Blending conservation with commerce is, quite literally, in my job description. I came from a business background into the conservation field. It’s natural for me to want to use a commercial mindset to solve conservation challenges.

I joined the Shark Trust, a well-respected UK-based NGO with a strong reputation for science-based advocacy, in 2015. My task was to broaden the income base so that we could reduce our reliance on grant funding whilst increasing our conservation impact. This means working more commercially. Developing new partnerships and seeking new ways to generate funds. The trick is to achieve this change without losing the hard-won credibility. Without “dumbing down” the organisation.

The challenge is, as much as anything, a communication challenge. Partnership and support are won on having a convincing narrative. And being able to clearly elucidate the value that you bring to the world. In a complex conservation sector that’s not always straightforward. So you need to work on the message and create clarity. Without simplifying to the point that your organisation’s expertise is meaningless.

Sometimes we need help from outside. It’s easy to get locked into groupthink in any organisation. When you’re developing your messaging for businesses, it’s easy to fall back onto the jargon. It’s hard to let go of those technical details that mean so much internally but so little to the client. Test them out and when they’re fine-tuned, insist on consistency within your team. Have a language for each audience but keep the message consistent.

We’ve worked hard, we’ve had some successes and learnt some valuable lessons. We’ve tried to develop products, services and partnerships that generate revenue at the same time as delivering our core messages: If you’re going to sell t-shirts then sell t-shirts that tell a story about shark diversity; If you’re going to partner with a restaurant then make sure they’re delivering a sustainability message to their customers.

For me, the one thing that I insist on is a positive mindset. Conservation can be a negative place at times. But people are happiness seekers. Whether trying to attract celebrities, businesses or supporters from outside your echo chamber, being a positive force generally opens doors.

Paul Cox

Director, Shark Trust
www.sharktrust.org