Personal account: Russell Marriott

Quality over quantity, says the fundraising director of the Mental Health Foundation.

The best advice I've had

In 1984, I was a very green 23-year-old fundraiser working at Help the Aged. My line manager there, David Jenkins, told me to remember that when you walk into a meeting everybody present wants to help, but just doesn't know how; your job is to help them work out how they can. I've found that approach works for any donor - from the smallest direct-debit giver right up to those making million-pound donations.

 

The biggest challenge I've faced

I joined disability charity John Grooms as its director of capital appeals when I was fresh-faced and had all the will in the world but not much of a track record. I was given the task of raising £8m in two years on top of revenue fundraising. It seemed impossible at the time, but by the end of the two years we had enough money to build everything we had planning permission for. It proved to me that passion and big ideas can get you far.

My greatest hit

Probably keeping a straight face during one of my most excruciating career moments. At John Grooms, I was on a residential home visit with the administrator of a large trust. At the end of the tour, we sat down in the residents' lounge and I prepared to launch into my big sell. Unfortunately, the TV was positioned right behind the administrator's head, and daytime TV show This Morning was in the middle of a particularly revealing piece about testicular cancer. The administrator's head was completely framed by a model's crotch, and I struggled to maintain my composure. We got the grant, however.

My worst moment

Probably when I was working at a summer camp for disadvantaged kids as a camp counsellor. We took the kids swimming and told them all to jump in before realising that only half of them could swim. We had to dive in and rescue them all, and I ended up trying to save the biggest 10-year-old I've ever seen in my life. She was trying to use me as a ladder to get back onto the boat, and at one point I was under the water thinking my time had come. To top it all off, I got bitten by a water snake as I clambered back on board and I spent the next two days in hospital.

My top tip

Always put quality over quantity. One good idea executed well is better than many executed badly.

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