Monday, February 28, 2005

Cookie Madness

We went today to pick up seventy-one cases of Girl Scout cookies.

I've had some quibbles with the people running the cookie sale, and I'd like to blog about my experiences as a troop cookie manager, but I want to make sure my blogging doesn't impugn these ladies' reputations. So for the record: they are great ladies. All things considered, they are doing a fabulous job. It isn't easy to coordinate the entire valley's cookie sale, with tens of thousands of boxes of cookies that all have to get to their destinations safely. I will not mention their names.

I've gotten the distinct impression that these ladies really don't care how the sale is supposed to be run; they want to do it their way. The biggest concerns I have are regarding activity credits for the girls. Activity credits are like "Girl Scout dollars" that can be spent on fees for Girl Scout events like camp. In addition to the troop's profit from the sale (which goes toward badges, field trips, and other troop expenses), girls earn $10 in activity credits for every 50 boxes that they sell. Activity credits are a good thing. Their twofold purpose, near as I can tell, is to allow poorer girls to afford camp through their cookie-selling efforts, and to provide the necessary economic incentive for girls to get out there and sell cookies for the troop.

I would love nothing better than to see girls get activity credits, especially the girls in our troop, some of whom are poor enough that activity credits will probably be their only way to attend camp. However, the ladies running the show seem to be obsessed with getting everyone larger numbers of activity credits, and they have done some things that infuriate me in order to do end-runs around the activity credit system.

The first thing they did that upset me was to make me fudge the paperwork so that the girls would get more activity credits than they would merit from the boxes they sold in the pre-sale. The troop orders extra cookies to sell at the booths at grocery stores and other locations, and these ladies wanted the girls to get activity credits for the sale of these cookies as well. So after I had done all my paperwork, I was made to re-do it and distribute each and every box between all the girls in our troop. It was insane, but I could handle the math-- I've taught several apportionment methods, although I didn't feel like pulling out the old textbook and choosing between Adams' Method and Huntington-Hill Method. Fer cryin' out loud, it's not the freakin' House of Representatives, it's a Girl Scout cookie sale. It makes for lousy accounting, and will cause problems in my spreadsheet. I will no longer be able to copy between the cookie order form and the spreadsheet, so I'll have to do extra checking of the numbers to make sure they are working out properly.

The real problem came when she insisted that I re-redistribute the cookie boxes so that certain girls could get more activity credits. For example, one girl was 15 boxes over the nearest 50 boxes, and another girl was 12 boxes short of the next 50, so I was told to take 15 boxes from the one girl and give them to the other. I refused to do it, partly because I had just finished distributing the boxes, and partly because I couldn't bring myself to be that unfair. On what basis do I decide who should get another activity credit and who shouldn't? But the lady seemed to think the whole point of the cookie sale was to maximize activity credits through shoddy accounting.

The part that cheesed me off enough to actually blog about it, though, was that when I arrived to pick up the cookies, I discovered a discrepancy between my paperwork and theirs. There was an extra case of Samoas that I did not order. When I asked them about it, they told me they had ordered it for me. This was upsetting, because as troop cookie chairman I signed a paper saying that I am financially responsible for all of these cookies. If we don't sell them all, I am contractually obligated to buy the remainder. But what upset me the most was the reason they gave me. It wouldn't have been so bad if they'd ordered me an extra case because they needed to make up a full pallet and they'd distributed the extra cases between a few troops. No, they ordered me an extra case because they decided my girls needed more activity credits.

Yes, that's right. They decided, all on their own, without consulting me at all, without even telling me, that I would be obligated to sell twelve additional boxes of cookies, because they didn't think my girls had enough activity credits. I had carefully calculated how many cookies I estimated we could sell at the booth sale, and made sure they were proportioned out more or less in the same proportions as the pre-order. I set up a spreadsheet to calculate this automatically. I weighed the options. I carefully chose which boxes of cookies I thought we could sell, and made sure the number of leftovers we were likely to get was in proportion to my budget. And they just decided that I was wrong, and without even asking me, they did this. And all because they thought my girls needed more activity credits.

Sure it was only 12 boxes, and sure they were Samoas, one of our best-sellers. Well, why not go all the way with this? Why limit this to my troop? Why not just order every troop 100 more boxes per girl, so that each girl gets an extra $20 in activity credits? Hell, why don't you just add that as a clause to the troop cookie manager contract-- that you don't have any control over how many boxes of cookies you order, but are financially obligated for them anyway?

This is wrong and I think I may just complain about this. I would never have signed the contract and become cookie manager if I had known that I did not have control over the number of boxes our troop ordered.

UPDATE: I want to make sure it's perfectly clear that I don't think these ladies are up to any shady business. They are not professional accountants (for that matter, neither am I). I don't doubt that they were sincere and really wanted to help out the girls. But it has been emphasized throughout all our cookie training that we are not to do anything without getting it in writing-- we are not to distribute cookies without giving receipts, we are to make sure everyone responsible for cookies has signed their contracts, we are not to trust even our best friends to do it without the correct paperwork-- and yet here they are seeing to it that I am to just trust them to put in my order correctly, and violating that trust even though I did my paperwork properly.

UPDATE 2: The issue has been resolved to my satisfaction. I contacted the Utah Girl Scout Council and told them about the incident, and they immediately looked into it. Evidently these ladies contacted my troop leader and got her consent to the extra case, and although I was in communication with one of the ladies and the troop leader, nobody bothered to inform me what was going on, much less get my consent. And they had the nerve to tell the lady at Council that they were "unable" to contact me. Whatever! They had my e-mail address and two phone numbers, and I didn't get any calls or messages. Anyway, Council said they will address this issue in training next year, which is about the best resolution I could have hoped for, so I am satisfied.

UPDATE 3: The troop leader says she was never contacted about the extra case of cookies and did not give her consent to order it. Somebody's lying, and I don't know who it is.