It is many successful people’s dream to work for a charity, to give something back after years of good fortune. They wistfully imagine a work environment free from the stresses and vicissitudes that dogged their regular working life, comforted by the knowledge that every day they are making a difference.
Sadly, the harsh realities of working for a charity can be very different. Their structure and accountability involve new levels of bureaucracy, and while some charitable institutions and trusts are very well run, others are characterised by infighting and poorly performing volunteers.
Effective turn-around experts are always highly prized, especially in the charity sector. A prime example is Mark Rose, chief executive of Fauna and Flora International, whose mission statement is ‘to act to conserve threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and take into account human needs’.
His first foreign adventure was in Africa when he was 16, inspired by Gerald Durrell, only returning because he realized he needed a degree to advance his prospects in the conservation industry. After reading zoology at Royal Holloway College, he spent three years as a wildlife officer in Papua New Guinea before embarking as a career as a crocodile rancher.
To the untrained eye, this could look like changing sides, moving from saving an endangered species to harvesting them for profit. Rose argues strongly for the need to control and legitimize the process, to marginalize illegal smugglers who had driven crocodiles to near extinction.
He also learned the excellent entrepreneurial strategy of running symbiotic businesses. The crocodile farm was synergistic with a poultry business whose offal provided food for the animals, a local coffee plantation and a small commercial airline, which exported these and other goods.
Rose returned to England to work with The Wildlife Trusts, and in 1993 was headhunted for Flora & Fauna International, which at the time was largely moribund with half-a-dozen people working in a dingy basement.
Back then they had three projects in two countries, an income of £85,000 and a growing deficit. Today Flora & Fauna International has 141 projects in 40 countries and an annual turnover of £15m.
Rose explains that a charity has its own particular challenges, especially on the finance side. While £100,000 of revenue can represent a significant cash flow to a regular company, in a charity this money is strictly ring-fenced, with perhaps only £5,000 available to develop the business.
Charities are also measured differently, not so much by their profit and loss accounts more by their impact. In his case this represents the number of acres covered, how many species have been saved, and their ability to influence key corporations into biodiversity, including Rio Tinto Zinc, British American Tobacco and BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company
Rose advises that charities first identify their precise raison d’être,what they can do that other people cannot. Then, they should build up small organisations with strong links to the local communities, not just satellite offices around the world.
Finally, they should stick with the task; Fauna & Flora works in conflict and post-conflict environments, often biding their time until local circumstances enable them to expand their operations effectively.
Charities have one similarity with other business entities; it is all about the people. In Rose’s case this is hiring only the best, and when necessary picking up the phone to the right people.
One such phone call raised a $23m contribution, while another arranged a crucial lunch between David Attenborough and Stephen Fry who is now an enthusiastic and high profile ambassador making a real difference.
Fauna & Flora International can be found at www.fauna-flora.org