Fundraiser of the Week: Karl Mitchell of the Woodland Trust

The director of fundraising at the conservation charity talks to Third Sector about Aston Villa, building bespoke relationships with supporters and having passion for your cause

Karl Mitchell
Karl Mitchell

How long have you been in your role?

Seventeen years. My responsibilities have changed a lot during this time to mirror our supporters’ needs and the fact that trees and woods in the UK have never been more vulnerable than they are now.

What is the best thing about your role?

Meeting and working with so many people who share my passion for nature and the environment. These include passionate colleagues and volunteers, together with a fabulous array of supporters, ranging from our members to those with the foresight to leave us gifts in their wills, and to the many partners who choose to invest in our work for the benefit of people and wildlife.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role? 

Building bespoke relationships with hundreds of thousands of supporters. This requires good data, insight and understanding, plus the ability to map out and deliver the supporter journeys most relevant to our supporters. I want all of our supporters to have a great experience with us, to feel appreciated and to understand the impact their support, whether that be money, time or voice, is having for trees and woods.

What is your charity’s main income stream? What are the positive aspects of that and what are some of the challenges? 

Regular giving through our individual membership programme and legacy income, which often also comes from our valuable members. The positive aspects are that, if you build strong relationships with your supporters, this income can be sustainable and is often unrestricted, enabling us to spend the funds where we feel they can make the most difference for trees and woods. The challenges are reaching new supporters in a cost-effective way in order to inspire them about our cause.

What do you do to switch off from work? 

Travel and sport. I enjoy playing most sports and, for my sins, watching Aston Villa. I also love visiting different places and especially seeing the amazing wildlife that our planet has to offer. I only wish we would do a better job at protecting their valuable habitats!

What qualities do you believe are important in a good fundraiser?

I believe you need to be passionate about the cause you’re championing. I also feel you need excellent relationship skills so you can collaborate effectively with your colleagues, understand the motivations of your supporters and, importantly, build trust with them so that their experience with you is a long-lasting and memorable one.

What makes a good corporate partnership?

Synergy and respect between the partners, understanding the needs and clarifying the expectations of both parties in order to plan a partnership that is mutually beneficial. Then having these defined in a contract. I think it is important that a charity account manager takes responsibility for managing the partnership and building good relationships with employees of the company, so that any opportunities or risks can be dealt with effectively.

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