Karen Mitchell | Conservation Communications and Fundraising

Karen Mitchell is the Relationships Manager for Trees for Life, a re-wilding charity based in Scotland. She is passionate about conservation communications and fundraising; getting the message out and raising support. She told Conservation Careers how to get your foot in the door, and key ways to make an impact…

Starting out in conservation communications

The conservation industry is competitive and that includes working in the communications and fundraising sectors. With vacancies often attracting hundreds of applications, your CV needs to stand out. Here, previous volunteer experience will go a long way.

“When I am recruiting, I look to see what else they offer beyond just qualifications. I look for experience, whether paid or voluntary – has the applicant done any fundraising, have they run any events or raised money, or written a blog.

“If I am looking for someone to come work with me in income generation, then I want to see that it is not just theoretical and qualifications. I want to see they have then applied it and they have learned from that,” she said.

Corporates are not always the bad guy

The corporate giants can intimidate some job seekers, who may think it is not for them. But, these companies can offer experience which you can later apply to charity positions.

“You will get opportunities for training and you can change roles once you are in. I had several different roles within the same large organisation and that is what gave me the chance to discover how much I loved communicating and running campaigns,” she said.

It also provides networking opportunities as you get the chance to go to conferences and find out who is doing what. The conservation world is small and you can pick-up opportunities for jobs or hear about research or funding opportunities by being in that network,” she advised.

Big fish, small pond

On the other hand, an alternative is applying for positions off the beaten track and outside of the big cities.

“When we are recruiting, we do not get as many candidates – considering how fantastic Trees for Life is – because of the remote location we are in. If you want the job, you may have more chance of getting through the door as there is less competition,” she said.

Her final advice is to not give up.

“It makes me excited that there people coming through and looking at conservation as a career. It shows there is still hope,” she enthused.

Karen Mitchell | Conservation Communication and Fundraising

Karen Mitchell | Conservation Communication and Fundraising


Know your audience

Different people will respond to campaigns differently. Tailor marketing and calls to action to specific people, rather than a generic mailout.

“Some people are comfortable in signing up as a member, other people want to be able to respond to a particular project. We have some supporters who really care about trees. Others are keen on the wildlife that is associated, and they will respond to that,” she said.

Social media

No surprises for this inclusion. For a bigger return, Karen recommends the rigorous use of the one-third principle.

“A third of our posts are about what we are doing. A third is what we need – people to book, volunteer, donate, sponsor. And a third is effectively curating content, looking across the world and finding interesting titbits about what other people are doing in relation to wild forest wildlife and trees,” she said.

“We share this stuff with our followers and, actually, that is the bit that gets people interest and puts us in front of a larger audience. We are quite rigorous in how we use social media and are having to keep-up and look at what we can do to keep abreast of developments,” she added.

Don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket

Trees for life use a mixture of both technology and traditional methods. Social media gets them in front of a larger audience, but direct mail is responsible for a higher proportion of their monetary donations.

“People will like and follow us on social media, and it helps spread the word and increase our reach, but in terms of the average donation per head, what comes through as a result our direct mail to supporters is greater. I think old fashioned post is an antidote to inboxes getting filled-up. We send out a member magazine and people are much more likely to read it physically than on emails,” she said.

Create a sense of urgency but keep a sense of humour

Karen is aware that the younger generation are the re-wilders of the future. She therefore enjoys creating a sense of urgency in the messaging, making it accessible and attractive to this generation.

Keeping a human element also has proved a successful tool as it connects to people on a different level.

“I think it really helps if you can bring some humour into asking people and individuals for support, showing that you are human and can see the funny side of things,” she advised.

Fundraising – hard work but rewarding

With so many worthy causes all clamouring for attention and finances, getting your project to stand out is one of the biggest challenges for any conservation charity. But, a clear message will allow potential donors to have a clear understanding of what you stand for.

“I find fundraising uplifting and energising, as it involves experiencing, every day, how much people care about the natural environment and how much they want to help out, both financially and in other ways,” she said.

“I feel like I have been tremendously lucky because my job is my calling. I love every single day. Before I moved to work in nature conservation I used to have that horrible Sunday evening feeling of not wanting to go in to work on Monday – I haven’t had that feeling in years,” she concluded.

For more information visit www.treesforlife.org.uk or www.facebook.com/treesforlifeuk.

Careers Advice, Interviews, Senior Level, Communicator