Personal account: Caroline Hukins

The YWCA director of fundraising has a zero-tolerance approach to teddy bears.

Caroline Hukins
Caroline Hukins

The best advice I've had

"Telling donors that 'lots of people are a little bit wheezy' does not make compelling fundraising." This came from my manager at the National Asthma Campaign, when she highlighted the importance of statistics and a hard-hitting case study. Sound advice.

The biggest challenge I've faced

Starting a job at Action for ME, the charity for people with chronic fatigue syndrome, with almost no handover and the biggest event the charity had ever held about to take place six weeks later. The event had the potential to bring in about a quarter of the value of the charity's annual turnover. It was a fundraising dinner hosted by a City bigwig that doubled as his retirement do. When I came in, we had a target audience of 150 City bankers and fund managers, but no tickets sold or printed.

Another big challenge was when I was working as a charity trek tour guide and was taking a group of 20 astoundingly unprepared women up the Inca Trail for water charity Just a Drop. On inspecting their overweight luggage, I extracted three hairbrushes, eight make-up bags, several pillows and a teddy bear.

My greatest hit

Raising £250,000 from the Action for ME event. I felt elated and very proud of myself, but my overwhelming emotion was of extreme relief. Getting my group of outstandingly unprepared women to Machu Picchu was also fantastically rewarding, and they were a great laugh. Ironically, although we had one or two close calls and cases of altitude sickness, it was the only group I ever took to Machu Picchu of which every member made it to the top.

My worst moment

Getting in on the Monday morning after the City bigwig event and finding answerphone messages from the host, our most influential donor, on about five different landlines. He was screaming blue murder because he hadn't received the thank-you letters he had planned to spend all weekend signing. They'd got lost in the post - we had to print them all again and get them biked over.

My top tip

Listen to the people with specialist knowledge, whatever their job titles. Behind all organisational cock-ups are senior managers who think they know best.

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