How Girl Guides are adapting the cookie fundraiser playbook

Going door-to-door is out of the question, so the non-profit is looking for more retailers like Canadian Tire to provide a new sales channel.

The COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing has forced many organizations to cancel events that are vital to their operations, but maybe none have been as iconic as the Girl Guides of Canada.

With selling door-to-door and outside stores out of the question, the non-profit made the decision to suspend its annual cookie fundraiser – something that prompted the organization to completely rethink and recalibrate its campaign and marketing approach.

“We are about bringing girls and women together, in-person,” says Nuala Byles, brand and creative strategy lead at Girl Guides of Canada. “Due to physical distancing, this is not possible.” Byles says how, at this time of year, all the marketing efforts revolve around the sales of their cookies, which fund all of the girls’ programs and activities, such as nature discoveries and camping, science lab and design space.

Imagine Canada, a national charitable organization that supports the country’s non-profits and charities, estimates that three months of instructed social distancing, along with the expected economic ramifications of such a practice, will result in $9.5 billion in lost fundraising dollars and layoffs of more than 117,000 employees. The months ahead will require non-profits to rethink how they spur donations when Canadians are concerned about their own financial well-being, and channels to donate have been just as disrupted as operations in many other sectors.

For example: since the first Girl Guides cookies were sold in 1927 in Regina, Canadians haven’t been able to buy them in stores, a fact that has typically created excitement and demand among cookie-hungry consumers.

But Byles says it is an unusual time, which is why it was “thrilled” when the Girl Guides of Canada team was approached by an Alberta-based Canadian Tire, one of the retailers that has been deemed essential and is remaining open during the pandemic.

”What was going to be a big problem for them, because they had this inventory that was shelf-dated that they weren’t going to be able to sell, we’re going to be able to sell,” Darren Gunn, a Canadian Tire owner in South Edmonton, told CTV News on Mar. 18. All Canadian Tire locations in Alberta are now stocking the cookies, as are all London Drugs and Save-On Foods locations in Western Canada.

While this change was welcomed, it has had a significant impact, Byles notes. “Our entire cookie distribution model changed literally overnight and we have been working together with our cookie team, volunteers and our manufacturer to carefully move skids of cookies from homes, local storage facilities and our Ontario factory to these stores,” she says. “Everyone has come with the same goal of helping us to meet our fundraising needs of selling more than three million boxes of cookies.”

Byles notes how the Girl Guides are now looking for more “essential” retail partners in Ontario, Quebec and Eastern Canada – giving more of a physical, national presence during this unprecedented time. She adds that negotiation is “a very sensitive issue,” as these retailers are “at the front line of this pandemic,” working around the clock, and have other business to attend to, but is approaching them “one retailer at a time.”

The marketing that typically told Canadians to keep an eye out for Girl Guides selling cookies will now be used, Byles says, to support these retail partners by driving traffic to their locations through local and national social media campaigns. Some of their retail partners are contributing through flyer ads, PR outreach and in-store signage.

Does your organization need marketing, fundraising or communications support? Are you a someone looking for pro-bono work to help a worthy cause weather uncertainty? Strategy is launching CauseConnect this week, helping bring organizations together with willing and able members of the creative and advertising community. Interested parties can fill out this form to participate.