Starting in 1915 in Washington, D.C., the democratic process has been continually promoted by our organization through the National Council Session (NCS), a.k.a. the National Convention.
Orlando, Florida, will host the 56th National Council Session from July 18-20, 2023, followed immediately with Phenom by Girl Scouts from July 20-22, 2023. This triennial meeting, comprised of delegates from each council, is charged with giving clear direction to the future of the Girl Scout Movement. It is the central link between Girl Scout councils and GSUSA. Each local council is allotted delegates on an adjustable formula to keep the National Council close to the optimal size of 1,500 delegates. Once elected by their local councils, the delegates serve a three-year term.
So, what do these National Council delegates do once they are elected to their positions? During NCS, National Delegates represent their local councils as voting members. They gather input, debate, and vote on proposals that impact the future of the Girl Scout Movement, including changes to the Constitution and the Blue Book of Basic Documents. In addition, National Delegates elect the National Board of Directors and the Board Development Committee. However, during the interim three years between each NCS, the National Delegates can also develop and submit proposals to the National Board for consideration as agenda items. In Girl Scouting, a proposal is a leading motion to bring a recommendation before the National Council for a vote. The National Board of Directors decides whether each submitted proposal is worthy of being on the agenda.
However, if any proposal developed by a local council receives support from 15 percent or more of the Girl Scout councils, then the National Board of Directors is obliged to have that proposal on the agenda so the National Council can act upon it.
This may sound boring and mundane, but the National Council Sessions are vital to keeping the movement forward-thinking. There has been a wide range of proposals since that first Girl Scout convention in 1915, and it’s quite interesting to look back on what has transpired at NCS.
My first encounter with the National Council Session occurred in 1990 in Miami Beach. At that convention, I was the chaperone for the two girls from legacy South Cook County Council who were sent as visitors. Since I had no previous association with NCS, I didn’t realize how many councils would actually send girls as delegates. I then began to lobby for a change to any subsequent South Cook County delegations to include at least two girl delegates.
After Miami Beach, I attended all but one NCS either as a delegate, a girl chaperone, or often both! However, Miami Beach was an experience I will never forget. The keynote speaker was the author and poet Maya Angelou who captivated and inspired the attendees. The Spring 1991 Leader Magazine described her address in this manner: “. . . she held everyone spellbound. In song, in prose, in poetry, she captivated one and all with her wisdom, her insight, and her humor.”
An additional highlight of the Miami Beach convention was the launching of GSUSA’s national service project on literacy with the help of an unexpected visit from our Honorary President at that time, First Lady Barbara Bush. Leader Magazine depicted it this way: “The excitement of the First Lady’s visit began with the arrival of the Secret Service people who checked the arena thoroughly. A surprise for those stern-visaged gentlemen must have been the immediate silence resulting from our Girl Scout quiet sign!”
The 1990 NCS is memorable for another reason, too. At this triennial meeting, the National Council passed a proposal to establish the designation Girl Scout “Gold Award” as the highest award to be earned by a girl member. After having the name of the highest award change several times in our Girl Scout history, this proposal dictated that the name “Gold Award” could not be altered.
You probably already know that the Girl Scout Promise and Law have been changed several times. However, you may not realize that some changes were voted upon during a National Council Session. The first-time changes were made at NCS took place in 1972 in Dallas. The delegation voted to approve this wording of the Promise and Law:
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God,
My country and mankind,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
I will do my best:
—to be honest
—to be fair
—to help where I am needed
—to be cheerful
—to be friendly and considerate
—to be a sister to every Girl Scout
—to respect authority
—to use resources wisely
—to protect and improve the world around me
—to show respect for myself and others through my words and action
The Promise was again revised by the NCS delegation in Detroit in 1984 to its current form:
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
However, The Law did not undergo additional changes until the Fort Worth NCS in 1996, which is the version we use today:
I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.
Perhaps the most misunderstood proposal concerning the Girl Scout Promise was passed by the National Delegates in 1993 at the Minneapolis convention. The proposal was titled “Flexibility in Wording for Spiritual Beliefs in the Girl Scout Promise.” It stated:
THAT, since the Girl Scout organization makes no attempt to interpret or define the word “God” but encourages members to establish for themselves the nature of their spiritual beliefs, it be the policy of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. that individuals when making the Girl Scout Promise may substitute wording appropriate to their own spiritual beliefs for the word “God.”
