The Burk Donor Survey – Canadian Edition

Where Canadian Philanthropy is Headed in 2019


The 2019 Burk Donor Survey is the eighth edition of Cygnus’ national research study investigating where Canadian donors are taking their philanthropy, what will inspire their loyalty and generosity in a rapidly changing world, and what Canadians expect from the causes they support. The Study is authored by Penelope Burk and published by her firm, Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.

The Burk Donor Survey is unique among fundraising research studies because it is a collaborative partnership with dozens of prominent Canadian charities and institutions. While this group reflects the diversity of the third sector, all partners have one thing in common: a keen interest in using reliable evidence from donors to inform their decisions. Thousands of Canadian donors participated in the most recent Burk Donor Survey, thanks entirely to the efforts of our partner group. In that study, donors offered opinions and advice on issues of critical importance to professional fundraisers, CEOs, Boards of Directors, communications specialists and administrators.


  • how Canadians gave in 2018 (how much they gave, number and types of causes they supported, how they transacted their gifts) compared with how they gave in 2017
  • Canadians’ plans for giving in 2019, including how current events and/or personal circumstances will impact their giving choices and generosity;
  • how donors are managing their philanthropy today compared with five years ago
  • what would unleash Canadians’ philanthropy at a new, higher level
  • what inspires Canadians to include a gift to a charity in their wills and what is the potential for growth in bequest giving among Canadian donors

Among many topics that are especially important to fundraisers and charities, The Burk Donor Survey has investigated subjects as diverse as:

  • how gender, age and religious conviction impact philanthropy today
  • what inspires Canadians to join monthly (recurring) giving programs
  • whether people who sponsor participants in athletic events like walk-a-thons are also good candidates as direct donors
  • whether heavy users of social media are an asset to fundraising
  • why some alumni give to their alma maters and others do not

As a potential 2019 Burk Donor Survey partner, you can download free of charge the Executive Summary of the most recent Canadian Burk Donor Survey Report. This will give you a fuller picture of the types of issues that this research study explores.


Sometime between the end of April and mid-June, 2019, Survey Partners reach out to their donors via email, asking them to take part in Cygnus’ anonymous, online survey. (Partners choose a two to three-week period in which the survey is open to their donors.) The email request is drafted by Cygnus and tested prior to the survey’s launch. Partners send out an initial request and a reminder one or two weeks later.

This is the full extent of our partners’ responsibility but, of course, it is the essential contribution that ensures a volume of respondents sufficient to generate statistically reliable results by age, giving level and several other criteria.

Note that partners never have to share any donor information with Cygnus, including email addresses.


Our partners enjoy the following FREE benefits:

  • the full 2019 Canadian Burk Donor Survey National Report, authored by Penelope Burk, and containing complete statistical findings, dozens of charts and graphs, and hundreds of quotes from Canadian donors
  • invitation to attend a private webinar for partners only to discuss findings with Penelope

There are additional free benefits for partners who are able to reach out to 100,000 donors or more to invite them to participate in this survey. Please contact Kristen Hazell, Partner Coordinator for The Burk Donor Survey, for more information.

  • being able to reach out to as many donors as possible between the last week of April and the first week of June, 2019
  • sending the initial email inviting donors to participate in The Burk Donor Survey. The invitation should come from someone influential in your organization, such as the Chair of the Board, CEO, someone highly respected such as a Dean, Physician, Artistic Director or community leader.
  • sending a reminder email towards the end of the survey period.

Registration is mandatory in order to become a Burk Donor Survey Partner. See the Registration Form below.


Partners must reach out to a number of donors that will yield a minimum of 100 completed survey responses. Our experience from past editions of The Burk Donor Survey has found that between 1% and 8% of donors respond (depending on the partner) by clicking the link to start the survey. Of that number, approximately 65%-70% answer all questions, including the critical demographics questions at the end. In order to realize the minimum 100 completed surveys, then, Partners must send the invitation to at least 5,000 of their donors.

Some national organizations and very large local charities have databases of tens or hundreds of thousands of donors. We eagerly welcome them into this project because of their ability to reach so many potential respondents. For any partner able to invite 100,000 or more donors into the survey, Cygnus provides a unique report comparing their donors’ results with those of all other donors in the survey. (Please contact Kristen Hazell at Cygnus for more information about this special offer.)

Partners never have to share any donor information, including email addresses, with Cygnus. In addition, the survey is open to your leadership volunteers, direct service volunteers, and staff.


Penelope Burk, President of Cygnus Applied Research, is the study’s author. Penelope is a Canadian researcher and fundraising expert with 45 years of experience in the charitable sector. Penelope has authored four books and numerous training programs in fundraising and not-for-profit management. She is especially well known as the originator of concept, Donor-Centred Fundraising.

Penelope and Cygnus are especially grateful for the leadership and assistance of The Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) in making this 2019 Edition of The Canadian Burk Donor Survey possible. The CAGP is coordinating Survey Partner outreach among their membership and providing Cygnus with their specialized knowledge of the Canadian planned giving industry.


Cygnus will provide the Executive Summary of The 2019 Canadian Burk Donor Survey Report to any participating donor who requests it. In order to ensure their anonymous contribution to the project, donor/respondents will be redirected to Cygnus’ website after they complete the survey. Once there, they will be able to request a summary of findings once the Survey Report is published. This is an opt-in opportunity only. Donors who have participated in our surveys in the past say they appreciate the opportunity to learn what our research discovers while ensuring their privacy is simultaneously protected. (Approximately one third of donors who take part in our surveys request the Executive Summary Report.)


Kristen Hazell

Project Manager, 2019 Canadian Burk Donor Survey

(800) 263-0267, ext 1000


  • 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