GSUSA Policy on Internet Product Sales

Summary: GSUSA has ruled that troops and individuals may use e-mail to contact friends and family regarding our cookie sale, but we may not conduct cookie sales on troop or personal web pages, nor can we "spam" or otherwise broadcast cookie sale messages to the general public. If you want more detail, read on. Of course, our new Safety-Wise has a nice section regarding the Internet, and if you haven't read it yet, please do so. -- Lee

In a memo dated December 22, 1999 from Marty Evans (the GSUSA National Executive Director) to all council Executive Directors, GSUSA formally forbade girls and adults from selling any products approved for council-sponsored product sales on the internet. The following addendum is to be used in resource mailings and handouts:

Begin quote:

Girl Scout Cookie Sale Notice

Girl Scouts of the USA has a new position to help us ensure the safety of every girl we serve, to protect the tax-exempt status of Girl Scout Cookie sales (and our other council-sponsored product sales), and to ensure that all Girl Scout cookie orders from customers are in our council's jurisdiction. Beginning with January 2000 product sales, both girl and adult members cannot engage in any type of sale of Girl Scout Cookies, nuts, calendars, magazines, candy, etc., on the internet. Girls may use e-mail to alert their friends and relatives about our local Girl Scout cookie sale.

End quote.

* * *

And another pertainent letter from GSUSA:


To: Girl Scout Council Executive Directors and Product Sale Managers

From: Marsha Johnson Evans, National Executive Director (Marty signature)

Date: June 15, 2000

Subject: New Policy on "Internet Sales"

The National Board of Directors adopted the following policy on June 4,2000:

Internet Sales

Sales on a Web site on the Internet* of any products sole in "council sponsored product sales," such as Girl Scout cookies, candy, nuts, calendars, or magazine subscriptions, may not be conducted by anyone at any time.

Sales on the Internet* of Girl Scout merchandise, such as uniforms, insignia, publications, and equipment, may only be conducted by duly authorized and licensed Girl Scout councils, council shops, retail agencies and/or GSUSA licensed vendors. Permision to sell on the Internet must be obtained from GSUSA.

For safety and security reasons, sales on the Internet* for any Girl Scout "troop/group money earning activities" may not be conducted by individual girls, parents, or other adults.

*Sales on the Internet include on-line auctions, broadcast e-mail messages, and/or posting on individual Girl Scout, troop/group or Girl Scout council Web sites.

The background material and the rationale for adopting this policy are included below. We hope this information will be helpful as plans are made to share this new policy with your membership.


The commitment of GSUSA and Girl Scout councils to the safety and security of girl and adult members must remain paramount as one of the cornerstones of the Girl Scout movement. Prior to the 1990's, "Internet sales" were not an issue for Girl Scouting. In 1996, an article on "Selling Girl Scout Cookies on the Internet" was included in the November/December issue of the Girl Scout Cookie Sale, a newsletter produced by the Trademark and Licensing Department. Councils had been requesting help in guiding local troops and service units in the use of the Internet as part of the Girl Scout cookie sale. At that time, no official guidelines on sales over the Internet were issued, because it was then felt that GSUSA could not "do anything that might be construed as restraint of trade." Councils were reminded that girls should always be directly involved in any sales that were made, whether in person or via computer.

In 1997, The Girl Scout Cookie Sale: A Guide for Girl Scout Councils was published and distributed to councils. The section on "The Cookie Sale and the Internet" reads in part:

"If the Web site provides a learning experience for girls and involves them in any sales made, it can be an appropriate part of a product sale. Out of fairness, every Girl Scout should first encourage potential Internet customers to purchase their cookies or other products from the local Girl Scout who comes to their door or sell to them at a booth sale...

"Because of the nature of the Internet neither GSUSA nor councils can realistically monitor sales over the Net. For this reason every Girl Scout, Girl Scout volunteer and Girl Scout parent needs to be on their honor to ensure that competition is fair, sales are made locally, and customers receive the cookies they have bought and paid for."

The year 1998, however, brought with it an increase nationwide in access to and use of the Internet. At the same time Girl Scout councils and GSUSA also saw an increase in the number of sites set up specifically to sell Girl Scout cookies.

In 1999, the number of Web sites selling Girl Scout continued to increase and as did the number of sites conducting Girl Scout money-earning projects. In addition, the number of complaints and inquires from concerned customers, as well as from our own membership, regarding these sites has multiplied. Individual girls and adults, troops and groups, neighborhoods, and service units, and some councils are selling cookies on the Internet, including posting on Web sites, online auctions, and broadcast e-mail messages. Girl Scout cookies are being sold and money-earning activities are being conducted on the Internet.

Here are some specific examples:

  • Girls' Web sites, complete with photographs and other personal identifying information, set up to sell Girl Scout cookies
  • Cookies and other products being sold by adults on and other auction sites
  • Troop leaders and cookie volunteers selling cookies on their business Web sites
  • Non-Girl Scouts "selling" cookies
  • Girl Scouts fabricating hard-luck stories to sell cookies
  • Consumers trying to trace cookie orders placed on now-defunct Girl Scout Web sites
  • Girl Scouts using broadcast e-mail messages (spamming), now illegal in some states, to sell cookies
  • Non-Girl Scout pornographic sites using Girl Scout terminology, for example,


As we move further into the year 2000 and beyond, GSUSA's concern about "restraint of trade" issues and the integrity of Girl Scout council boundaries have not gone away. Those issues have, however, been superceded by this increase in sales activities on the Internet, bringing an increased concern for

  • The personal safety and security of girls
  • The potential for fraud inherent in the technology
  • The public's perception of the "commercialization" of councils' cookie sales
  • The impact on our tax-exempt-status

Safety: We must protect the identity of all of our girl members. Because of the scope of the Internet, there is no way to control who sees the solicitation for cookie sales and therefore who can contact the girls involved. Since girls do not have secure means of contacting strangers and exchanging funds over the Internet, GSUSA considers these kinds of activities to be a significant safety risk to girls.

Fraud: The potential for fraud is inherent in the technology. There is no way to verify that the order for cookies goes to an actual Girl Scout... as anybody can set up a Web site and sell cookies. The public does not distinguish one Girl Scout council's sale from another; one case of fraud could have a ripple effect that has an impact on all of us in Girl Scouting.

Tax-Exempt Status: Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of how local Girl Scout cookies sales are conducted is ever present. Selling on the Internet could easily be viewed as a commercial activity. We have been advised on numerous occasions to avoid any activity that could be construed as commercializing the cookie sale. If the IRS believes that the cookie sale is being carried on as a commercial activity, it could take the position that income from the cookies sale is unrelated to the mission of Girl Scouting and therefore that revenue from it would be taxable.

Our collective challenge at this point in time is how to manage cookie sales and other money-earning activities in a manner that reduces risk to our girl members and to our volunteers, Girl Scout councils, and GSUSA. Having an official policy strengthens our position when trying to take action against unauthorized uses of the Girl Scout name.

The policy on Internet sales has been developed to protect our membership, limit the risk of fraud, and ensure that we can defend our tax-exempt status.

The primary purpose of selling Girl Scout cookies, or of any money-earning activity, is first and foremost to provide a valuable program experience for girls. Generating income for Girl Scout councils and troops/groups is its secondary purpose. This policy clearly supports the primary purpose of these activities and will support the mission of Girl Scouting.

(End of letter)