Having attended the 1993 National Council Session, I still remember the headlines of that time declaring that the Girl Scouts had taken “God” out of their Promise. The intent of the proposal was to promote inclusivity for girls of various faiths whose religious beliefs might have a different terminology for “God,” such as Allah or Yahweh. Many media outlets totally misrepresented what had transpired, so GSUSA had to do damage control and make numerous explanations on what the proposal intended to do.
At other National Councils Sessions, the delegates have reviewed the request to increase dues. The Constitution was amended in 1975 during that year’s Washington NCS, giving this authority to the delegates. It stated: Decision on annual membership dues shall be by ballot and shall require a majority of votes cast. However, the wording in the GS Constitution concerning membership dues was somewhat altered at the 2008 NCS in Indianapolis. Within its rationale for the changes, the National Board included the statement that after the 2008 NCS, it would be the one to set dues amounts going forward and included a lengthy explanation as to why it felt it had the authority. At their January 20, 2012, meeting, the National Board raised annual membership dues from $12 to $15, effective with the 2014 membership year. This was the first time since the 1975 amended Constitution that the National Board raised annual membership dues without the National Council’s approval. Then in 2016, the National Board raised the dues again, going from $15 to $25. A lawsuit initiated by the Farthest North Council against GSUSA claimed that the dues increase violated the Constitution. The lawsuit went all the way to the Alaska Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Farthest North Council.
This controversy on who has the authority to raise the membership dues caused the delegates of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GSGCNWI) to write a proposal for the 2020 NCS that would create a compromise between the National Board and the National Council. The proposal inserted into the Constitution has this wording:
The National Board of Directors must seek approval from the National Council whenever planned dues increase will increase by more than 25% in any triennium. This amendment to the Constitution passed, making it one of the two proposals submitted by GSGCNWI in 2020 to be approved.
Another proposal associated with membership dues was passed at the Houston NCS in 1981. However, it was at this time the Lifetime Membership category was established. Then in 1999, at the Kansas City NCS, a vote was taken to have a special Lifetime Membership dues be offered to any girl who was a registered Senior Girl Scout at the time of her high school graduation or equivalent. In 2017 in Columbus, the delegates approved the elimination of the multiplier formerly used to establish the cost of a Girl Scout Lifetime Membership and voted for a flat rate of $400 or, for alums under age 30 and currently registered volunteers with ten or more years of service, a $200 cost. This change was supported by the GSGCNWI delegation.
There have been other significant proposals passed during NCS, such as those concerning the National Board. For instance, the Denver National Council session in 1978 reduced the number of National Board Members from 65 to 51. This number of National Board members was again reduced in 1996 in Fort Worth to 35. During the Atlanta NCS in 2005, the number of members of the National Board of Directors was amended to 25, which is the number that is in place today. Also, in 2005, the number of consecutive terms for the National President was reduced from three to two.
As I mentioned before, GSGCNWI had two proposals pass during the virtual NCS of 2020. Besides the proposal to restrict any dues increase to not exceed 25% in a triennium unless voted upon by the National Council, the GSGCNWI delegates also developed a proposal for the movement to establish a feasibility task group to research the formation of a National Gold Award Scholarship Foundation. When both proposals received positive outcomes, the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana made NCS history. We were the first local council to have two proposals pass during a single NCS. As one of the authors of the National Gold Award Scholarship Foundation proposal, I was asked to sit on the feasibility task group. Our findings will be shared at the NCS in Orlando this coming July. Stay tuned!
The GSGCNWI delegation is really looking forward to attending the Orlando NCS this July. After having the 2020 NCS held virtually due to the pandemic, it will be so satisfying to be in a convention hall once again with Girl Scouts from across the country. Being a National Delegate is a huge commitment with the numerous meetings before and even after the National Council Session. However, it’s extremely gratifying to know that this work is tremendously important to the vitality of the Girl Scout Movement.
Finally, I want to share a uniquely GSGCNWI tradition that was started for NCS in 2011. As a National Delegate who is also a Council Historian, I have had the capability to acquire vintage uniforms for our girl members who attend NCS as either delegates or visitors. The girls always feel special when delegates from other councils can identify the era of the uniforms they are wearing. Because 2020 was virtual, this tradition was suspended during that NCS, but it will definitely be brought back for 2023!