Penelope Burk | Speaking Topics
Penelope Burk, Penelope Burke, Cygnus Applied Research, Cygnus, donor research, donor survey, nonprofit, research, speaking topics, keynote speaker, keynote presenter, presenter, donor analytics, benchmarking, donor retention, donor acquisition, consulting, consultant
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Speaking Topics

Fundraising Training and Leadership Training
Schedule Penelope


Penelope Burk is revolutionizing the fundraising industry.  Her philosophy is inspiring donors to stay loyal longer and make more generous gifts sooner. You can bring the innovator of Donor-Centered Fundraising to your conference or organization.

The majority of the presentations below are available as keynote, or half-day to full-day programs.

Donor-Centered Fundraising

…how to hold onto your donors and raise much more money

DCF-BookfrontToday’s fundraising practices and beliefs were developed at a time when donors were less demanding, competition was less severe, and fundraisers could rely on an unlimited supply of people willing to give. But as wealth shifts to a more independently-minded donor, one who is more questioning and harder to reach, fundraisers need to know what donors want and how to provide it.

Donor-Centered Fundraising is Penelope’s breakthrough strategy that sustains donor loyalty and raises more generous gifts by bringing fundraising in line with donors’ modern-day requirements. Defined by a decade of research with thousands of donors and fundraisers, Donor-Centered Fundraising is the only statistically-supported fundraising philosophy with the power to bring donors and not-for-profits together to achieve substantial growth.  Donor-Centered Fundraising is Penelope’s most requested keynote address.

Donor-Centered Leadership

…how to build a high performance fundraising team

DCL-BookCover-Front-low-resIn this highly acclaimed address, Penelope Burk expands on her breakthrough Donor-Centered philosophy by tackling the rapid turnover rate among professional fundraisers. In plain language, and backed by compelling research with over 12,000 Development professionals, CEOs, Board members and donors, Penelope exposes mistaken beliefs and out-of-date practices that make it harder for fundraisers to raise money and much easier for them to move on. She then unfolds a win-win solution that extends loyalty – even among young fundraisers where short job stays are the norm — while improving bottom-line performance. Penelope also examines a critical issue sitting just below the surface – the role that Leadership Volunteers play in fundraising. Delegates will be inspired by her practical case for focusing Board members’ time and talent on the things that they do best and which donors agree could unleash their philanthropy at a whole new level.

While this session speaks to decision-makers, Donor-Centered Leadership will be highly valuable to fundraisers at any level, including those working in or aspiring to management and leadership positions.

Under the Radar to unleash young donors’ philanthropy

A common but dangerous assumption in fundraising is that donors are what they give – that those making modest donations are capable of that level of giving while those giving above the norm are candidates for the major donor category. It’s dangerous for fundraisers to think that way because it leaves money on the table. 40% of donors in the 2014 Burk Donor Survey said they held their philanthropy back last year; and the ones most likely to say they were giving less than they could were under the age of 35.


In this new and thought-provoking address, Penelope Burk unfolds a compelling case for stewarding young donors’ philanthropy now. Drawing from current research with over 20,000 donors, Penelope explains why young donors’ strong commitment to philanthropy is not translating into more loyal and more generous giving and what fundraisers can do to turn that situation around.


In Under the Radar, Penelope discusses:

  • How fundraisers can capitalize on young donors’ optimism about the future by communicating a different message
  • Why young donors are critical to improving stagnant or declining donor acquisition programs
  • How young donors connect giving and volunteering and what that means for not-for-profits and their Boards
  • Which fundraising beliefs and practices create a barrier to giving for young donors and how to make quick and cost-effective changes that will make it easier for young people to give
  • How a donor-centered model is vital for retaining young donors and inspiring them to give more generously sooner.


Penelope also offers not-for-profit decision-makers a glimpse into the not-too-distant future – a future where young donors occupy the high-paying management positions currently held by baby-boomers. That future, she calculates, is just around the corner. Not-for-profits that expect to capitalize on the innate generosity of Gen-X and Gen-Y donors need to take action now to ensure a profitable fundraising future.

