Tuesday, July 9, 2013

4 Things You Need to Consider Before Selecting a Cookie Chair

"Girl Scout Manager Steals $10,000 in Cookie Money"

"Service Area Manager Charged with Stealing Girl Scout Funds"

"Volunteer Admits to Stealing from PTA and Girl Scout Troop"

Headlines like these always make me cringe. It's horrible to imagine a volunteer stealing from a group of Girl Scouts, but the reality is, it happens far more often than we care to admit - in Girl Scouts and in other organizations. Anytime money is involved, there's the potential for greed and dishonesty. As the primary money-earning activity for most troops, the Girl Scout cookie sale represents a great opportunity for girls to learn business and sales skills - and unfortunately, a lesson in loss prevention.

In my experience, financial mismanagement is far more common than outright theft. Even when done without intent or malice, issues such as sloppy recordkeeping, product loss, cash loss, nonexistent budgeting, co-mingling of funds, lack of checks and balances and poor money handling skills can be just as detrimental to a troop.

There's no excuse for a leader or volunteer stealing from a troop, and not all of these instances can be prevented, but more often than not, there are warning signs. I think all of us - Girl Scout staff, troop leaders and volunteers, as well as parents - have a responsibility to our girls to pay attention and ask the right questions.

As a troop, we've been blessed with an amazing cookie chair, and we thank our lucky stars each year. But if you're just starting out, I would consider you to consider the following questions before you put someone in charge of your cookie sale.

1) How well do I know this person and their money management skills? 
Listen, we're not talking about having to be best buds or running a credit check on your potential cookie manager. But if every indication points to them being unable to manage their own finances, what makes you think they'll successfully handle your troop's?

2) How organized is this person?
If they're always the parent that you're having to track down for a permission slip, or can never seem to make it to any event on time, how do you think that will bode for your cookie sale? I'm not saying your cookie manager has to be Superwoman, but it's better to go into the situation with your eyes open.

3) How responsive or communicative is this person?
All volunteers lead busy lives, but you need someone who is able and willing to communicate - not only with you as the troop leader, but also all the girls and parents. In most cases, it's a short time commitment, but you need to make sure they're available during that time.

4) Do I trust this person? What is my gut telling me?
Too often, I've seen people freely hand over the reins to people who they knew lacked the time, skills or capability to do the job. The most common reason? That individual was the only one who volunteered and they didn't want to offend them. Personally, if my choice is between having it done so poorly by someone else that I'm going to have to pick up the pieces - or doing it myself to begin with - I'm going to choose the latter. That's also why I encourage leaders to seek out those in their troop who they feel would do a good job before putting out a blind call to all the parents.

I get it - we all want to be nice and assume the best of everyone. And it's likely that you'll never encounter a problem like the headlines listed above. But you're not doing your troop any favors if you ignore red flags and warning signs just for the sake of being nice or to save yourself a few hours. If we're really trying to teach our scouts financial and business management, then it's just as important for us as leaders to model these best practices.

So what about it? Have you ever encountered financial mismanagement with a volunteer? If so, were there any warning signs?

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