For the second straight year, youth and adult membership in the Girl Scouts has dropped sharply, intensifying pressure on the 102-year-old youth organization to find ways of reversing the trend.
According to figures provided to The Associated Press, the total of youth members and adult volunteers dropped by 6 percent over the past year -- from 2,994,844 to 2,813,997. Over two years, total membership is down 11.6 percent, and it has fallen 27 percent from a peak of more than 3.8 million in 2003.
Scouting in general is in some difficulty; every major Scouting organization has been subject to some kind of politically motivated attack recently. The Girl Scouts are facing some especially serious problems, however; there's a lot of internal criticism of how the organization has been run in recent years.
The temptation is always to compare the Girl Scouts to the Boy Scouts; but the GSUSA and the BSA are, and have always been, radically different kinds of organizations. As I've mentioned before, they are rival organizations, not sister organizations; the sister organization to the Boys Scouts is Camp Fire, the always-forgotten third member of the Big Three of American Scouting. The GSUSA was the only Scouting organization that the Boy Scouts weren't able to eliminate in the Scouting Wars, the period in which the Boy Scouts actively applied litigation and political pressure to make themselves and Camp Fire the American Scouting organizations. (They did so in a typical GSUSA move, by playing politics: they got First Ladies to be presidents, thus making it impossible for the BSA to attack them directly.) And while those hostilities are arguably long past, the visions of Scouting in the organization have always been considerably different. One of the changes the GSUSA has made over the past ten years or so is de-emphasizing the outdoor aspect of the organization; they have discovered in the intense aftermath that a significant number of Girl Scouts do, in fact, think that putting outdoor activities front and center is an important aspect of Girl Scouts, and that any changes should incorporate, rather than replace this aspect of the organization. But it is simply not possible to imagine the Boy Scouts of America ever doing anything similar -- not only is it counter to the ethos, the BSA doesn't have the strongly centralized structure of the GSUSA, so organization would not be able to do much in that direction.
It will be interesting to see how it all goes. The GSUSA (unlike the BSA) is an organization that moves very quickly. But being swift at adapting is useless unless you can find the solution that is actually adaptive.