EVERY COUNCIL STARTS off the year with a grand Cookie Kick-Off celebration, but then each one must come up with its own creative ideas for maintaining enthusiasm and sales throughout the remaining three months.

Some councils call in experts to rally the troops. The Trillium Council in Pittsburgh piloted Win-Win: How to Get What You Want, a badge developed by negotiation expert Linda Babcock that's based on her recent book Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. "It's the same concept as in my college courses," says Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. "When you go into a negotiation, you need to think of an alternative for if you don't agree, think about the other side's perspective, and develop a strategy for what you're trying to get."

Other councils turn to technology. Because of safety and security concerns, Scouts are prohibited from selling cookies online. Still, cyberspace is transforming what was traditionally a very low-tech, paperwork-intensive cookie program. The national Girl Scouts office has launched a cyberspace cookie headquarters - GirlScoutCookies.org- where consumers can enter their zip codes to find out when and where to purchase cookies in their area. And on the ever-popular MySpace.com, the Scouts' new page tempts taste buds with cookie photos and vintage Girl Scout cookie ads, which also can be viewed on YouTube.com and found through search engines such as Yahoo! and Google.

The Patriots' Trail Council, in Boston, has revolutionized its cookie sale by adopting QuickBase for Corporate Workgroups, an online database program. "QuickBase allows us to look at our data on a daily or weekly basis and make decisions that impact the sale as it is going on," says Barbara Fortier, COO of the Patriots' Trail Council.

For example, after analyzing individual Girl Scout sales records, the council added additional sales incentives at 25 and 50 boxes in order to encourage Scouts to raise their sales goals. It worked: The average sales level has risen from the mid-60s to 72 per girl over the past five years, and between 2005 and 2006, the number of girls reaching the 500 Club (as in boxes sold) rose 70 percent, to 57.

Still other councils have found sales success with creative partnerships. In Oakland, California, the Scouts teamed up with the California Milk Processor Board on a "Got Milk?" billboard featuring Girl Scout cookies. In Hawaii, the state's Macadamia Nut Association partnered with the Girl Scouts to launch a new cookie, Aloha Chips, in conjunction with the grower organization's own public-awareness push.

Without a doubt, the most successful recent partnership has been Operation Thin Mint. Over the past six years, the Girl Scouts San Diego-Imperial Council has teamed with APL shipping company and naval logisticians in the U.S. Pacific Fleet to send more than a million donated boxes of Girl Scout cookies to servicemen and servicewomen overseas. Dozens of councils nationwide have since copied the program successfully, but it was in San Diego that the concept for "a taste of home and a note to show we care" started and blossomed.

"Everyone in San Diego has either a family member or a neighbor who serves in the military," says Jo Dee Jacob, CEO of Girl Scouts San Diego-Imperial Council. "Everyone is touched by what is happening overseas. That is why Operation Thin Mint is uniquely successful."

And that’s why Victoria was so successful as well. For when she sang “Tagalongs for Daddy,” she spoke the truth: Her father received Operation Thin Mint cookies while serving overseas in the Navy. If prospective cookie customers declined to purchase cookies for themselves, Victoria could usually persuade them to buy a box for Operation Thin Mint because of her guarantee that they would reach their target. When Victoria finally reached her target, her father was there, in uniform, on the deck of the USS Midway, watching proudly as the helicopter lifted off.

How the cookie crumbles

Each year, two licensed bakers offer up to eight varieties of cookies, which the National Girl Scouts Organization reviews and approves. Five varieties fluctuate, such as the current offerings of the biscotti-like café cookie and the diabetic-friendly sugar free little brownies, according to health and popular trends. The remaining three varieties are mandatory: peanut butter sandwich cookies (a.k.a. do-si-dos), shortbread/trefoils, and thin mints. All the thin mint addicts out there (and you know who you are) have made it not only the most popular girl scout cookie (accounting for 25 percent of sales) but also the third-best-selling cookie nationwide, behind oreos and chips ahoy, despite the fact that the cookie is available only three months each year.