President, Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.

Author, Donor-Centered Fundraising and Donor-Centered Leadership

Penelope Burk’s career in the not-for-profit sector began in communications and market research in the arts in the early 1970’s and expanded into fundraising and senior management for prominent human services organizations over the next decade. She founded Burk & Associates Ltd. in 1990 and Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. in 2003.

Penelope Burk’s unique advantage in the fundraising industry is her evidence-based approach. While her professional experience in the sector spans forty-five years, her publications and training programs are all the product of research with donors.

Penelope is the author of the best-selling industry standard, Donor-Centered Fundraising. First published in 2003, the book is currently in its tenth printing. In 2013, Penelope published the companion book, Donor-Centered Leadership, a critical resource for Boards of Directors, Chief Executive Officers and Advancement Directors on how to implement Donor-Centered Fundraising and manage fundraising staff for optimum results.

Penelope Burk’s contributions to the fundraising industry can be best summed up as a long list of “firsts”:

  • She was the first fundraising author to back up her ideas and solutions with evidence from donors
  • The first to bring the problem of Donor Attrition to the attention of the fundraising industry, pointing out how much money not-for-profits were losing by failing to hold onto their donors
  • The first to offer an evidence-based formula for keeping donors giving longer and inspiring them to make more generous contributions
  • The first to document what leadership volunteers do best and how they can raise more money for their organizations by saying thank you the donor-centered way
  • the first to document the real impact of the high rate of turnover among professional fundraisers and the first to bring innovative solutions to the table to keep fundraisers loyal and raising more money.
Penelope Burk understands donors and what they want more deeply than any consultant in the fundraising industry. In the last twenty years, she and her innovative firm, Cygnus Applied Research, Inc., have conducted surveys and research studies with more than a quarter million American donors. She has reached back into their lives to find out about the first time they gave, what motivates their philanthropy now, what their greatest and most frustrating experiences in giving are, and what their dreams are for their philanthropic future.
  • The session, Donor-Centered for Boards, with Penelope Burk was by far the best learning experience I’ve ever had as a board member for any organization. I also bought and read both her books (which is something I rarely do after attending a session) and I have applied so much of her donor-centered philosophy to my work, not only as a board member but as a donor, too.

    Robert C. Woodhouse Jr. Trustee, Saint Mary’s Foundation
  • Penelope Burk is a phenomenal presenter for two reasons: first, her casual and engaging style draws participants in and makes the subject matter easy to understand with real-life examples and an “I know what it’s like” connection to those in the room; second, her data is extensive and compelling, and it gives fundraisers real-life tools that they can use to begin shifting from a traditional dollar-centered approach to a more dependable and lucrative donor-centered approach.

    Elizabeth Brunner Habitat for Humanity International
  • Penelope’s keynote address and her break-out session yesterday were the highlights of the conference for me. She shared such relevant and immediately-applicable information. What an inspiration she is—in speaking, in writing, and (most important) one-on-one.

    Karen H. Crane Director of Development, University of Jamestown
  • I congratulate Penelope for her presentation at the AFP International Conference. She is a truly dynamic performer and speaker who shares her vision with humor and energy. Listening to her makes me want to commit more to my work; and she increases my dedication to philanthropy.

    Elsa Desjardins Director Events and Fundraising Projects, Montreal Heart Institute Foundation
  • Penelope is the most knowledgeable and interesting speaker I have ever heard in my nearly twenty years in the business.

    Kelly Millington Vice President of Financial Development, YMCA of Greater St Louis and YMCA of Southwest Illinois
  • Penelope is a rock star for fundraisers. Always entertaining; always provocative. She has transformed how we see our donors and how we do our work in fundamental ways.

    Laura Breeze President, AFP Southwest Florida Chapter
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