Pace and Breathe: Running the Marathon of an Individual Giving Program

For every fundraiser out there whose primary focus is individual giving, you have experienced a week similar to this. On Monday morning, you review your annual individual donation revenue goal and make a promise to yourself: I must close at least five donations by the end of this week. By the afternoon, you send out 20+ emails to the prospects on your list. Then by Wednesday, you’ve got four coffee dates lined up in the next two weeks. On Friday morning, you meet with one of your top prospects. You talk for an hour about his hobbies, his philanthropic interest, and at the end of the meeting, he assures you that he will seriously consider giving. That afternoon, you sit at your desk, look at the unchanged revenue number, and you sigh:

“Did all my work this week matter at all?”

Like any kind of fundraising, running an individual giving program is a long-drawn battle. Most of the time, it’s a marathon. Impacts are not made apparent overnight, and coffee after coffee, it becomes hard to measure the ROI of the work that you put in. At the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, I have been overseeing our membership/individual giving program for three years now, and I must confess, there are many instances when I ask myself this very same question.

But just like running a marathon, we must not solely focus on the finish line. We need to know how and when to slow down, pace ourselves and change course if necessary. Today, I challenge all of you to take a break from your busy schedule, breathe, and ask yourself the following questions about your individual giving program strategies:

1. How many NO emails have you received from your prospect donors?

This question is not just meant for you to gauge whether it is a good time to stop pursuing a particular prospect. More importantly, it is for you to distinguish the ones who care to reply a NO from the ones that have no interest at all. I was inspired to think about this question after listening to a talk that a fundraising strategist, Maeve Strathy, from Blakely (@fundraisermaeve) delivered at AFP Fundraising Day earlier this year. When identifying mid-level individual donors, Maeve advised that we take a closer look at our mailbox and see who have responded a NO to our event invitations. If a donor is willing to take the time to explain why he or she is not coming to a screening, an event or a fundraiser, it is an excellent sign that this donor cares about you or your organization! A NO email is not a stop sign; it is a yellow light for you to turn green.

2. How many times have you gotten a face-to-face encounter with your prospective donors?

Do you remember the last two events that your prospective donor attended at your organization, where you actually got a few minutes with them? If not, find the right opportunity to get a face-to-face interaction with the prospect as soon as possible! In order to honour the interest of a particular potential donor, we must first explore that interest a little deeper and push it a little further. In my personal experience, some of the most serendipitous conversations that have resulted in long term relationships with donors come from chatting with audience members going into shows at the line-up of the film festival.

Are you the right person to talk to this prospect?

Peer-to-peer communication and solicitation are one of the most talked about topics in fundraising. If you are working in a small non-profit and you have a 1-2 person development department, you would naturally feel overwhelmed by the amount of work and the number of people that you need to communicate with. But have you taken a step back to assess whether you are even the right person to talk to a particular prospect? Engage your board and staff today, tell them about your individual giving program and ask them to help you! On this subject matter, my AFP fellowship mentor, Cindy Wagman, has an abundance of insights on how to build a culture of philanthropy within an organization and make everyone take ownership of fundraising. Check out her weekly video series at

In the end, to all my fellow marathon-runners of individual giving programs, I must reiterate: whenever you feel defeated, please don’t forget that this is a journey that all of us are part of. Like the fellowship in diversity and inclusion, there are many groups and resources that fundraisers can tap into. As you see finishing line on the horizon, there are cheers and support along the way.