sale a little bit. But I’m hoping that our community steps up and still, when they see the cookies, they buy them.