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Girl Scouts survive pandemic impact with help

Katie Tabeling

The Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay utilized drive-thru cookie sales to boost fundraising this year. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GSCB

NEWARK – Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay CEO Claudia Porretti had just returned from a two-week cruise through the Panama Canal in March 2020 when her world was turned upside down.

The GSCB serves thousands of Girl Scouts in 14 counties including Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. With the pandemic curtailing the Girls Scouts’ typical recruitment and fundraising drives, and cancelling its in-person programming, the GSCB was forced to lay off staff, including its finance department, and institute remote working for those who remained.

“We knew that funders were providing much-needed critical funds to nonprofits that were ‘boots on the ground’ in providing critical needs to the community, like housing and food,” she said, noting that the GSCB board agreed to withdraw a grant applicant in order to assist those organizations’ efforts.

With a need to manage a battered cash flow and complete its annual audit process, GSCB turned to Your Part-Time Controller (YPTC), a company that Porretti had previous experience with when she worked for the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington.

YPTC is a 29-year-old contract accounting firm that serves the nonprofit sector, providing all manner of accounting and financial services. Founded in Philadelphia, it now has eight offices across the country, including one opened last year in Delaware led by Angela Coaxum.

“For the most part, nonprofits were not as prepared as you might like them to be to handle an emergency scenario like the pandemic, but they pivoted,” Coaxum said, noting that her firm worked with a variety of nonprofits last year to analyze cash flows, identify grant opportunities, and apply for federal forgivable loans. “The great thing about nonprofits is that they’re not only thinking about the bottom line, but they’re also thinking about their employees and clients.”

Porretti said that the GSCB did take the pandemic-imposed break to assess its communication strategy and subsequently improved its website to keep Scouts, their families and the public updated on their efforts.

The pandemic also led the Girl Scouts to take their famous annual cookie sales more online, selling them via websites and partnering with delivery service GrubHub to drop boxes on customers’ doorsteps. Porretti said those efforts, combined with drive-thru sales at Dover Downs and other places as well as standard storefront sales, led to a banner year for GSCB in 2021.

“We ended our cookie season with no inventory left for the first time in recent memory,” she said proudly, crediting the efforts of the young girls and their local leaders.

While YPTC helped the Girls Scouts bridge a budget gap, improved fundraising and a return to in-person events has allowed the GSCB to rehire financial department members.

“YPTC has been instrumental in helping us work through our financial needs. Not only did they provide the critical audit support, but they made sure all of our bills were paid on time and they’ve trained our new finance staff as well as administered accounting exams for our prospective candidates,” Porretti noted.

The leaner GSCB is well-positioned to grow again in the fall though, with greater funding and a focus on recruitment and marketing. It also just received a $500,000 grant from the Longwood Foundation to support its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programming along with operational support.

“The pandemic was an unexpected opportunity for us. It gave us time to pause, reflect and reset, and, as I said to my board, it was the catalyst for changes that we had contemplated,” Porretti said. “We entered into it with the goal of not only surviving but thriving.”

Editor’s note: This story originally reported that Claudia Porretti ran the Latin American Community Center. In fact, she served as executive vice president while Maria Matos served as executive director. We regret the error.

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