Monday, 1 March 2021

Interview with Sarah Woods, BSBI's new Fundraising Manager

It’s not every day that BSBI welcomes a new staff member – and even rarer when we’re talking about a brand new post! Late last year we advertised for our first ever BSBI Fundraising Manager and after a long and rigorous interview process, we appointed Sarah Woods. She started in post today, Monday 1st March, and I couldn’t wait to interview her:

LM: So Sarah, welcome to BSBI! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing before you joined us?

SW: It’s incredibly exciting to be here, if all a little surreal in the latter half of the pandemic! I’m a Somerset girl born and bred, currently living in London with dreams of greener pastures. I originally got into fundraising following my undergraduate degree in Cambridge, and it’s been fantastically rewarding to put myself to use connecting people with causes they care about, to the betterment of all.

I’m lucky that it’s also taken me to some exciting places – including a trip to Hong Kong and Beijing, working at The National Theatre for three years, and most recently looking after operations in the South East for the UK’s leading Surf Therapy charity, The Wave Project – helping young people improve their mental health and resilience through surfing.

Sarah on firewood duties in
the Canadian Yukon, 2017 
LM: That sounds like a real variety box of organisations! Are there any similarities between working at an organisation like The National Theatre and BSBI?

SW: The voluntary sector is a brilliant melting pot of organisations and causes, but at the end of the day I think it comes down to communities – I love people who are passionate about something, and I love helping them express and work on that passion, whether that’s Shakespeare or species of orchids. But I imagine there might be fewer opportunities to bump into Judi Dench in the canteen here…

LM: Ah, I’m afraid we don’t even have a staff canteen, so your opportunities for bumping into national treasures may be rather limited! But there is a large and ever-expanding botanical community and you’ll certainly be able to transfer some of those skills and that experience to your new role at BSBI. So what’s your first priority for the next few weeks?

SW: I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as possible who make BSBI tick and learning what the heart of the organisation is about; the welcome from everyone I’ve spoken to so far has been incredibly warm.

Not a bad campsite: on a canoe
expedition with British Exploring on
Byglandsfjorden, Norway 2014
LM: Botanists are a really friendly bunch! What about longer term? What goals would you like to have achieved by the end of the summer?

SW: With this role being new to the organisation, I want to make sure it becomes embedded in moving the organisational strategy forwards, but that it also builds on the great foundations that exist currently. I’d like to have secured some exciting grant opportunities for new and on-going projects, and to have started the process of making our great membership offering even more widely known. Equally, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to support the work of BSBI, and to buy into our mission and vision. Wrapping up the Atlas 2020 project is going to be something that feeds into most of those goals.

LM: Is this a good moment to ask if you like wild flowers? I’m assuming you aren’t going to say “eew no, can’t stand ‘em...” but of course you don’t need to be a botanist to fundraise for the Botanical Society!

Walking the Offa's Dyke Path
with friends, 2019
SW: My botanical knowledge is definitely at the beginner level – but my father is an incredibly keen gardener, and growing up in the countryside I can recognise a lot of verge and path-side plants by sight, so I’m hoping I can seize the opportunity to learn from the best!

LM: Ah that makes you the ideal person to try out some of the resources we’ve been assembling in recent years, such as our helpful hints for getting started in botany and our plant ID page for beginners. I think the outdoors and nature are important to you though?

SW: Yes, the outdoors and nature are incredibly important to me – where my ‘soul’ is happiest, I like to think – and with a name like ‘Woods’ I’m guessing that was true for my ancestors too. I’ve done a couple of expeditions with the British Exploring Society, and can’t wait to get back out into all the fantastic landscapes that Britain and Ireland have to offer as soon as the restrictions allow.

LM: Well don’t forget to visit some marshes - a much maligned habitat, a bit soggy but with some great plants! Sarah, you told us at your interview that you had attended last year’s BSBI Exhibition Meeting and enjoyed it. So now you are on the staff, can I put your name down for a short slot at this year’s meeting in November, so you can tell everyone how you are getting on in the role?  

SW: Absolutely – hopefully we can celebrate some great achievements and the continuing generosity of this community.

LM: It’s a deal! And meanwhile, where can people reach you if they are interested to learn more about BSBI’s development?

SW: My email address is sarah.woods@bsbi.org and I’d be more than happy to hear from anyone who has thoughts or ideas on all facets of BSBI’s charitable arm – from the membership and its benefits, to funding opportunities we could pursue, to recruiting new supporters.

LM: Well good luck, keep us posted on how you’re getting on and once again – welcome to the BSBI!

SW: Thank you!

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