Financial ed through cookie sales? Tell me Samoa.

February 13, 2023 Tarah Wolking
Casey Cortese, Schwab's philanthropic giving program leader and former Girl Scout, discusses the evolution of fin-lit in today's Girl Scout program.

Growing up in a family with three sisters, it’s no wonder that Girl Scouts was an important part of Casey Cortese’s childhood. As a troop member for eight years, Casey and her family did it all. From working on earning badges to selling cookies, participating in both individual summer camps and family camping, Girl Scouts touched the entire Cortese family. In fact, Casey and one of her sisters participated in another unique Girl Scouts initiative—the Marian Medal program—which taught the importance of giving back to others through a year-long service program.

Looking back on that time, perhaps the Marian Medal program was a pivotal experience that led Casey to finding her way to a career in corporate philanthropy. As director of Schwab Community Services and Charles Schwab Foundation, Casey leads the programmatic work of the company’s philanthropic giving and employee engagement, providing strategic oversight of national partners, including Schwab’s recently launched partnership with Girl Scouts of the USA supporting the modernization of the Financial Literacy badge program for girls K-12.

Out-of-the-box thinking

When the opportunity to help Girl Scouts of the USA redesign their entire suite of financial literacy badges arose, Casey said she immediately saw the potential value in this work. “Too often, financial education falls into gender stereotypes,” says Casey, “and girls miss out on a lot of critical learning, especially around the concepts of investing and retirement.” Having the chance to eliminate these stereotypes through an evolved badge series that reaches approximately 330K girls in grades K-12 each year was an opportunity that was, “too good to pass up.” And so began a new partnership in 2021.

In addition to being honored to be able to support local communities and help strengthen financial literacy efforts, Casey says this has also given her a connection to a very important part of her past and key lessons she learned as a Girl Scout.

Back in her day, Casey says there were no financial literacy badges. But she still learned some very important money lessons. “All cookie sales were made door-to-door and were largely cash transactions,” explained Casey. “A record of each sale was jotted down on a cardboard sales form.” And then many weeks later, Casey would have to hand-deliver the cookies, accounting for the number of boxes purchased against every dollar she collected. “As a young girl, this was a bit terrifying,” Casey shares, “But I learned about the correlation between trust and money, and the responsibility I had to my customers to deliver what I had promised.” Now, years later she says, “This is a value I see embraced everyday here at Schwab. It’s one of the main reasons I’m proud to work here.”

Casey (left) pictured with her sisters when they were Girl Scouts.

Casey (left) pictured with her sisters when they were Girl Scouts.

A rewarding reconnection

Reconnecting with the Girl Scouts through Schwab’s partnership has been rewarding on multiple levels for Casey—like unlocking some great memories with her family. But more than that, it’s given Casey a chance to give back to an organization that did so much for her as a young girl.

“Being able to contribute to an important evolution in the badge series, and helping girls learn how having money now can make an impact on their future goals, is one of the most powerful ways I can give back to girls across the U.S., as it is such a critical life lesson.” One that Casey wishes she had when she was younger. “Over time I’ve realized that nearly every single decision we make in life has a money element tied to it,” says Casey. “I think about how many situations I’ve stressed over—everything from getting a dog to buying my first home—has led to anxiety because I wasn’t sure I was in the financial shape to do these things.”

Girls Scouts has a unique opportunity to help young women overcome the fear that often accompanies financial decisions. Because all the badge activities are girl-led, meaning they have a voice in selecting their learning journey, Girls Scouts empowers girls to take ownership of their decision making at multiple levels. Casey believes this approach gives girls confidence to learn intimidating concepts, like personal finance, and helps them see the power they have in living their life to the fullest.

Beyond the badges

Casey recently went to a Budget Manager Badge Workshop for Junior Girl Scouts in 4th and 5th grade in the Denver area and had a chance to see the program in action.

During the two hours they spent together, the girls learned how a budget reflects their values, how to build a budget, research buying options for things they want, and how to make money decisions. Casey said they even discussed how to set a goal for giving back to their communities. “It was amazing to see over the course of the two hours how engaged the Girl Scouts were, and how excited they got when they realized they had the ability to make good decisions about money, decisions that could make a positive impact on them, their families, and their communities.”

Girl Scouts discussing budgeting decisions during the workshop.

Girl Scouts discussing budgeting decisions during the workshop.

When Casey was a kid, she said she always knew she wanted to be part of something “bigger than myself” but didn’t really know what that meant. Now as she reflects on this new opportunity in her career, she explains how she’s finally figured it out. “Having a role in being able to act as a role model for young girls, and to help young people develop financial confidence and positive financial behaviors, ones that will open doors to many opportunities throughout their lifetimes, is exactly what I want to be doing.”