Whilst much celebration is undoubtedly taking place in the US in light of the BSA (Boy Scouts of America)’s recent decision to extend their equality policy to adult members, The Irish Times article on the topic last week threw up a very interesting point, probably overlooked by many but of significant relevance to Scouting in Ireland.
The article alluded to pressure being brought to bear on the BSA by Lockheed Martin and Intel, two major sponsors of the organization.
For theirishscouter, the story here was less about the activities of the corporate sponsors and more about their presence as sponsors in the first instance.
Scouting Ireland’s corporate sponsorship portfolio is conspicuous by its absence. This is a huge missed opportunity.
Scouting Ireland expenditure, according to the Finance report at this year’s National Council, is now exceeding association income for the third consecutive year. Scout Group fees have increased to help bridge this gap, but a more sustainable option, that is better for local scouting too, could be readily to hand.
WE NEED A PLAN
With a significant number of employee managers, presumably all recruited for their skill set – plus no shortage of brains among the senior volunteer management, Scouting Ireland has the tools to devise a policy (and an action plan) to seek to proactively develop alternative revenue streams.
Corporate Ireland offers far more than a vast untapped alternative revenue stream opportunity. It offers a chance for Scouting to position itself (accurately) as, among many other things, a unique and reliable source of high quality employees.
SCOUTING FOR A CAREER
Employers in the USA and many other countries around the globe, not only recognize Scouting on a CV as a major advantage, they understand more about what Scouts do, the skill sets they are equipped with and the personal qualities they are far more likely to have. Scouting is taken seriously as a very credible and critically important contributor to civic society.
Scouting in Ireland has long suffered from a coolness deficit with young people. This coolness deficit is not entirely of our making, although we could do more to re-frame the perception. Worse than a coolness deficit however, Scouting suffers from a credibility deficit with employers and corporate entities. Quite simply, Scouting is fairly well regarded as a benign presence in society, but is just not taken seriously as a force for good or a powerhouse of human talent.
CEO’S GENERALLY DON’T WEAR SHORT TROUSERS
We can blame corporate Ireland for this but, unlike the coolness problem, the credibility problem is entirely of our own making. There are multiple factors that drive and promulgate this credibility deficit. The default ‘Enid Blyton’ style take on how Scouting should be presented in public, favoured by traditionalists in positions of power, persists even in the face of heroic efforts by the association’s Communications team to reflect a more accurate picture.
Mildly rotund middle-aged men standing in rows looking, to outsiders, like overgrown twelve year olds in a ‘boy scout’ uniform, is all too often the stock image for the national media – it is a look that does not resonate with hard-nosed business leaders. It equally does little to bolster our ‘youth’ credentials.
When we do half-heartedly try to engage with the political or business sectors, we are ad-hoc and amateurish in our approach. Backslapping, handshaking and churning out platitudes about how many former scouts from another country landed on the moon half a century ago, is not going to cut it.
(Eleven of the twelve astronauts who have landed on the moon were former scouts, in case you were wondering…)
Scouting is also currently a strategy vacuum. We have had no coherent strategy for over half a decade. Cozy consensus among unoriginal thinkers behind closed doors is no substitute for a clearly laid out, widely agreed strategy that everyone can get on board with.
Vision 2020 had a lot going for it, but the critical missing link was the debate. Hence, a membership, frustrated with uninspiring management and out of touch leadership, threw out the policy.
Youth and other volunteer entities that manage to successfully engage with the business sector, do so with a clear vision, a compelling story and the means to involve and align businesses (and possibly brands) with their mission.
AWARENESS AND PERCEPTION
An Irish-born senior executive of a major US food group donated €250K to the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) several years ago. When asked some time later why he did not do similar for Scouting in Ireland, his reply: “I was never asked”.
Theirishscouter, when running the brand strategy of a €1bn Irish food group several years ago, discounted Scouting from a potential sponsorship deal worth €100K at an early stage because it was clear that the people in Scouting who would need to engage with the business, would be completely out of their depth and unable to deliver on their side of the deal. The sponsorship went to the IRFU.
Scouting, when on a CV in Ireland for any serious or senior role is often more of a hindrance than a benefit. This needs to change.
Mention Scouting to most business leaders and, if they know what it is unprompted (not always guaranteed), they rarely display an understanding that is anything close to reality. Fewer still display enthusiasm. Scouts and Scouters are not regarded as being advantageous over other groups, to the success of the business. They should be.
Politicians and business leaders who are former rugby players, GAA members, mountaineers, soccer aficionados’ frequently and proudly associate themselves with these games and pursuits. These references on a CV make a difference. They open doors.
TIME FOR ACTION
Scouting Ireland spent €2,098,613 on staff costs and administration in 2013 (source: Companies Registration Office). In this context, some modest investment in a corporate engagement strategy looks like it could be money well spent.
A corporate engagement strategy, designed to raise awareness, correct misconceptions, help with the employment prospects of our members and ultimately develop revenue streams, needs to be rooted in an association strategy if it is to be sustainable and credible. But the groundwork can begin whilst this strategy is being developed.
There are thousands of corporations in Ireland – global, multinational and indigenous – who are actively seeking the best young people our country can offer. There are millions of euros available each year from business to support organisations such as Scouting Ireland. We simply need to get the right strategy and people in place to deliver on this agenda.
Scouting cannot continue to remain disengaged at National level from societal realities. We owe it to our members to make Scouting look as great in the nations eyes as it really is. We owe it to our young members to make the word ‘scout’ on a CV the guarantee of an interview.
This will require vision and leadership in a different league to what we have had before. Fortunately, the current NMC, including those elected in April, looks to have the right composition to make this happen.
The association should appoint a ‘Business Ambassador’, accountable directly to the National Secretary and/or Chief Scout with a brief to engage with corporate entities. We surely have enough members who can combine knowledge of how the corporate sector works, with the communication skills and passion to get this critical initiative off the ground.
We need to build our reputation through communication and develop revenue streams over time through positive collaboration.
The opportunities are there.
Time to act.