Girls Scouts Names Anna Maria Chávez New CEO

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The Girl Scouts of the USA selected one of its own to succeed Kathy Cloninger as its chief executive officer.

Anna Maria Chávez, who has led the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas in San Antonio since 2009, will become the 19th leader of the national scouting organization in November, which will mark the beginning of the organization’s 100th anniversary celebration.

November will mark the beginning of a major five-year fundraising campaign, which appears to be crucial for the financial health of one of the most iconic organizations in youth work. The Girl Scouts hold considerable assets ($112 million as of its 2010 annual report), but has had to use them to cover operating deficits. The organization operated at a $7.7 million loss in 2009 and a $4.9 million loss in 2010, according to the annual report.

The New York-based organization is also undergoing a major rebranding. In 2008, the scouts hired Laurel Ritchie away from public relations firm Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide to serve as the first chief marketing officer.

Her task was to make the families of potential members aware that Girl Scouts had more to offer than green skirts, camping and cookie sales, with programs focused on entrepreneurship and recreation.

The scouts launched a national brand campaign in 2010 themed around the question, “What Did You Do Today?”

At the time, scout membership was declining between 1 percent and 2 percent each year, and dropped 4 percent between 2009 and 2010. There are currently 2.3 million girls in the Girl Scouts 112 regional councils, down from 2.8 million in 2008.

Membership figures have been “stagnant” of late, said spokesman Joshua Ackley, but the organization has seen “huge increases in membership” among Hispanics. The number of Hispanic girls in the scouts has increased 55 percent since 2001, Ackley said.

Chávez, who is 43, was born in southern Arizona. She joined the staff of former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2003 as director of intergovernmental affairs, and in 2007 was named deputy chief of staff for urban relations and community development.

Cloninger is retiring after eight years leading the national office for the scouts. She was  

once a program officer of the youth in education division at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and before taking over in New York served as CEO of the Girl Scout Council of Cumberland Valley, Tenn.