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The Importance of Membership to Conservation

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Logo: Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust
Picture of David standing on a path in the woods
David (Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust)

Take a flick through any conservation charity’s supporter magazine, and you won’t be entirely surprised to find lots of content reflecting the primary cause of the charity: conservation. You may see references, or a page or two about the supporter and how their funding allows the important work to continue, but it’s entirely reasonable to argue that the purpose of the magazine is to showcase the conservation, rather than talk about what makes it possible. Therefore, membership and donor support staff are often overlooked. But these are vital professional roles that need to be completed with skill, accuracy and a determination to provide exceptional customer service on each and every interaction.

To understand the role of the membership team, one needs to first understand the members, and what it is that makes them so important. Rather cynically, perhaps, we should start any investigation by following the money: first and foremost, having a dedicated, engaged supporter base means that the charity has a steady, predictable income stream, which can allow the organisation to budget for the year ahead, comfortable in the knowledge that the financial support expected at the start of the year, is by and large, what has come in by the end of it. Members also provide clout. When attempting to influence decision-makers, The Wildlife Trusts can boast over 911,000 members (1) across the country (split over 46 individual trusts) – that’s (not accounting for duplicates) around 911,000 people who are a voice for nature at a local level. Engaged members may well become volunteers, leave a gift in their Will, or simply spread the word, and every single one of these actions makes a difference.

Membership and Donor Support is a great way into conservation, even (and perhaps especially) if it’s not something you’re expert in already. The role is going to be in front of a computer and on the end of the phone, so being able to correctly identify a bird species from their song is not going to be a necessity. As in most organisation, we can learn and absorb information from those around us, and the conservation team of a conservation charity is going to be full of experts to learn from! Having the passion, propensity and will to learn is more important in this role than specific environmental knowledge.

In smaller charities, such as each of the individual wildlife trusts, there may be as few as one or two members of staff looking after, not only Membership, but other facets of Individual Giving. Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust, where I am Individual Giving Manager, is one such example. I also work in a largely remote capacity, with two part-time staff and one long-standing volunteer (who also works remotely). Between us, we look after over 7,000 members and other donors, by phone, email and the occasional letter. Particularly in my absence from the office, my team have to remain organised, professional and adapt to changing priorities. In recognition of this, they are trusted to manage their time as they see fit, covering absences between themselves.

Picture of the materials inside a membership pack
Membership pack (Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust)

On top of the customer service aspects of their roles, the team will handle deliveries into the office, sending packs out of the office (in our case by taking the post to the post office on their way home), moving stock materials around, whilst processing payments, Direct Debits and Gift Aid and maintaining the records held by the Trust. To do this, they have a specialised CRM which holds and processes a lot of data and, as such, they may be called upon by other areas of the organisation to provide support or simply maintain a presence in the office. A small team also means I have to get involved with the day-to-day work, and it’s great to keep my hand in.

If and when my team members choose move on to newer and bigger challenges, the hope is that I have allowed them to build on their own personal curiosity, discretion and flexibility. They may not learn about the subtle differences of invertebrate species from me, but they are free to explore this and myriad other topics themselves, from the experts with whom they interact daily. What I and the charity will have prepared them for, however, is a whole range of administrative roles in any number of fields rather than keeping them fixed onto one narrow career path from which they would struggle to deviate.

So, should you work in membership support for a conservation charity? If you’ve got common sense, an eye for detail and enjoy work that can be routine but can vary at the drop of a hat, and have a passion (but not necessarily a lot of knowledge) about the natural world, you should definitely consider it. And if you go on to develop even more passion, it could become a springboard into a role more practically based in conservation, with the added bonus of an understanding of a different but vital part of your organisation.

David Green is the Individual Giving Manager at Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust, https://www.bbcwildlife.org.uk 


References

1 The Wildlife Trusts, (n.d.), About Us, available at https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/about-us (accessed 15 September 2023)

 

First published in CJS Focus on Conservation Support Services on 16 October 2023. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 12/10/2023

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