Ethics Quiz: Girl Scout Cookie Cheats?

Just yesterday I bought my yearly two boxes of Thin Mints from some incredibly adorable little girls selling the Girl Scout cookies from a card table outside my local CVS. I had planned on buying them from a Girl Scout I have never met, though the agency of her mother, who sold them to me last year. But she never got in touch with me—I think she’s another one who is steamed at me for some post here (over at Windypundit, it’s slam Jack Marshall day by another former commenter) —so the adorable little girls got my 20 bucks this year.

Today I encounter an interesting opinion piece that holds that mothers like my friend are “cheaters.” JM Finster writes:

As with any fund-drive, the idea is to support the cause, but with the cookies, uniquely, customers buy them to give “the awesome girls who sell them,” in the words of the Girl Scouts, “the opportunity to learn essential life skills, soar in confidence, and quickly discover the leader within.” Research has shown that none of that happens when parents sell the cookies at work..So it is that the cookies land on a desk in a skyscraper without a Girl Scout in sight.

The cookie drive should be better than that. Selling is crucial to every endeavor, in that it requires the ability to make a convincing presentation, to answer questions, and to project self-assurance. Everyone needs to do that, in one form or another, but that last attribute, in particular, is sometimes lacking in the best of us, especially shy young ladies.

Since Girl Scout troops keep track of sales by individuals, even offering prizes for the best results, parent-cheaters can hardly resist the chance to prove their own sales skills and boost their girl to the top of the ranking. …If a Scout comes over to the house for a sales call, a parent will undoubtedly come along as an escort. That’s all right, except that the parent will do all the talking, no matter how hard one tries to give the awesome girl standing off to the side the opportunity to learn essential life skills, soar in confidence, and quickly discover the leader within. With the adult recording the sale and later delivering the cookies, their daughter the Girl Scout—all in one stroke!—wins a prize for outstanding sales and loses the chance to learn something about sales…For the sake of the runny-nosed little girl, who keeps poor sales records, lets her boxes get crushed in the back of the car, and exhibits more enthusiasm than smooth-talk, kindly sidestep the parent-cheaters and let her learn. In fact, make her learn and insist she does the talking. 

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz to kick off March:

Are parents who help Girl Scouts sell more cookies cheating?

There are a lot of ways of looking at this one.  I always have thought of the cookie drive as fundraising, not an exercise in learning sales skills.  Maybe it’s both, but if so, the two objectives are in conflict. Would the Girls Scouts prefer to have their members lose sales to learn from their mistakes? Some how I doubt it. And who asks questions about Girl Scout cookies? I walked up to the little Girl Scout at the table and said “Oh! Girl Scout cookies! I’ll take two boxes of Thin Mints, please. How much?” The mother behind the table just smiled.

Wouldn’t the girls learn as much from listening to mom’s sales pitch, if one was necessary to close the deal, as they would from doing their own?

The prizes raise a different ethics issue. When my Cub Scout troop sold Christmas wreaths to raise funds, I went door to door trying to get orders, but I recall that my dad sold a few at his office. Was that cheating? One year I finished third in wreath sales and got a ribbon or something. There were no rules about what could be counted as a scout’s sales; the winning scout sold a ridiculous number, and everyone assumed that it has been a family project. If I talked an adult into being my sales rep and he sold some wreaths, is it wrong for me to get credit for them?

I’m eating a Thin Mint right now.



20 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Girl Scout Cookie Cheats?

  1. I remember the first year my daughter sold Girl Scout cookies (as a 1st-grader in Brownies), the 1st-graders in the troop were required to have a parent along as escort. (We were encouraged to let our daughters do the talking, though.) In subsequent years, her Junior troop ran a cookie-sale table at school athletic events and outside the local supermarket. A parent needed to supervise the girls at all times, but the girls had to collect the money and hand the boxes to the customers. Our sons’ Cub Scout pack sold popcorn each year, too, and I will admit to taking orders from co-workers at the office and helping supervise Cub Scout popcorn tables at school events. (The boys weren’t the natural salesmen that their sister became, though, and one son was special-needs (autistic), so taking them door-to-door would have been far more difficult than it was with their sister.)

  2. I backed you up a bit at Windypundit, I don’t know if the comment will survive past moderation.

    What you actually wrote two years ago is, by any measure, a bad opinion. What you clearly meant- that governments would need to be able to conscript four year olds *if the very survival of the country was at stake*, is a reasonable opinion. I don’t think you meant a country like the U.S. should conscript four year olds to go to Iraq or any other war where there is no true and deep threat to the country itself. I think you meant in the event of an invasion or some similar country-threatening emergency.

