Personal account: Gina Negus

The founder of consultancy the Projects Company swears by rugby-playing nuns.

The best advice I've had

At the beginning of my career, someone told me: "You can get to any person in the world in less than six moves." Basically, that means you should aim to get to your target donor or decision maker through a personal contact. It's been the guiding principle of all the fundraising I have done.

The biggest challenge I've faced

Undertaking the fundraising for a project on the assumption that £1m was needed. By the time I realised I had to raise several million, I'd already signed on the dotted line. However, the project - the UK's first ecumenical cathedral, in Milton Keynes - was successful.

My greatest hit

I'd just become the head of fundraising at a small charity, and I wanted to do some research about why donors gave to us. I decided to call 10 people who had given us small donations in the past, to ask them about why they had decided to support us. The point of the exercise wasn't to ask for money, but one elderly lady was so delighted I'd asked for her opinion that she sent a £20,000 cheque and a Gift Aid form, which bumped the donation up to £27,000. Not only was it unexpected, but I also learned a valuable lesson about the importance of the personal approach.

My worst moment

I'd been working with a charity client for four years and had managed to increase its income quite substantially - no mean feat, because the charity had no business plan and it was proving almost impossible to develop sustainable long-term income without one. Instead of congratulating me, the chairman said: "Well, Miss Negus, you are really going to have to be inventive to increase fundraising by the same percentage next year." Through gritted teeth, I said that I was sure that would be possible, but not without a business plan. He patronisingly smiled, tapped his head and said: "We've got one; it's in here." At that point, I realised I had to walk away. I would never change anything with him at the helm, and the work was wrecking my self-esteem.

My top tip

Never underestimate the value of PR. Getting a team of nuns playing rugby against a team of vicars with a pack of paparazzi on the sidelines meant the ecumenical cathedral appeal appeared in the national newspapers.

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