Fundraiser of the Week: Rachel Groves of the Sumatran Orangutan Society

The development director of the society talks to Third Sector about demonstrating impact, paid trusteeships and superpowers

Rachel Groves
Rachel Groves

What’s the best thing about your role?

I have been in my role for 16 months. The best thing about my role is the sheer variety. One day I might be talking to a lady who is passionate about orangutans and spends every evening watching the live webcam at the San Diego zoo orangutan enclosure. The next I might be trying to write a film script for a campaign we want to run, or attending a glittering fundraising dinner.

What’s the most challenging thing about your role?

The most challenging thing about my role is finding a way to demonstrate our impact to donors. We can say "we rescued x number of orangutans" or "we planted x number of trees", but it’s very hard to measure the impact of our behind-the-scenes work meeting with government ministers, police and local communities. How do you measure trees that didn’t get chopped down? However you approach it, the figures are dubious.

Do you think fundraising has changed since you have been involved with it, and how?

I've been in fundraising since 2001 and I'm not sure it has changed that much. For most fundraisers it has always been about making the donor feel appreciated, thanking them properly and trying to build a lasting relationship with them. I think we are given a tougher reception than we used to be by the press and I'm sure some of it is deserved, but I do wish the sector did a better job of defending the honest, scrupulous, kind fundraisers who make up the vast majority of this profession.

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

The charity's main income is from individuals, corporates and major donors. We also get money from sponsored challenges and school fundraising. I think the variety is healthy, because it means we are less dependent on one thing, should it go wrong. But it does mean it can be challenging to juggle all the competing priorities.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for the sector in the year ahead?

I think the biggest challenge for the sector will be getting the balance right between telling great stories about how donors’ money has helped beneficiaries and telling the truth. It’s still hard to show genuine long-term impact, but it doesn’t stop people claiming it. We need to make sure we don’t overclaim when demonstrating results to donors and erode more trust in the sector.

Would you like to see more done to support fundraisers? If so, what?

Honestly, what do I think would help fundraisers the most? Paid trusteeships, with a view to recruiting more trustees with a genuine understanding of fundraising. For example, if you had a fundraiser who wanted to become a trustee of another charity, their fee would go to their employer to free up their time.

What’s your favourite book and why?

My favourite book is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Racism, pig-headedness, stupidity, resilience, love – it’s got it all and has really stayed with me. 

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

It would be to send an invisible pinch or punch to anyone about to mistreat someone. Say you are just about to pinch someone's bum, you suddenly feel a pinch on your own bum. Or you're about to shoot an orangutan, and all of a sudden you are punched in the face. It would freak people out, right? Instant karma. Hours of fun!

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