Speaking Topics

Training Programs and Keynote Addresses

Donor-Centered Fundraising
Donor-Centered Fundraising
Today’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.
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
Donor-Centered Leadership
In 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with over 12,000 Development professionals, CEOs, Board members and donors, Penelope exposes mistaken beliefs and out-of-date practices that make it harder for fundraisers to raise money and much easier for them to move on.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.
Under the Radar

…how to unleash young donors’ philanthropy

A common assumption is that young donors just aren’t as philanthropic as their parents and grandparents. But Penelope Burk says that just isn’t so. In her latest research (published December, 2018), 36% of all donors but a whopping 53% of those under the age of 35 said they could have given more last year. Why are young donors not giving more? “Fundraisers are not noticing us,” they say.

In this practical and thought-provoking address, Penelope unfolds a compelling case for why stewarding young donors now, regardless of how much they currently give, will pay big dividends in the next five years. In Under the Radar, Penelope shares…

  • What’s happening with young people’s careers, income and giving plans as baby boomers retire in ever-increasing numbers
  • Why young donors, more than anyone else, are rallying behind not-for-profits under threat of losing their government funding
  • How fundraisers can capitalize on young donors’ optimism about the future by communicating a different message
  • Why young donors are essential in turning around the problem of declining donor acquisition
  • How young donors connect giving and volunteering and what that means for not-for-profits and their Boards
  • How a Donor-Centered model is vital for retaining young donors and inspiring them to give more generously
If Only I Had the Time

…how fundraisers and their bosses can raise more money and still leave the office at 5:00

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

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 discussion as Penelope presents her research findings on managing fundraisers for optimum performance. You will be intrigued by what she found:

  • 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 will never think the same way again 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 work and which help delegates sustain a competitive edge.

Being Donor-Centered in Changing Times

…how to use donor trends and changing technologies to make 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.

Drawing from latest research, Penelope Burk shares the answer to fundraisers’ ultimate question: What would unleash donors’ giving at a whole new level? Hear what her research reveals about the very different motivations of young, middle age and older donors; learn how to adjust acknowledgment, communication and recognition strategies to meet each generation’s unique needs. Find out why your e-communications are reaching far fewer donors today and how print and mail is developing a whole new caché.

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 practical address, Penelope 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 to raise more money by the deadline by forgetting 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 interests, 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 solid and profitable decisions about fundraising. She also shows fundraisers how they can prove to decision-makers that a longer term approach to raising money is much 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.

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 leadership volunteer 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.

  • 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Montreal Heart Institute Foundation
  • Penelope is the most knowledgeable and interesting speaker I have ever heard in my nearly twenty years in the business.

    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.

    AFP Southwest Florida Chapter
  • After 10 years of attending conferences and seminars, I had no idea that research of this magnitude existed. I’ll be looking to Penelope Burk and Cygnus Applied Research for new ideas in the years to come.

    Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services Foundation
  • Penelope Burk is a dynamic speaker. I enjoyed her seminar very much and learned more about what donors want in one day than in the five years I have worked in development – awesome!

    Metro Atlanta YMCA
  • Penelope is the only presenter with empirical data and her information blows the lid off our preconceived ideas about how we can fundraise successfully.

    University of Colorado Foundation
  • Penelope’s enthusiasm and understanding of today’s donors is a welcome concept in today’s fundraising arena. Through her time with us, Penelope has helped us to better understand our donors and help us re-evaluate our approaches and strategies that will strengthen our relationships with our donors. Penelope’s wealth of knowledge and expertise is a blessing to each of us.

    AFP Chicago Chapter
  • Penelope was fabulous! Our staff have not stopped quoting Penelope’s session. Penelope “pushed” us to think about our current practices and their impact on the people we care about. We are so thrilled to have had the time with her for her to share her insights, experience and knowledge with us.

    United Way of the Lower Mainland
  • Penelope conducted a terrific presentation. I admit I was worried about a 2-hour session with no break but, oh boy, her presentation captivated the audience throughout!

    Women in Philanthropy of Western Massachusetts
  • Penelope’s input has been invaluable to us as we strive to engage our supports in creating business solutions to poverty.

    Mennonite Economic Development Associates
  • Simply put, Penelope is an inspiration to my career! I am still using my notes from every session of hers I’ve attended and refer to her books when building and presenting fundraising strategies to our Board and campaign volunteers. Thank you to Penelope for all she does for this sector and for ambitious young women looking for role models and inspiration!

    The Priory School
  • Penelope’s seminar appealed to everyone on my staff. The concepts apply whether someone manages data, produces accountability reports, revises donor walls, conducts events, updates the websites, plans galas, or works directly with donors.

    Irving Healthcare Foundation
  • Penelope understands the importance of speaking at a professional volunteer level and giving recommendations to help reinforce the more appropriate techniques of fundraising. Her demeanor helped set everyone at ease and created a more open atmosphere to accept the message.  I only wish we could have had more board members present!

