At Work: Fundraising - Personal account - Margaret Bennett

Humour is the key, says the fundraising consultant at Think Consulting Solutions.

The best advice I've had

Early in my career, I spent a few months shadowing the Austrian chief executive of the UK subsidiary of a global communications company. He would be visited once a quarter by the 'big boss' and an even bigger entourage, who would do their utmost to intimidate my boss into toeing the HQ line.

At crucial moments of unbearable tension, my boss would lean back out of their line of sight and wink at me. I owe much of my enjoyment of 20 years working for and with NGOs to this lesson - never lose your sense of humour, even under direct stress.

The biggest challenge I've faced

Taking over as the first director of income generation at the British Red Cross in 1997, when it became a national charity for the first time in its history. My job was to create a national income-generation team, bringing together fundraising, shops and commercial first aid training across eight regions consisting of about 2,500 staff and 50,000 volunteers.

It was probably the most stressful year of my life, but by the end of it there was almost nothing left on my 'I can't do that, it's too scary' list, because I had 'felt the fear' and done it.

My greatest hit

My proudest moment was when the results came through about the impact on membership numbers of withdrawing a very costly member benefit. Trustees and directors were convinced that the entire supporter file would collapse.

But I had done my research and had predicted how many members would leave and how many would reduce their giving. We added £500,000 net income to the annual bottom line from the reduction of our cost base.

My worst moment

As a consultant, spending two weeks being rigorously grilled by directors, HR staff, accountants and unions on the recommendations for a fundraising restructure I had developed. Even though my recommendations emerged intact, it was a gruelling process.

My top tip

Don't be afraid to speak to your 'competitors'. Charities in general know so little about each other's fundraising, yet most fundraisers are desperate to know how their performance compares with other charities.

If you really want to know what another charity is doing, give them a call, and suggest you share information confidentially. You'll be surprised how many will say yes.

- Interview by Annie Kelly.

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