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Girl Scouts Lean on Digital Cookie Sales Amid Membership Drop

As the Girl Scouts' membership continues a sharp decline, its leaders are betting on technology to reverse the trend, including a major expansion of its year-old program enabling Girl Scout cookies to be sold via mobile apps and the girls' personalized websites.

The Digital Cookie upgrade, announced on Tuesday, comes amid persisting challenges for the 103-year-old organization. According to figures provided to The Associated Press, youth membership for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 was 1.88 million, down nearly 6.2 percent from 2014, and adult membership was 784,120, down 3.1 percent.

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Some other major youth groups also face revenue and membership declines, due in part to societal trends. However, Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the United States of America, contends that her organization is capable of rebuilding its ranks through technological improvements.

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For paid staff and volunteers, these include online toolkits — one streamlining the process for joining the Girl Scouts, another empowering volunteer troop leaders to plan a full year of meetings and activities with a single online visit.

"Our volunteers need more tools to serve more girls," Chavez said. "So we're really doubling down on technology."

For the girls themselves, Digital Cookie is the flagship initiative. Chavez said it was input from some scouts a few years ago that inspired the initiative.

About 160,000 Girl Scouts participated in the program over the past year, and were credited with selling nearly 2.5 million boxes of cookies beyond those sold through traditional in-person methods. For the coming year, about 90 percent of the GSUSA's 112 regional councils will be engaged in Digital Cookie, and various new features have been added to make it more educational and more fun.

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