    Tracy Hospital Foundation
  • Penelope provides excellent researched info we can all use – from acquisition, mass marketing, major donors, stewardship to planned giving.

    World Vision Canada
  • Penelope shares her extensive knowledge and research in a clean and compelling manner.  She provides perspective on how to connect with donors on a meaningful level and shares strategies and techniques to relative donor-centered fundraising to the mission and business objectives of my organization.

    Heart & Stroke Foundation of Ontario
  • Penelope Burk is the guru of effective, thoughtful fundraising.  The research and tools she and Cygnus are able to provide set every development professional up for success.

    Sightline Institute
  • Penelope Burk knows fundraising inside and out and shares her knowledge with humor and stories that makes her presentation stand out.  I left feeling excited to implement many of the ideas she shared.

    Le Moyne College
  • What a joy to listen and talk with Penelope.  It has rejuvenated my love of the art of donor relations and inspired new ideas for how to better connect our donors to our work.

    Rouge Valley Health System Foundation
  • Penelope is always a breath of fresh air because she is out in front of the curve.  You leave her presentations with your batteries recharged!

  • As staff and volunteers, it’s so easy to become comfortable with how we raise funds.  Thank you for challenging the sector to hear what donors want and inspiring us to deliver.

    Ross Memorial Foundation
  • Penelope Burk challenged me to think differently about my work and my donors.  And she inspired me to act differently by giving me practical tools and advice.

    The Woodgreen Foundation
  • Penelope's approach to enabling philanthropy should be made into a vaccine. The health benefits to the sector would be immediate and obvious.

    Gift Planning in Canada
  • Penelope’s presentation was JUST what our AFP members had been craving: a complete recharge. Her all-day seminar on Donor-Centered Fundraising, from the woman who “wrote the book” on the topic, was entertaining, informal, and timely. The information was presented in an “easy to digest and easier to implement”  fashion, and everyone left with “to-do” lists several pages long.

    Girl Scouts of Gateway Council
  • To put it simply, Cygnus' research works! This year we set our fundraising goal 10% higher, which was ambitious. But, we applied all that we learned from Penelope and Cygnus on being donor-centered, and pulled it off. In fact, we raised 18% more than last year. As an added bonus, our volunteers are feeling great about their achievement and several have already offered to make asks in next year's campaign.

    Former Client
  • I've always wanted to have real data that comes straight from our own donors. Cygnus' research has been invaluable in helping us allocate resources to more productive strategies.

  • Cygnus' research reminded us that our donors don’t give just because they like our organization – they want to improve children’s lives, and they expect us to tell them how their gift is making a difference

    Children's National Medical Center
  • A Donor’s Opinion on the Power of Thank You Letters

    I do not want fancy chocolates. I do not want hard-bound books about the history of your organization. I do not want clocks or serving plates or paperweights.

    You know what I do want? A thank you note. One that tells me something about the work you’re doing, and arrives within a few weeks–let’s say four–of receiving my gift. I want that thank you note to reflect the importance of my gift to your budget. In fact, I will assume that it does.

    Over the past decade I have made contributions to several dozen nonprofits in amounts ranging from $500-$50,000 annually. Most of these are civil rights advocacy and human services organizations. I prioritize organizations where I believe my size gift will make a difference, based on budget size or revenue model – i.e., the group doesn’t have many donors at my level, or few non-foundation donors. Because I was formerly a non-profit fundraiser, I give general operating support and often make multi-year commitments.

    The Number One reason I stop giving or downgrade my gift is when an organization doesn’t say thank you graciously.

    Many do! In fact, what’s notable is the absence of any pattern. The tiny Afghan women’s empowerment group whose board member sent a handwritten note has stayed on my list a long time. The advocacy group that solicits me personally, but acknowledges my $25,000 (c)(4) with a machine-signed form letter? Not so much. I love their work, but their response tells me my gift doesn’t matter that much.

    This especially goes for multi-year pledges: don’t treat them like receivables. Say thank you, promptly and with genuine appreciation, when the pledge is paid. Organizations perpetuate a rotten cycle when they pursue and flatter me when I haven’t yet committed for the year, but don’t acknowledge receipt of a $50,000 prior year pledge payment. (A true story.)

    Doing a good job is easy and inexpensive. Just say thank you, nicely and promptly, with a level of effort that reflects how important the gift is to the organization. The gold standard is a handwritten thank-you note – you know, an old fashioned thank you note. A personalized note on top of a form letter will suffice, if it’s written with authenticity. As for swag, I don’t mind a bumper sticker or even a t-shirt that lets me be a brand ambassador for an organization I like. But swag is not a substitute for a good thank you note, and for goodness sake don’t FedEx it.

    Last secret? If I’m a major donor to your organization and you really, really want me to keep giving? Call me once or twice a year to tell me, honestly, how the work is going. Thank you.

    Name withheld at donor’s request.