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
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
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
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
’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.
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