In a few weeks time The Grasslands Trust will be launching its membership scheme. This is a bold move for us and one that we have grappled with over the years given the increasing number of other membership based conservation charities. Will it be a success – or a marketing disaster!
Put simply – we need public support – YOUR SUPPORT: both morally – to give us credence, authority and weight when we talk to partners, government and other influential figures: and financially to provide a regular flow of unrestricted funds to cover core costs.
The cost is £3 a month and in return for joining The Grasslands Trust, you will receive a small number of benefits including wildflower seed for your garden; advise on how to create your garden meadow; a set of four postcards featuring iconic grassland species photographed by our Trustee and renowned wildlife photographer Bob Gibbons; a Field Studies Council guide to grassland plants and two membership magazines a year. If you’d like to sign up and be one of our first members then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org asap! (I would also say that HMRC places very strict rules on membership benefits so this package costs less than 25% of your first year’s donation).
The Grasslands Trust will be ten years old next year and in that time we have raised over £4.5m towards saving and protecting our native wildlife-rich grasslands. This funding has mostly been restricted to projects with specific outcomes and targets and has been fundraised predominantly from independent grant making trusts and charitable foundations. The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, The Dulverton Trust, The Garfield Weston Foundation, and Grantscape to name a few – have transformed what we can do for grassland conservation – from saving and protecting over 250 hectares of incredibly rare wildlife-rich grasslands, to advising hundreds of landowners and members of the public; to influencing the shape of the new England Biodiversity Strategy and rules on permanent pasture – through to establishing a forum for over 50 other grassland practitioners and experts across the UK. Put simply £4.5m has enabled us to consistently punch above our weight in the right areas, time and time again.
As the person responsible for setting strategy, directing where we go and ensuring we deliver what we set out to achieve – this success comes with immense frustrations. I know that there is so much more we could be doing: taking forward the development of a UK wide grassland inventory springs to mind – but to achieve this we need better IT equipment and software, as well as the training to ensure staff can handle sophisticated mapping systems; or improving and enhancing the type of advice we give to members of the public through better signposting on our website, or free online help.
As we grow and expand there are lots of issues like this we need to deal with – but never ever enough funding – or FREE money – and by this (oxymoron) I mean that which isn’t restricted to a project but can actually be spent on the essentials which underpin any charity – indeed any forward looking business. In the fifteen years I have been fundraising I have never found a funder, donor or corporate supporter who will willingly pay for IT installation and software upgrades; cover the annual cost of implementing health and safety, pay for staff training (non-technical) or cover the costs of employing my Finance Officer – the audit, employers liability insurance; the person who picks up the phone and manages the database. It’s always only ever a percentage of the cost or nothing at all. And whilst these backroom costs may only represent between 10 and 15% of annual costs – no-one wants to pay for them because they are perceived as overheads which don’t contribute to delivering the cause. They are in fact the essentials.
There was an article published in Money Week late last month. It was written by Caroline Fiennes, director of Giving Evidence, a company that specialises in giving advice on charity giving. She’s recently written a book called “It ain’t what you give, It’s the way that you give it.”
In the article she says people should avoid the temptation to attach strings to a gift. Stipulating how the money must be spent reduces the donation’s effectiveness, she says. It also presents charities with an administrative nightmare and prevents them from responding to changing situations. She says charities tell her that unrestricted donations are worth twice as much as restricted donations so by avoiding stipulations you are effectively giving 50 per cent extra for free. She says people should do their research into how well run a charity is but she says charities that have received support from charitable trusts and foundation should be a safe bet as grant making trust’s do their own analysis and research into them.
I couldn’t agree more. The Grasslands Trust has established an exemplary track record with grant making trusts, having received donations from over 160 independent trusts and foundations in recent years. Surely this is testament to the way we manage our business and proof enough that by becoming a member your £36 donation will be wisely spent so that we can continue to grow – not just on the surface but under the soil as well.
Lucy Cooper, Chief Executive