Beyond Cookies: Evidence about Team Environment and Engagement Retention from Girl Scouts Cookie Program

Publication Date



Problem definition: Girl Scouts’ Cookie Program offers opportunities for girls to develop various
skills through “learning by doing” and provides considerable short-term and long-term developmental benefits. To fully realize the potential of these benefits, we need to understand how to help the girls stay engaged and participating in their Cookie Program so that they develop the intended skills over time. We collaborate with the Girl Scouts of USA (GSUSA), one of the most popular charity and nonprofit organizations in the United States to examine team-based factors of Girl Scouts’ engagement retention in their Cookie Program.

Methodology/results: We collect scouts’ cookie sales performance and troop membership information from 2016 to 2018 from a local Girl Scout council consisting of approximately 30,000 members. We theoretically predict the effects of team relational dynamics, a group of six troop-based factors, on a Girl Scout’s decision to stay with the organization and return to selling cookies the subsequent year. We then use the data to test these predictions. We find that a small troop size and more evenly distributed sales performance within the troop are positively associated with the propensity to stay. In addition, a troop having a high adult-to-girl ratio and a significant scout level (i.e., an age measure) heterogeneity are conducive to scout retention. However, we find that racial diversity has no significant effect on turnover. Finally, conducting troop-based booth sales is related to scouts’ deciding to stay.

Managerial implications: Our study carries implications for developing more innovative and cost-effective approaches to keeping participants engaged in the volunteering and fundraising activities in an NPO setting. Our empirical results suggest that NPOs consider interventions in team composition and relationship-building to encourage continued participation. In addition, the team-based factors that we identify can fill the gap between team relationship dynamics and engagement retention literature. Not until organizations understand the team factors behind engagement and turnover will they be able to unleash the full potential of their team members.

Document Type



engagement retention, NPO operations, responsible research, social sustainability, teambuilding, contextual factors


Business Administration, Management, and Operations




SMU Cox: IT & Operations Management (Topic)