If Only I Had the Time

What can relationship fundraisers actually accomplish in a 40-hour week? According to Penelope Burk, much more than they currently do.


In If I Only Had the Time, Penelope presents compelling findings from five years of research with professional fundraisers, CEOs, Board members and donors on what it takes to build a high performance fundraising team. And, she says, “Of all the issues I explored, how fundraisers and their managers think about and use time, was the most interesting.”


Join in the interactive discussion as Penelope presents her research findings on managing fundraisers for optimum performance. You will be intrigued by what she found, such as…

  • why gifts officers spend only 55% of a 40-hour week actually doing their job;
  • why, when and how to hold meetings for optimum results…and what to avoid;
  • where and when fundraisers get important work done and what this says about office culture;
  • why overtime is not the solution to an unmanageable job description;
  • what the #1 rule is for managing staff and why it gets broken all the time;
  • why spending less time managing actually yields better performance


You may never again think the same way about management and productivity.

Communication Is the Ask

…how to get your donors’ attention in a world of information overload

As it gets harder to acquire more donors, the sustained loyalty of your existing supporters becomes increasingly important. Donors say that their decisions to give again and give more generously are influenced more by what not for profits tell them when they are not asking for money, than by solicitations. So, in a world where your donors are bombarded with everyone else’s information, how can you grab their attention and be confident that they are hearing your message?

COMUNICATION IS THE ASK offers practical advice on how to connect more effectively with donors in an age of information overload. Developed from Penelope Burk’s groundbreaking research on the causes of and remedies for high donor attrition, COMMUNICATION IS THE ASK explains what donors need to know and explores how not for profits can become masters of their own messages. This energetic and wholly practical session leads delegates through the essentials of donor communication today, using creative examples of real messages and strategies that have worked and which will help delegates sustain a competitive edge.

Being Donor-Centered in Changing Times to use donor trends and new technologies to raise more profit

In a rapidly evolving world, fundraising cannot shield itself from change. But making the right choices when resources are limited and competition is fierce is the challenge that every Development Office faces. Luckily, today’s donors are much more specific about what it will take to win their support and inspire them to give more generously. The job of Development Professionals, then, is to recognize which things are worth investing in and what skills and resources are needed to increase fundraising profit.

Join author, speaker and fundraising futurist, Penelope Burk, as she discusses the findings of her latest research conducted with over twenty thousand donors. Hear what her research revealed about the very different giving patterns of older, middle-age and young donors and how fundraisers can adjust acknowledgement, communication and recognition to meet each generation’s unique needs. With nearly one in two donors admitting that they could have given more last year, Penelope offers sound evidence about what will unleash donors’ philanthropy at a whole new level.

In Being Donor-Centered in Changing Times, Penelope connects her latest research findings to her breakthrough fundraising philosophy — Donor-Centered Fundraising.  She unfolds an evidence-based argument for understanding what donors want from their philanthropic relationships today, what that means for your bottom line, and how to apply a Donor-Centered Fundraising approach in an ever-evolving environment.

It Takes Three to Tango

...what Boards, CEOs and Fundraisers need to know about each other if they want to raise more money

Professional fundraisers insist that they can’t do it alone. “Boards and CEOs must be fully engaged,” they say, “if fundraising is to reach its real potential.” But that doesn’t mean that Boards and CEOs necessarily agree or that all three know how to dance together to maximize results. And as long as who‐is‐responsible‐for‐what remains unclear, it will always be someone else’s fault whenever fundraising falls short.

Penelope Burk has surveyed hundreds of Leadership Volunteers, CEOs, and Development chiefs about how they define their own ‐‐ and each other’s ‐‐ responsibilities in fundraising. In this powerful and provocative address, Ms. Burk looks at the impact of staffing and support on the bottom line and what strategies and approaches are needed to ensure that the best decisions about fundraising are made so that more donors stay loyal while making increasingly generous gifts.

We Have to Have the Money Now!