    The illuminating example I used was the tunnel scenes in the Lord of the Rings. If those orcs are going to murder and rape those women and children anyway, might as well give them a sword and see if they can, at least, try to defend themselves.

    If I’m off base, I apologize.

    When one writes prolifically, that’s going to happen from time to time- where what’s written isn’t quite what’s meant. I think we’d all be better off if we responded to what people actually meant instead of, like idiots, harping on what they actually said, but clearly didn’t quite mean, in a given moment.

    I remember this happening to Justice Thomas in an opinion where he said slaves did not lose their sense of dignity. Clearly, wrong as written. What he clearly meant is that they did not lose their dignity, as that is intrinsic. Of course, slavery could cause one to lose their “sense of dignity”. Instead of just forgiving the gaffe, and recognizing what he meant to say was innocuous and obviously correct, my liberal friends had a field day with what was actually said- making Justice Thomas out to be an idiot and an Uncle Tom. Wrong. Ethically wrong. Seriously bad form.

    It’s such an annoying waste of time. And it makes, literally no one, better off.

    • I would assume now and then that the use of the term “four year olds” makes it clear that the statement is not to be taken literally. If someone chooses to misunderstand in order to make a cheap shot argument, they always can. The point was that a nation is obligated to do what is necessary to preserve itself, and at the extremes, there are no limits. Since there is no benefit imaginable to conscripting toddlers, objecting to that example as if it’s meant literally is a waste of time.

      Windy has obviously jumped the shark. Just the snippets of his posts that I’ve seen before trashing the links prove that. I did not say that blacks were racist for not voting for Romney, for example—I did say that blacks who vote for a black President based on his race are exactly as racist as a white voter who votes against Obama because the opposing candidate is white. And that’s 100% true.

      He also wrote that I was “extolling” Trump. That’s false, and anyone who thinks that is Trump Deranged. He’s gone bonkers, like a lot of previously rational people who couldn’t accept the 2016 election. Too bad.

      • This is basically one of the reasons I do not follow WindyPundit , choosing you instead. No-one sane could have thought you meant that literally.

  3. “the runny-nosed little girl”

    I got a Thin Mints and two Samoas in front of the supermarket yesterday. One kid gathered the boxes. A second bagged them and handed them to me. A third took the money and made change. All I can think of now is the six little handfuls of viruses that have entered my house, so doing this without buyer-to-scout contact sounds a pretty good option.

  4. “Are parents who help Girl Scouts sell more cookies cheating?”
    No. The primary task of selling cookies is fundraising so it is not cheating. But it is also a good opportunity to teach children life skills. Being able to count out change is a skill that should be learned early in life and practiced regularly. Also being able to converse with adults and answer their questions is important for self-assurance especially for shyer children.
    But children should not be given jobs way beyond their ability. I remember many years ago at school we had a game of cricket and my teacher decided to make me captain presumably to teach me some leadership skills but I knew nothing about cricket, I didn’t no where to place the fielders, or what the batting order should be so the whole thing was a disaster.
    A better way is to teach the skills first, so when they need to use them they can carry out the task competently and confidently. A good example of this is a girl who is either 14 or 15 and very shy and quietly spoken. In the last few weeks we were at a couple of international athletics events and she operated the EDM (Electronic Distance Measuring) in the javelin, and in the second event at one stage she had to do this along with being the recorder and scoreboard operator. Being able to do a job that few of us officials have been trained to do and doing it well is a sure way of boosting a shy person’s confidence.

  5. Well I suppose having Mom and other family members do the sales on behalf of the Girl Scout could be construed as teaching her about management skills, particularly delegation.

    But I think I have to agree that the fundraising goal (with it’s incentives/prizes that are not at all tied to what the Girl Scout personally does) is primary and the teaching-of-life-skills goal is secondary.

    After all, isn’t that where the merit badges come in?


  6. I sold the cookies as a kid, too. Some relatives bought them, but my parents (Mom was a stay-at-home mother; Dad worked in an auto factory) did not shop my form around.

    There was the hassle of trying to get boxes of cookies to neighbors and to relatives who didn’t live close. Trying to collect money from people who didn’t have it when you came by. There were several scouts in our neighborhood, so, if you didn’t get out there asap, all your neighbors would have already ordered by the time you did.

    Then there was the year a girl decided to partner with second girl to go door to door (safety in numbers, you know) only for the second girl to make sure the buyers got her form only when filling out orders, leaving the first one orderless.

