ONE WORD POPS up repeatedly throughout the cookie sale: goals. Each Girl Scout writes her personal and troop goals on her cookie order form so that she can keep them in front of herself and her customers. "Research shows that girls who set goals and share them [with their customers] sell more cookies," says Mona Sullivan, communications manager for Tres Condados Council in Santa Barbara, California.

For many Scouts, their individual goal and a particular sales level are one and the same. Each council offers different incentive prizes at sales levels ranging from 12 boxes (participation patch) to 2,000-plus boxes. The prizes are cumulative and create a push-pull effect; as the girls earn progressively more valuable prizes, they often push themselves harder to reach an even higher sales goal.

For example, on her climb up the sales ladder, Victoria collected stuffed animals (350 boxes), a sleepover at SeaWorld (500 boxes), a photo caravan at a wild-animal park (1,000 boxes), and a sleepover and $100 council bucks to spend on Girl Scout merchandise (1,500 boxes). When the helicopter ride was within arm's reach, she made a last-minute push and took on unsold boxes from another troop to close the gap and reach her final goal, selling 2,006 boxes. "I just kept going until I got that helicopter ride," she says.

The trinkets offered at the lower sales levels don't appeal much to older Girl Scouts. Instead, they opt to earn more for each box sold in order to fund troop and individual activities such as camps and trips. Girl Scouts 11 to 17 often set a multiyear sales goal and bank their earnings to underwrite a trip that's planned for two or three years later. "The multiyear sales goal is one of the most successful retention tools we've found for girls of that age level," Cloninger says.

But as the ABC Bakers' Catch Goals campaign at their website (www.abcsmartcookies.com) reminds Scouts, a goal without a plan is just a wish. "The Cookie Program is a year-round effort," says Lisa Johnson, chief marketing and development officer for Girl Scouts of Palm Glades Council in Jupiter, Florida. "The girls work with their leaders to plan the activities they want to do throughout the year, develop budgets and plans of action, determine how many boxes they need to sell [to fund those activities], and develop sales strategies."