Weber Shandwick Scotland MD, Moray Macdonald, shares his Scouts adventure to help more companies understand the wider benefits of voluntary work.
Moray Macdonald’s earliest memory of scouting is of sitting round the campfire in Brora and soaking up the fun, friendship and games during a two-week summer camp. These days you’re more likely to find him sitting round the boardroom table, debating the future of Scouts Scotland.
After six years as chair of Scouts Scotland, the MD of marketing and communications agency Weber Shandwick Scotland passionately believes that working in the voluntary sector can provide business leaders with significant professional benefits.
Moray joined his local Inverness Scout group when he was eight years old. By his early twenties he’d earned top youth accolade, the Queen’s Scout Award, but soon after he drifted away from the movement. 15 years later he found himself back in the Scouts, this time as a member of the board.
“At Scouts Scotland I’ve been exposed to a very different organisational culture, working with people across a vast volunteer led network,” he says. “Sitting on the board has given me invaluable boardroom experience including project and team management, and I’ve learnt the kind of leadership and team skills that you don’t acquire in a typical corporate environment.”
Moray says companies need to understand the wider benefits senior voluntary roles provide: “It’s been great for Weber Shandwick, too; bringing new networking opportunities as well as providing me with fresh expertise that can be transferred directly to my day job.”
By the time he joined the board in 2013, Moray was already MD of Weber Shandwick’s Scottish arm. He says: “Having come out as gay, I had wondered if there would be a place for me in the Scouts, but on my return I discovered it had changed fundamentally. It had become much more inclusive, encouraging girls to join (they accounted for 48 per cent of new members last year), and going out of their way to demonstrate their inclusivity by attending pride marches in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. It had worked hard to modernise and stay relevant.”
Scouts Scotland has been through a series of changes including a governance review that opened board membership to a wider range of candidates. A senior civil servant and local authority leader were among volunteers from outside the membership to join the board.
“It wasn’t just the Scouts that had changed during my absence. During my time away I had developed my career in public affairs and marketing. That time out was very valuable. It meant I could see the organisation as an outsider, and bring my skills to the table during a period of significant organisational change,” says Moray.
Chief executive Katie Docherty has been charged with professionalising the organisation, including raising its standing among stakeholder and government groups.
Earlier this year, Scouts Scotland published their new five year strategy. “Skills for life” focuses on four key strategic areas: helping scouting grow by recruiting more volunteers, becoming more inclusive with a membership that better reflects Scotland’s demographic, and making a bigger impact in local communities.
The fourth area is focused on developing the skills and competencies that young people gain when they join, and helping them better understand and articulate these. Scouts can increasingly expect to take on leadership and decision-making roles, including directing the board.
Moray believes that this is a critical step forward for Scouting in Scotland: “The very essence of Skills for Life is helping young people develop the skills that will lead to successful futures. I know from personal experience of employing young people that the best candidates are those who can demonstrate teamwork, leadership skills and the ability to take initiative. Organisations like the Scouts offer the perfect environment to build up those competences and increase employability.
“At Weber Shandwick we’ve taken on seven apprentices over the past two years, and the impact they’ve had has been amazing. They bring skills to our industry that we really need now, be that computer, social media and design skills or experience in creating videos or animations. These specific skills make a real impact on what we can offer clients.”
Moray steps down from Scouts Scotland next year after completing his six-year tenure in the chair. He adds: “There’s no doubt that chairing the board of a large volunteer led organisation like Scouts Scotland is challenging, but it’s also richly rewarding.
“I’ve learned the value of volunteering and the need to encourage it in the workforce. When I see so many adults willing to volunteer their time to support and develop young people in their communities, and I see those young people growing into the leaders of the future, it fills me with optimism.”