…how not-for-profits can raise more money by the deadline by forgetting that there is one

When decision-makers say, “We have to have the money now,” it shows they have their eye on the bottom line.  But it also says that they are opting for short-term fundraising fixes over long-term stability. And, while they think they are acting in their not-for-profit’s best interest, that decision leaves a lot more money on the table.  Penelope says that the fundraising benefits of restraint are enormous, and over a decade of research backs her up. Working to your donors’ timeline means higher profit, improved staff retention, fewer burnt-out volunteers, and more satisfied donors.

In We Have to Have the Money Now! Penelope explains what leadership volunteers need to know in order to make progressive decisions about fundraising and how fundraisers can prove to decision-makers that a longer term approach to raising money is more profitable. This provocative session helps transform the top decision-makers – Board, CEO and Development Chief – into a unified and more successful fundraising team.

Donor-Centered Fundraising For Deans

…why Deans have the power to unleash higher education philanthropy at a whole new level

Universities and colleges are famous for their landmark campaign goals and trend-setting individual gifts, but higher education fundraisers might be surprised to learn that alumni often reserve their most generous giving for other not-for-profits.  In this thought-provoking address, Penelope pays homage to Advancement professionals for paving the way for all fundraising while challenging them to set the bar even higher. And she focuses especially on Deans.

According to donors who give to higher education, Deans influence their willingness to give and give generously more than anyone else. Yet few Deans realize they have this persuasive power, and even fewer would call themselves fundraisers. In this practical and inspiring address, Penelope establishes the case for making more money by investing in an institution’s greatest asset – their Deans. She also shows fundraisers how even the most reluctant Dean can make a significant impact on the bottom line and how Development professionals can mobilize their most precious resource.

Compliant No More

…how senior philanthropists are getting wired and giving differently

Donors over 65 have so many of the characteristics that fundraisers wish were typical of all donors. They are loyal; they support far more causes than do younger donors; they respond to urgent appeals. They also don’t tend to complain, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have opinions about fundraising or where they want to take their philanthropy.

Penelope’s thought-provoking address, Compliant No More, reveals how senior donors are changing the ways they give and what not-for-profits can do to sustain the interest of this most generous demographic. Giving online, the impact of premiums on older donors, how seniors are reacting to over-solicitation, and the surprising migration of donors over 65 to Facebook and other social media, is explored, as is older donors’ interest in bequests. Penelope’s keynote is peppered with stories from donors in their seventies, eighties and nineties about their philanthropy and their future – compelling and inspiring.

The Donor-Centered Board

…how any board can become a fundraising powerhouse

According to donors, Leadership Volunteers can persuade them to give and give more generously than they could have ever imagined. Yet, most Board members don’t realize they have that influence, nor do they know how to leverage it to help their not-for-profits raise more money. While four out of five Leadership Volunteers acknowledges their responsibility for fundraising, the majority also feels they lack the necessary skills and confidence to do a good job.

In The Donor-Centered Board, Penelope offers advice from donors and surprising evidence that any Board or individual member can profoundly impact the bottom line by engaging in activities that are both appealing and rewarding. And, she suggests how the Board, the CEO and professional fundraisers can work more effectively as a team to unleash the untapped philanthropic potential that donors say they are holding back – just waiting to be inspired.

Fearless Fundraising in a Turbulent Economy

... advice from thousands of donors in the Burk Donor Survey

It’s not just death and taxes that are inevitable; fundraisers also know that the economy will inevitably rise and fall and that philanthropy will rise and fall along with it. But can fundraisers raise even more money during the good times while mitigating a decline in giving when times are bad? The Burk Donor Survey suggests that they can.

Fearless Fundraising in a Turbulent Economy charts how donors’ motivation for giving changes as their confidence in the economy rises and wanes. Over six years with more than 140,000 donors, The Burk Donor Survey has charted changing giving trends, especially how an economic slump can be a catalyst to permanent change in donor behavior. In this session, Penelope unfolds a compelling, evidence-based case for redesigning fundraising programs, budgeting differently and addressing Development staffing more creatively in order to keep pace with a new kind of donor who is confident, independent and decisive but still just as eager as ever to give as generously as possible.