Personal account: Helen Stack

CSV's head of fundraising recalls the perils of cat cuddling and learning to cook.

The best advice I've had

Jeff Shear, a fundraising consultant, once told me that it's essential to establish a good team of lay leaders - that is to say, volunteer fundraisers who can find paths to new donors. The person opening the door or doing the asking should be someone a potential donor can't say no to.

The biggest challenge I've faced

There's nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, and when the former Community Fund closed its programmes to form the Big Lottery Fund, we had a huge push to get applications in. I probably did several months' worth of applications in a matter of weeks.

My greatest hit

They say that your first is always the best, and in my case that remains the case. It's not because the £15,000 raised for Stepping Stones, a homelessness project in north London, was the biggest amount I've ever raised, but it's because I was able to volunteer at the project too. The charity provides lunches and companionship for homeless people at Christmas, weekends and holidays. I've come to know most of the people by name, and the whole experience shows how a small gesture of time can make an important difference. And my cooking skills have improved no end.

My worst moment

Being coerced by CSV's press office to pose with two cats called Gin and Tonic for a national newspaper. The piece was all about promoting the Year of the Volunteer, and I was a volunteer cat cuddler at the time. It took ages to get the cats to behave for the photographer, and it's not that flattering to have catnip sprinkled all over you to get a pair of cats in the mood for the camera. Having said that, it was a lot of fun.

My top tip

Working with major donors is not an exact science. Donors are individuals with their own beliefs and values. A one-glove-fits-all approach is unlikely to go far; donors deserve care and attention. One method is show-don't-tell. Seeing really is believing - and if you can show donors projects in action it will really resonate with them.

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