Rebecca Munro is Executive Director, Fundraising & Communications for the RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). Prior to that she was Director of Communications and Advocacy for the Girl Guides at the International Secretariat. Before moving into the Third Sector, she had marketing roles in the IT and Telecommunications industry, including at Vodafone.
You need to be resilient to external economic shocks. It is not just resilience — it is also responsiveness and the ability to innovate quickly. You need to be innovative about different funding products and technology to deliver those. You need to be able to respond and react to different compliance regimes, like GDPR for instance. Covid is just the latest one in that trend. So we need to look at how we diversify income, but also get better at being more responsive.
There can be a culture clash between a commercial brain and a charity brain. Not in terms of skills or ability, but with things like pace. How do you make charities be more responsive and drive pace more? How can you have a greater appetite for risks? That feeds into that innovations pace, does it not? How do you learn to fail fast and fail small so that you do not fail big? And I think there is a lot to learn from a commercial partner or just the commercial sector in general.
I have never had more conversations about toilets in my entire life. Our visitor visits operations team has had to cope with very fluid government guidelines during Covid — opening them up and then closing them down. You can imagine the logistics of doing that across 220 sites around the UK. But our people are really committed to what we are doing, and they are really committed to the place that we have in people’s hearts and minds in their communities. And they went above and beyond what was required of them in a day to day job, and that is inspiring.
Our heritage is also our baggage. We are a Victorian charity, a hundred and thirty-odd years old. We have all the baggage that entails, as well as having Royal in our title. What is also true is that nature has never been higher on the public agenda. People are more aware that it is in crisis and that we are in the middle of a nature and climate emergency. Where the RSPB brand needs to be is in that space between love of nature and awareness that nature is in crisis. I think that previously our brand has probably been quite passive. So: ‘give the RSPB some money and we will go off and save nature for you’. That isn’t enough now.
How do we become a much more active brand? How do we become an activator of people in the fight to revive our world, in the solution towards that climate and ecological emergency? Our brand has to walk that very fine line between threat and solution. Threat as a key component of a brand does not work, especially when the issues of planetary destruction just feel too big to deal with. So how do you keep it real enough that people feel empowered to be part of the solution rather than to distance themselves from it?
Be bolder earlier. I’ve learnt to not always wait for the whole answer to appear — sometimes you need to step out into an abyss and trust that the path will be revealed. I have stayed at a job for too long, for instance. It is about making bolder decisions earlier and trusting your instinct a bit more.
I try not to worry about what the end result is. Charities generally work on these huge big issues that seem unsolvable, such as climate breakdown and catastrophic ecosystem declines. You cannot think about them at that level. You have to think that you are making a difference, one step at a time. I get out of bed every morning to say: what is the small thing I can do today to be part of the solution to the climate and nature emergency?
Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.