At Work: Fundraising - Personal account - Nick Vassallo

Life is too short for British Red Cross's senior corporate fundraising executive.

The best advice I had

At every fundraising conference I've been told "people buy people". Everybody says it, and it's true. In corporate fundraising there are many hurdles to be overcome on the way to a successful high-value relationship, including short lists, criteria to be met, pitches. But in the end your potential corporate partners are going to have to feel that they can trust you, that you will deliver what you say you will and that they will like working with you. Relationships in fundraising, as in life, are the key.

The biggest challenge I've faced

I started my fundraising career working for a disability charity. From a corporate fundraising point of view, it was hard going. More often than not, success in corporate fundraising depends on what you can bring to the table in the way of brand, volunteering opportunities and other variables.

I eventually started to make progress when I realised companies would pay good money for the unique training and work placement opportunities that only this organisation could offer. I guess the moral of the story is: find your unique edge - and sell it.

My greatest hit

The 'win' that means the most to me occurred within hours of the Algerian earthquake in May 2003. I received a call from our office in Geneva letting me know that one of our corporate donors was the biggest foreign investor in Algeria. I reached our contact on his mobile while he was travelling down Oxford Street and told him that he had a duty to support our emergency response. The result was a promise to underwrite the £125,000 cost of the first relief flight to Algiers. The fully loaded plane landed 24 hours later. That was a satisfying day's work and a great example of the Red Cross working together worldwide.

My worst moment

I can point to a lot of scary and funny moments. Pretending to drive a new fuel-efficient car around London on Dutch radio is a particular favourite.

My top tip

It's always worth taking the time to understand what companies want so that you can write the best possible proposal to meet their needs. Be confident in the value of what your charity has got to offer. It's always better to ask for too much than for too little.

And if you are not enjoying what you are doing, pack it in and do something else - life is too short.

- Interview by Annie Kelly.

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