Profile: Joe Jenkins, director of fundraising, comms and activism, Friends of the Earth

The director of fundraising, comms and activism at FoE talks to Matt Cartmell about his desire to widen the charity's focus.

Joe Jenkins
Joe Jenkins

It was while wearing a cow suit that Joe Jenkins may first have proven his leadership abilities to Friends of the Earth (FoE). Preparing to embark on a day of guerrilla marketing on the London Underground on 13 July to raise awareness of the damage to rainforests caused by British factory farms, Jenkins amassed 40 similarly dressed bovine fundraisers to get the cows 'on-message'.

'I got them to practise their mooing,' says Jenkins. 'They all had different types of moos. Some had long moos and others had short, barking moos.'

The charity's director of fundraising, comms and activism started his newly created role at the helm of three departments last month. He has responsibility for improving the environmental charity's funds, which have bottomed out in recent years.

At the tender age of 32, Jenkins now forms an added layer of management above long-established comms head Adeela Warley, describing the purpose of his new job as 'engaging more people in more ways'.

Explaining the idea behind the role, Jenkins says: 'From an outsider's perspective, you're just supporting FoE. Internally, it's easy to see people as either a campaigner or a fundraiser. We need to move away from this silo attitude towards our supporters and instead use "one supporter, one relationship".'

The installation of Jenkins above the existing three directors of fundraising, activism and comms might have put a few noses out of joint, particularly Warley, who has been with FoE for 20 years. However, in the affable, unflappable manner he maintains throughout our interview, Jenkins says: 'It fits quite well. It's been welcomed, as we can have more clarity about leadership in the organisation and Adeela can focus on her expertise in comms.'

Married with an 18-month old daughter, Jenkins says he makes an effort to be seen as approachable among his colleagues.

'I like to think I help people look forward and not backwards,' he says thoughtfully.

Institute of Fundraising director of development Amanda Shepard has worked with Jenkins for the past two years on establishing a charity forum for senior fundraisers.

She said he combines 'great strategic insight with strong operational ability and experience'.

Jenkins joined FoE after five years at the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB), where he was head of fundraising strategy.

This is a speedy rise to the top that started in a bingo hall in Dagenham 12 years ago, where Jenkins was calling 'two fat ladies' every Saturday.

'I spent a long time talking to people there,' he says. 'A lot of people there are big charity supporters. You get a really good feel for where they're coming from and what their concerns are.'

But the surprising leaping-off point for Jenkins' social conscience was studying film at Southampton University, delving into the world of European cinema.

'I'd look at films in their social historical context. It was the awakening of my political consciousness,' he recalls. 'I emerged feeling clear that I wanted to do things that were for the greater good.'

And the greater good at FoE seems to involve a fair bit of change.

Jenkins complains that the charity's focus has 'narrowed' to become too Westminster-centric, adding that it needs to make online work harder. 'The expectations of the public are evolving apace,' he says of charities in general. 'We've not got to grips with what the next generation wants from us. The new generation isn't looking to give a gift and step away. It wants to be involved in the outcome.'

He also wants to see FoE widen its focus outside those who are already close to the organisation, adding that there can be a tendency to scare off the less green-savvy with environmental jargon such as the now-ubiquitous 'biodiversity'.

'There's a place for us to use jargon to maintain credibility with the people we're trying to influence. But we also need to take other people with us. We have to use different messages for different audiences - there isn't a one size fits all.'

When he was offered the role, Jenkins struggled to get to grips with the highly complex aspects of FoE's agenda, coming as he did from a non-environmental background. After a while, however, he realised the best thing he could do was to retain his simplistic point of view.

"We deal with a lot of complex issues, going into a lot of detail and arriving at solutions to help people. My role is to simplify and clarify.'

As FoE hopes to improve its fortunes in the future, this cow could prove to be sacred to the charity.

 

JOE JENKINS' TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

It was joining the RNIB. I was on its donor development team, which covers all direct marketing and legacy marketing. It was a quite senior role at a critical time for the RNIB and I was involved in a lot of major changes. It proved to be a very good experience and confirmed that I wanted to work for charities.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

I have been lucky to have good strong people in all my roles. Paul Amadi is now at the NSPCC, but I worked with him at the RNIB and found him to be very inspiring. He generally listened and acted on ways to empower people and obtain the right balance. I really enjoyed my time working with him.

- What advice would you give anyone climbing the career ladder?

Always be prepared to push yourself outside your comfort zone. It is easy to do what you know, but you can only move forward if you do things you don't know. Don't be afraid to experience new things.

- What do you prize in new recruits?

Enthusiasm and passion. And most importantly be prepared to question established ways of working.

 

CV

2010: Director of fundraising, comms and activism, Friends of the Earth

2006: Head of fundraising strategy, RNIB

2005: Head of donor development, RNIB

2001: Senior account manager, Pell & Bales

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