The 2019 Burk Donor Survey – US Edition

Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2019


The 2019 Burk Donor Survey is the tenth annual national research study investigating where donors are taking their philanthropy, what will inspire their loyalty and generosity in a rapidly changing world, and what donors 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 over one hundred not-for profits and institutions. While this group reflects the diversity of the not-for-profit sector, all partners have one thing in common: a keen interest in using reliable evidence from donors to inform their decisions. 13,000 donors participated in the most recent Burk Donor Survey, thanks entirely to our gracious not-for-profit partners. Those donors offered opinions and advice on issues of critical importance to professional fundraisers, CEOs, Board members, communications specialists and administrators.


  • how donors gave in 2018 (how much they gave, number and types of causes they supported, how they transacted their gifts) compared with 2017
  • donors’ plans for giving in 2019, including how current events will impact giving preferences and generosity, and how donors manage their philanthropy today compared with five years ago
  • more details to come…

Among many important topics that are critically important to fundraisers, the Burk Donor Survey has generated compelling information about donors’ growing independence in managing their philanthropy and what that means for fundraisers. It has explored the views and preferences of donors by gender and age and the impact of religious conviction on giving in a changing faith environment. The Burk Donor Survey has studied such diverse issues as what inspires donors to join monthly giving programs, whether people who sponsor participants in athletic events make good candidates as direct donors, whether heavy users of social media are an asset to fundraising, why some alumni give to their alma mater and others do not, what the real and immediate potential is in bequest fundraising, and much more.

As a potential 2019 Burk Donor Survey Partner, you can download free of charge the Executive Summary of The 2018 Burk Donor Survey Report. This will give you a fuller picture of the types of issues Penelope’s research explores.


Sometime in mid-2019, partners will reach out to their donors via email, asking them to take part in our anonymous survey. The email request is drafted by Cygnus and tested prior to the Survey’s launch. This is the full extent of our partners’ responsibility but, of course, it is the essential contribution that ensures a volume of respondents large enough to generate statistical reliability by age of donor, giving level and many other criteria.

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


Our partners enjoy the following FREE benefits:

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

(For a modest fee, partners with a sufficient number of respondents can also request a report comparing what their donors said with all other donors in the study.)

  • being available to take part in The Burk Donor Survey during the designated survey period (TBD)
  • emailing the initial invitation to participate in The Burk Donor Survey to donors
  • sending a reminder email, if advised

Registration is mandatory in order to become a Burk Donor Survey partner.  See the registration form below.


Some national organizations and very large local not-for-profits 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.)


Penelope Burk, President of Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. is this study’s author.  Penelope has forty-five years’ experience in fundraising and not-for-profit management and consulting and is renowned as the originator of Donor-Centered Fundraising.  Her company specializes in conducting confidential research with donors and helping not-for-profits raise more money by adjusting their fundraising practices to reflect donors’ changing preferences and giving trends.


Cygnus will provide the Executive Summary of the 2019 Burk Donor Survey Report to any donor who requests it. In order to be sure that their participation is anonymous, respondents will be redirected to Cygnus’ website after they complete the survey. Once on our site, they will be asked if they would like to receive the Executive Summary of the results when they become available. If they do, they will provide their email address so that we can send them the report. This is an opt-in opportunity only. Donors in past Burk Donor Surveys say they appreciate the opportunity to learn what our survey found and that their privacy is simultaneously protected.


Kristen Hazell
Project Manager, Burk Donor Survey 2019                             

Phone: 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