How to Build a Healthy Service Unit

We all know there are those Girl Scout troops and service units that have everything going on; their girls and parents are happy, their bank accounts are adequately funded, and their volunteers seem to know everything they need to know to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who are making the world a better place. So what’s their secret? And how do the rest of us get there?

While we don’t have a magic formula for happy and healthy troops and service units (if you find one, please share!), we do have some tips that’ll help you focus your efforts on areas that make the most impact for volunteers and troops in your area.

Define Your Main Purpose

Why does a service unit exist? What are the main benefits of meeting monthly for volunteers in your area? These are excellent questions to ask at your next meeting. Then listen to the answers and tailor your year plan to match.

Curious about what the most common answers are? In a recent study by GSUSA, these are the top 3 services that a Service Unit provides:

  1. Organizing events that troop leaders can take back to their troops.
  2. Support for troop leaders, troop managers, and the girls surrounding the product programs.
  3. Facilitating a safe space for sharing of ideas and networking.

Know (and Promote) the Characteristics of a Healthy Troop

In a recent study by GSUSA, they found a few common characteristics of healthy troops. And while some of them were unsurprising (like that 100% of healthy troops had gone overnight camping), some should make us think a bit about how we form and support our troops.

So what were these all important characteristics of a healthy troop and how can a service unit foster those characteristics? Ask and you shall receive!

  • 2/3 of co-leaders knew each other beforehand. Sometimes when we form troops, we pair together two strangers to be the troop leaders. Sometimes it works out that they click and form an awesome leadership team, but sometimes the troops struggle. So how do we help with this? Promote the idea that troop leadership is a team effort and encourage your volunteers to take time to develop a positive collaborative relationship with their co-leader!
  • 100% of healthy troops held a parent meeting to begin the yearEncourage your troops, both new and veteran, to hold at least one parent meeting each year to establish a partnership with parents. Establish that the troop is a partnership between the troop leaders, girls, AND the families, and then share plans, troop finances, and expectations of all parents so everyone has a good overview of the troop’s priorities and year plan.
  • Healthy troop size average was 12 girls. This doesn’t mean split or combine all of your troops until each one only has the magic number of girls in it. We know we have some troops that are much larger and also smaller than 12 who are wonderful vibrant troops. Just consider this when recruiting new girls or planning activities. If the troop is large, how can we help them find additional adult volunteers so that the troop leaders aren’t overwhelmed? For small troops, how can we plan activities (especially at CSA level) so that multiple troops can attend and girls feel part of a larger network of Girl Scouts?
  • Spend 50-60% of troop time on badges, supplemented with outings, community service, and council events. Spend only about 25% of their time on the cookie program during the three-month cookie season. Makes sense, right? Troops who spend a majority of their time participating in a variety of opportunities (skill building badges, take action projects, troop trips, events, and more) and less time focused on paperwork and the cookie sale are truly getting a well-rounded (FUN!) Girl Scout experience. Which makes the girls (and the leaders) HAPPY. So check-in with your troops. Share community resources and activities with leaders that will help them as they navigate the responsibilities of being a troop leader so they can spend more time with their troop doing the things the troop enjoys.
  • 100% of the most successful troops had gone overnight camping! Girls love troop activities that provide them with a variety of fun, challenging experiences and camping is awesome at this. So encourage your troops to camp by hosting a service unit camp out or have experienced troops buddy up with an inexperienced troop for their first camp overnight.

Now that you know some ways to build (or maintain) a healthy service unit, consider the group of dedicated volunteers who attend your service unit meetings. What areas above does your service unit do well? What areas could use some extra focus or support? Make a plan, make some changes, and help the Girl Scout volunteers in your area thrive!

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