Creating memorable experiences for your troop is no easy feat, but I’ve made it my personal mission to help find unique experiences for my Juniors to keep them engaged in Girl Scouts (despite their jam-packed schedules). One of the ways I’ve done this is by calling on my network of friends, coworkers, and family members to find exciting opportunities and unique talents they can share. The result has been some unforgettable experiences that could only happen in Girl Scouts, such as a pizza dinner with a New York Times best-selling author and a FaceTime Q&A with a national expert on friendship. That being said, here are my four tips to networking success:

Explore Your Network and Identify Connections

The first step is to think about your network and come up with possible connections that could help your troop. Be creative about your connections and don’t rule anyone out—you never know if your parent volunteers or maybe your second cousin’s coworker has a unique talent they would love to share with your girls! And with the power of social media on our side, we have even more power to attract help. Who doesn’t want to be photographed with a local Girl Scout troop and post it up on social media (with parental permission of course)?

As I planned my first year of leading a Junior Troop, I made a long list of people in my network who could help create unique experiences for the troop. Three specific people came to mind: a best-selling author we could meet through a family connection, a state-ranked archery instructor who my family met at a local archery range, and an old college friend who has written two books about friendship and appeared on several national television shows.

Remember, even if you’re excited about all your newfound connections, they may not connect with your girls’ interests, so don’t be discouraged if your first few ideas don’t yield results! For example, I met some inspiring individuals from a local beekeeping company at my husband’s take-your-kid to work day, and had the idea that my mom could teach a sewing class for the troop, but my girls decided that neither of these topics were something they wanted to focus on with our limited meeting time. Keep an open mind and create a long list of possibilities, then see how your troop feels about each idea as you make a schedule, plan out badge work, and set up meetings.

Prepare Your Pitch and Be Considerate about Your Ask

Whether you’re pitching your meeting idea to a friend, family, coworker, or your neighbor’s cousin’s best friend, it’s helpful to have a specific idea of what you’re looking for when you call in a personal favor for your troop. Make sure to think about how big or difficult your request is for the other person, and try to be considerate of their time and resources. They are, after all, doing you and your troop a favor, and you want to makes sure it’s a positive experience for them (and that you model caring behavior to your guest for your troop!) For example, when I contacted my college friend and leading friendship author Shasta Nelson about helping my troop, I had an idea in mind: we could let the girls chat with her on FaceTime during our regular Girl Scout meeting for about 15 minutes. Shasta lives an hour from where my troop meets, it would be too much of an imposition to drive to the city or ask her to drive to us for just our short meeting. This was a reasonable favor to ask of an old friend, and would have a lasting impression on the girls. The girls in my troop anonymously wrote questions about friendship in advance of the FaceTime call, then Shasta answered them all with a smile. It was a fantastic that fit perfectly into our friendship-themed meeting, and thanks to FaceTime, was caused zero stress for our guest!

Having a specific plan in mind when contacting your connection is important. That person may be an expert in their field, but might not familiar with the Girl Scout experience, or the badges your troop is working on. This summer, my troop will be taking an archery lesson from the state-ranked archery instructor that I mentioned. He is eager to help—and plan around our schedule because he is raising money for his college fund. We are happy to help and to learn from a local expert, and he benefits from our financial support. Think about how your connection could use their expertise to enrich your Girl Scout troop, rather than an open ended call for help.

Creative Scheduling and Flexible Planning are Key

When I found out that my husband had a connection through a coworker to New York Times best-selling author Brandon Mull, I started thinking about how to set up a meeting. Mr. Mull lives in a different state and has an extremely busy schedule. As he was fulfilling a personal act of kindness to help my troop and my family, we wanted to make it as easy as possible for him, so we had to be flexible and creative with our planning.

Give yourself a long time to plan. With Mr. Mull, he has written five wildly-successful and just released a new book, so we knew he was super busy. Finding a time to meet took us six months of planning through our coworker connection. Will you be traveling with your troop to San Francisco? Maybe you can meet up with an expert while there. Not enough time to fit the activity during the school year? Maybe you can work it into a summer activity when everyone has more time.

Our Troop with Mr. Mull

We looked up Mr. Mull’s book tour schedule to find the closest location to us, and found a kid-friendly pizza shop about five minutes from his book-signing location. It turned out to be a win-win for all us—we had a delicious dinner, and the girls were able to ask Mr. Mull questions about his work for about an hour. After dinner, we drove to the book-signing, purchased books, and had Mr. Mull sign the books. The girls got quality time learning about the author’s creative process, how he became an author, and the experiences in his childhood that inspired some of his books.

The Girl Scout leader lesson that I learned? Be creative in setting up a meeting with someone who is helping you out. After asking for help, make it easy for the person who is helping! Drive to meet him or her, or work the meetup into his or her travel schedule. It may take some brainstorming and time, but when you find the solution, everyone wins!

Show Your Connections Why Their Help Matters

When asking people in your network for support for a Girl Scout activity, be enthusiastic and clear about why you are seeking their help, and how they will help your troop. For example, when meeting with Mr. Mull, he wanted to know why we were meeting with him: For badge work? For a Girl Scout project? For us, our outing would be a field trip (with a fun patch) for the passionate readers in our troop to learn about becoming a professional writer, the writing process, and more.

Before meeting Mr. Mull, we asked the girls to read at least one of Mr. Mull’s books and prepare three thoughtful questions to ask, which showed him how much his words and advice mattered to them. Mr. Mull’s publisher even joined us, using the opportunity for some casual market research, asking what our girls are currently reading and what they would like to read in the future. He left with a promise to send some advance copies of new books for reviewing in the future!

Explaining and then showing the “why” of the event convinced everyone to participate. Mr. Mull and his publisher left satisfied that their books and insight made a difference, and even learned something about their readership, and the outing was just what we wanted for the troop—a unique Girl Scout field trip that taught girls about their interests and possible careers.

If I’ve learned one thing from running a Junior Girl Scout troop for the first time, it’s that Girl Scouts opens doors for unique opportunities. So many inspiring people in my network of friends, family, and coworkers were happy to share their time and expertise simply because we were Girl Scouts! Look at your network with a creative, flexible approach and you will be able to create some experiences that your troop will never forget!

What to do next:

Heather NgHeather Osborn-Ng—Heather co-leads a traditional Junior troop and a co-op Daisy troop in Sunnyvale, CA. A former newspaper reporter and a law school graduate, she now spends her days as a modern homemaker, chasing around three daughters, a cute dog and energetic husband. She loves all things Girl Scouts, but especially crafts and camporee.

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