Profile: Simon Bernstein, Friends of the Earth - Taking a lead role in Friends/Friends of the Earth welcomes a man who’s done a lot of work for charity

Environmental charity Friends of the Earth had its halcyon days during the ’green boom’ of the late 1980s. In the person of Jonathon Porritt, its director of the time, it had one of the most visible and effective pressure group campaigners in the country. But Porritt departed back in 1990 and as the recession bit and media coverage of environmental stories waned, membership fell.

Environmental charity Friends of the Earth had its halcyon days

during the ’green boom’ of the late 1980s. In the person of Jonathon

Porritt, its director of the time, it had one of the most visible and

effective pressure group campaigners in the country. But Porritt

departed back in 1990 and as the recession bit and media coverage of

environmental stories waned, membership fell.



For some, the nadir came with the Twyford Down anti-road protests. The

charity opposed direct action, perhaps failing to grasp the level of

public antipathy to the project.



Since 1993 Friends of the Earth has been led by Charles Secrett who has

worked to move the charity away from single issue environmentalism to a

broader focus on issues within a social, economic and community

context.



Membership has stabilised and the organisation appears to be growing in

influence once more.



’They seem to be thriving again,’ says Guardian environment editor John

Vidal. ’They had a good year with the Newbury Bypass and seem to be

involved with direct action. There’s a tingle about them at the

moment.’



It is against this background that 34-year-old Simon Bernstein has

arrived as director of communications and fundraising. He heads up a

team of 20 created through a 1996 internal reorganisation which combined

fundraising with information and publications.



’The FoE brand is already strong,’ says Bernstein. ’My challenge is to

make it stronger, clearer and more focused than before. We need to

fund-raise around what the organisation stands for rather than just

using specific appeals that prompt a knee-jerk reaction. And we must try

and build our supporter base because that not only brings us funds but

gives us political clout.’



The charity has remained fiercely independent throughout its 26-year

history and its reluctance to throw in its lot with one party or another

has added to the respect it is given. Bernstein believes that what the

organisation stands for should be underlined as a way of differentiating

it from rivals for eco-funding such as Greenpeace.



’The main difference is we are community based,’ he says. ’Greenpeace, I

feel, talks down to its members. We are a grassroots organisation with

250 local groups.’



In order to stand out and convey its values, the charity intends to

launch a ’brand image development’ campaign through ad agency Leagas

Shafron Davis. Six months from now Bernstein’s aim is for there to be

clarity on ’who we are, what we say and how we say it.’



PR will be an important tool in reaching this goal but it will be

employed as part of mix including advertising, direct mail, the Internet

and the charity’s own well-regarded quarterly publication, Earth

Matters. But what of direct action? Given the level of public and media

interest in the recent exploits of activists - one might call it Swampy

fever - is the charity giving these crusaders on the ground its full

support?



Bernstein looks uneasy when the question is put to him, and declines to

give a full answer, either on or off the record. The impression one gets

is that Friends of Earth is (unlike five years ago) fully behind these

interventionist protests but cannot be seen to be condoning them.



RNIB director of communications Lynne Stockbridge, who worked with

Bernstein at the NSPCC, says he is a ’born diplomat’. A precious skill

in a field where passions often run high.



’He’s good at enrolling lots of people in terms of his way of thinking,’

adds Marcus Brown, account director at NSPCC’s ad agency Saatchi and

Saatchi.



’He’s very personable and takes a great deal of interest in people.’



Bernstein recently took a year out from work to study for an MBA at

Imperial College - living on sandwiches and cycling everywhere (what

better green credentials?). He deliberately chose a course slanted

towards commercial organisations over one tailored to the non-profit

sector: his thinking being that it is essential to understand the

private sector’s commercial imperatives when raising money.



But should the brand-building and market positioning strategy fail to

generate enough cash and exposure there’s always the option of a quiet

word with Swampy - and perhaps a tunnel into the Bank of England.



HIGHLIGHTS

1987: Leisure projecte leader, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham

1990: Communications manager NSPCC

1996: Consultant to the Royal National Institute for the Blind

1997: Director of communications and fundraising, Friends of the Earth



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