    There were prizes, but the pressure was on to sell in order to get enough sales to go to the Jamboree or camping or to a local theme park. How well I remember it pouring rain during the Jamboree and how we still had to do the outdoor games.

    Then parents got worried about their kids’ safety. We knew everyone on our street and the next street over. These days, Americans are staying indoors and not getting to know their neighbors. Consequently, they don’t want their kids going to the homes of strangers, even if it’s the home across the street. We did sell in a drug store a couple of times. They were only $2 a box, I remember us telling the local weatherman in one loud voice.

    I don’t think parents bringing their kids’ forms to work is cheating. In this day of small families, even smaller groups of friends and scary neighbors, it probably seems like the safest course. I bought from a co-worker this year (and also some from my Sunday School kids!). My only complaint is that the Do-Si-Does have shrunk.

  7. Let me toss out another aspect to this, which I think explains where I fall.

    I was a Girl Scout growing up, my mom was my troop leader for many years, and one year Dad even got roped into organizing the cookie distribution for our whole area.

    But my parents had rules about fundraisers: we only did Girl Scout Cookies, no school sales fundraisers, and while they’d supervise table sales outside of the supermarket, it was our job to sell and deliver them.

    This wasn’t because they thought it would be unfair to the other kids, it was because they were busy adults with limited time and lots to keep track of, and they felt there were better ways for them to contribute to our Scouting experience and the organization. And believe me, they were no slackers in that department.

    So, I’m not sure if it’s unfair, but I question if it’s the best use of these parents efforts. Instead of organizing the exchange of money and cookies with their coworkers, could they take a walk and gather some pine cones for crafts, or make some calls to arrange a field trip to a local resturant? (Both things my parents happily did in place of making me Cookie Queen of Anne Arundel Co.)

    It seems like misplaced time and effort to me. If that’s all you’re doing for your kid as a scout, find something better to use that time for. If you’re already doing a ton of other stuff, let them handle this one.

  8. I used to think it was cheating for parents of baseball players, Girl Scouts, etc., to bring this to work. In some organizations door-to-door sales is discouraged or not allowed. What’s the kid to do when there is no family in the area to buy candy bars and cookies? Friends with five boys had only so many family members and neighbor children were also selling. We took their boxes to work. Jar and on the table in the break room, honor system, no pressure. They sold FAST.

    Before homeschooling when these type of fundraisers came up we asked what the actual monetary goal was per child. We wrote a check. No my kids didn’t get a trinket prize, but we would have them pick where they wanted to eat dinner or have a movie treat.

  9. Hi Jack. I did reach out to you — several times — about GS cookies. You did not respond. I am not mad at you for any reason. This makes me wonder if you are imagining other slights where none exist.

    Thank you for supporting GS. It does not matter where you got them from, and I’m glad you got your Thin Mints!

  10. Obviously not a Girl Scout, but I did have to do numerous ‘fund raising’ sales projects as a kid. They were very educational projects. They taught me that the world isn’t fair. It taught me that the world was rigged for certain people and I wasn’t one of them. When you go door-to-door for 20 hours trying to sell candy for a school fundraiser and raise $10, only to find out that some girl’s father owns a large company and the employees bought $150 worth of candy in 2 days, it makes you see what is important in the world. It doesn’t matter that you put in a lot of work, the girl with the powerful dad is the one getting the award in front of the school. Next time that fundraiser comes around, you have zero enthusiasm because you already know who is winning this contest. Eventually, my parents got a few other parents together to throw a fit about it. We were being told we had to sell $10 minimum and if we didn’t, we had to buy the enough to reach $10.

    If the parents are allowed to help, there should be no recognition of the top earners, no prizes, no announcement. If it really is only to raise funds for the organization, only the total earned needs to be publicized. If it is a team effort, it is a team effort. If it is an individual effort, then parental involvement is cheating.

  11. We used to buy Girl Scout cookies every year. We bought them from nieces, friends’ kids and wandering Scouts. No more though. It ended when the Wife attended a national Girl Scout conference with our former daughter-in-law and granddaughter. A network journalist lectured officials, parents and little girls about how important it was to promote lesbianism and abortion for a better future for the country.

    Well, the cookies stopped tasting good some time ago, about the same time they started being good for us. They never were a good deal, but we had always paid because it was for the girls. And the goals of the organization, of course. Well, goodbye to all that. I never suggested a boycott to anyone, but smart people don’t ask why I don’t want to “help” their little girls make the world a better place.

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