Hello! This is my first blog so please bear with me while I find my feet. This is the result of a very productive two days with Mark Avery, an independent environmental expert and former Conservation Director for the RSPB. The purpose of our two day workshop was to explore how The Grasslands Trust can improve its external communications and get our message out their not just to decision makers and landowners, but – just as important – the general public. Hence one of the outcomes was to increase the amount we blog by encouraging everyone at the Trust to contribute – staff, trustees and volunteers – so like all good Chief Executives I thought I would lead by example – and, not to mention, give my Conservation Director, Miles King a break!
I’m currently sat on tenter hooks waiting to hear the outcome of a funding bid to the John Ellerman Foundation, which if successful will enable us to employ our first Director of Communications. This will represent a turning point for The Grasslands Trust as we will be able to get lots of new ideas and initiatives off the ground – membership being one of the most important.
Personally I am not a joiner – but I understand why people like to be a member of an organisation and the value an organisation such as The Grasslands Trust, should place on attracting committed regular support: if anything it boosts one’s (and by one I mean an organisation’s) sense of purpose. It represents a powerful indicator to the decision-makers that our work is trusted and that there is a strong belief in what we do. It also creates confidence – to say to those at the top that they should pay attention. I am minded at this point of a lovely anecdote from Mark about a meeting he had with Chris Huhne – who happens to be our local MP – and the fact that his constituency majority was significantly less than the number of RSPB members living in Eastleigh!
In the six years I have been here, The Grasslands Trust has been incredibly fortunate to have had the support of over 500 individuals and 150 funders – from the Heritage Lottery Lottery Fund who last May awarded us £1.4m towards the acquisition of Bury farm which we have had to sadly return because the owners withdrew from the sale, to the very small family trust who gives £100.
I spend most of my time fundraising because it’s what I do best, and like all charities – a healthy cashflow that provides security into the future is absolutely essential. At the moment – we’ve got a lot of money to raise if we are going to deliver the grassland projects we want to and continue making a difference and obviously in this climate – raising funds is doubly difficult. We are always mindful of costs: we operate a two year rolling budget and we keep a tight rein on expenditure so at the moment I know that for every one pound spent 86p goes directly to the front line – whether it’s giving advice to members of the public; carrying out habitat management work, training volunteers or advocating the importance of the EIA (Agriculture) Regulations to the European Commission.
Apparently I am one of a rare breed in the charity sector – a Chief Executive who has worked her way up from being a fundraiser. There are not many of us – less than 3% according to Third Sector. In some respects this is true of my background – I think I’ve raised over £10m for conservation over the years – but I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have been involved in marketing, business strategy, financial management, project development and delivery – all within the non-profit making sector. I also love telling a story (that’s the English and Drama graduate emerging) and that to me is the power of fundraising – creating a narrative about your organisation that captivates and wins the heart. I am a great believer in the power of emotion and sometimes I feel that this is missing from the politics of conservation – sometimes I feel the science takes over – in terms of the targets and numbers and that the ‘powers that be’ forget that there is an intrinsic, spiritual and subliminal value to nature which is often the fundamental reason most of us became engaged in conservation in the first place.
The Grasslands Trust’s vision is that one day we will all live near a wildlife-rich grassland. Our strapline is “for people and wildlife”. It’s more than just the biodiversity – it’s also just as much about the value people place on grasslands; their archaeological, historical, recreational, social and cultural value. But how do you measure these factors easily and in a way which is meaningful? After a meeting with HLF last week – I know that it’s not quantity that matters – when it comes to inspiring and engaging people – but quality and that leads to my reason for this blog – to find out what wildlife and in particular – our wildlife rich grasslands mean to you. Send us your thoughts, your stories and memories, your poetry, pictures and photos and let us capture this and find a way of sharing so that we can all see for ourselves the ‘invisible’ value we place on these beautiful special wild places.