Meet Kathy Cloninger
Chief Executive Officer

Welcome Kathy Cloninger as the new top executive at Girl Scouts of the USA.

Kathy is from Nashville, Tennessee, where she served for a decade as council chief executive officer. A native of Dallas and a lover of country music, she brings an enthusiastic, embracing style, as well as a broad range of skills and leadership experience both in and outside of Girl Scouts.

Photo of Kathy Cloninger with Girl Scouts. (Photo credit: Ernie K. Johnson)"We knew that Kathy's warm and inclusive management style, her skill at partnering and her deep commitment to diversity and Girl Scouting, would be tremendous assets as she moved to the position of CEO," said Chair of the National Board Cynthia B. Thompson.

As she assumes her new role at Girl Scouts, Kathy brings the strength of her success as chief executive officer at the Girl Scout Council of Cumberland Valley (Nashville) as well as her experience as a leader in the not-for-profit arena. "Kathy has a wonderful, long, and highly respected history in Girl Scouting, and in non-profit leadership," said Jackie Barnes, GSUSA executive vice president/chief operating officer.

With a sense of purpose and a commitment to her own values, Kathy is clear about her role as steward: "I want Girl Scouts continually to increase its strength as a national, aggressive advocate for girls in this country."


Photo of Kathy Cloninger with Brownie and Daisy Girl Scout. (Photo credit: Ernie K. Johnson)A Girl Scout from second through sixth grade in her mother's troop in Dallas, Kathy has been an advocate for girls during much of her career. Her work as an innovator has resulted in impressive accomplishments.

During Kathy's tenure in Nashville (1994-2003), girl membership rose from 18,000 to more than 25,000, an increase of 38 percent. Right before she was named CEO, Kathy and her staff at Cumberland Valley successfully completed a $3.5 million capital campaign, a remarkable achievement considering that the council's annual giving campaign was approximately 15 percent of its annual income.

Kathy is particularly proud of the success of the Cumberland Valley Council's "innovation team" outreach program. Their efforts tripled the number of African American Girl Scouts, increased participation by Latina girls and delivered program to over 1,000 girls in public housing. For their efforts, the team was awarded the Human Relations Award from the National Conference of Community and Justice (formerly The National Conference of Christians and Jews).

The team's approach underscores Kathy's belief about how all great things are achieved: through relationships. "Our team knocked on doors, talked to girls and parents, used a grassroots approach. These families had never been approached before. So we made a commitment to these relationships."


Kathy began her career in the not-for-profit sector as an executive with the YWCA. Between 1983 and 1985, Kathy served as CEO of the Girl Scouts-Mountain Prairie Council in Greeley, Colorado, and in 1986 signed on as a management consultant with GSUSA. Next, she traveled to Girl Scouts of the San Antonio Area Council to work as the CEO. Kathy then joined the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, where she remained as a program officer before returning to Girl Scouting to become CEO of Cumberland Valley in 1993.

In Nashville, Kathy helped to found the Association of Non-Profit Executives and served on boards such as the Center for Non-Profit Management, Leadership Nashville, and the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, winning awards for her leadership along the way. "She's a strong leader and a champion at building coalitions, both things that will benefit women and girls at the national level," said Donna Cheek, chief executive officer, YWCA of Nashville.


As Kathy takes on this new role, she brings to the national level her own brand of determination and commitment.

GSUSA, as Kathy emphatically points out, continues to be—since the days of Juliette Low—on a bold and progressive path, especially in its approach to the nation's teen and 'tween girls. To remain relevant, Kathy believes we all have to be aware of and sensitive to what young girls are experiencing. "They're growing up faster than previous generations," she said. "They're thinking about themselves in different and not always positive ways relative to body image, boys, and career. They're being forced to make adult choices while they're still girls. The beauty of the Movement is that we can help girls feel safe and confident as they grow up."

Kathy applauds the Girl Scout Research Institute and its ability to produce outstanding research. The Institute's original studies, together with information assembled from other experts have helped the Girl Scouts develop innovations such as STUDIO 2BSM, a progressive approach to serving girls 11-17. "We're on the front end of that process right now," said Kathy, "and my goal is to support local councils as they integrate this new approach to serving girls. It really requires a paradigm shift. Some people may wonder if we can make this happen. Well, we can! It's exciting and stimulating."


Clearly, challenges are nothing new to Kathy; in fact, she is energized by them. She wants to talk to everyone about the purpose of Girl Scouts, and she wants to continue to expand our strong corps of volunteers. "We need more volunteers and to expand the kinds of roles volunteers can play."

In the history of Girl Scouts, Kathy will become one of only two CEOs to come directly from managing a council. The other one was Frances Hesselbein. Kathy remarked: "Frances Hesselbein was a major influence on my career and on my goals. Even now, the non-profit community nationwide remembers Frances Hesselbein's commitment to improving the leadership of the non-profit sector."

When asked how Kathy will begin her work at headquarters, her answer is all about people. "I'm very eager to begin establishing relationships with all 315 local Girl Scout CEOs, councils, volunteers, and the GSUSA staff. Most of all, I want girls to know they are powerful, that they have a contribution to make, and that they bring value to their school, community, and work. I want to tap that leadership urge in them."

As the new top advocate for American girls and women, Kathy has the energy, the track record, and the vision to lead the organization into the future. "GSUSA has always selected outstanding chief executive officers, who have contributed in their unique ways to the organization's continuing success. Now I hope to build on their strengths. I am honored to be among them."

GSUSA Chief Executive Officers
Over the last 91 years there have been 18 CEOs. The first three were known as national secretaries and the next four as national directors. From 1935 until 2002, the title was national executive director. Since then, GSUSA's top post has been termed chief executive officer. This title was adopted at the Girl Scout National Council 49th Convention in 2002 to keep in step with contemporary corporate usage.

Edith D. Johnston
June 1913
Cora Neal
June 1914
Montague Gammon
June 1916
Abby Porter Leland
August 1917
Jane Deeter Rippin
February 1919
Josephine Schain
November 1930
Constance Rittenhouse
September 1935
Dorothy C. Stratton
December 1950
Sally Stickney Cortner
July 1960 (Interim)
Louise A. Wood
May 1961
Dr. Cecily Cannan Selby
April 1972
Frank H. Kannis
September 1975 (Interim)
Frances R. Hesselbein
July 1976
Mary Rose Main
February 1990
Joel E. Becker
October 1997 (Interim)
Marsha Johnson Evans
January 1998
Jackie Barnes
July 2002 (Interim)
Kathy Cloninger October 2003