Betsy Woodford

After a person agrees to be a Girl Scout leader, she or he has many skills to learn for which there are lots of training courses. But no training programs address the problem of how to keep leaders for a long and happy tenure. How can we do this? There are some clues from studies done on nonprofit organizations and businesses. For one, the Gallup poll in 1980 found that while parents initially volunteer because the group needs the help, they remain because they come to believe in the mission of the group.

The second lesson can be learned from field studies done on businesses, that have looked at the ways in which new employees are welcomed into a company. Studies have found that providing training in certain ways will enhance the amount of organizational commitment that a new employee feels. Luckily these training methods are similar to ones nonprofit organizations often use: in a group, taught by an experienced worker, and in a specified time frame. However, keeping these training elements in mind, the first thing we need to remember is that leaders are busy people. They absorb and process a great deal of information every day. How can we communicate Girl Scout information in a way that people will pay attention to? The answer comes from another communication technique-framing, which means that we need to be sure to tell the leader why the information we're giving them is important in the world of Girl Scouting and why it is important to them personally.

Let's try two examples:

  1. Suppose we say, "Come to the Service Unit meeting." A new leader will wonder what is this for and why she should add an extra meeting to an already busy schedule. An experienced leader knows enough about the meetings to fill in additional information-"I need to collect the information from council about the upcoming training events, so I'll go." But unless a person already knows this information, saying "Come to the Service Unit meeting," is inadequate. What should be said, either in person or on a postcard, is: "

Come to the Service Unit meeting, we will be discussing and passing out information on training classes, which are on subjects that will make it easier for leaders to do their job."

  1. It's time for the Parent Partnership Campaign. Instead of saying, "Here are the Parent Partnership flyers, pass them out to your troop." What should be said is "It's time for Parent Partnership again, and we know how important this is because the money raised last year enabled council to stage events that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to do."

Framing gives background information along with the message to tell a person why the message is important and why it should be important to them. You can't give equal weight to every piece of information-that's the equivalent of crying wolf every time and you'll lose your audience, but giving proper importance and to each message will increase the number of messages that busy leaders pay attention to.

So, while we'll be working on framing messages in a way that stress their importance, we will be stressing three subject areas that studies on businesses have found lead to organizational commitment: clearly defining the job (it's specific tasks and what is expected), the mission (because the Gallup poll showed that people stay because they believe in the mission), and learning networking skills (because the more we learn from each other, the better prepared we are to be leaders).