The 2019 Burk Donor Survey – US Edition

Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2019


This is the tenth edition of Cygnus’ national research study investigating where donors are taking their philanthropy, what inspires 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.

The 2019 Burk Donor Survey will investigate how donors gave in 2018, whether their giving increased, decreased or stayed the same and why; the types and number of causes they supported last year; how they transacted the gifts they made, and how their approach to philanthropy has changed in recent years. Then, it will ask donors to forecast their giving in 2019 (both gifts already made and anticipated to the end of the year) and comment on how current events and personal priorities are impacting their decisions.

All active donors, regardless of how long they have been giving or the value of the contributions they make, are of utmost importance to this survey. Between 15,000 and 25,000 donors participate each year, making The Burk Donor Survey one of the largest and longest-running investigations of American philanthropy. Our success at attracting so many donors is due in large part to the 100+ Burk Survey Partners — not-for-profits and institutions who reach out to their donors on Cygnus’ behalf. (See FAQs below for how to become a 2019 Survey Partner and receive the research study report free of charge.)

We are excited to announce that the 2019 edition of The Burk Donor Survey will include a special focus on giving by black donors (including those of African American or Caribbean descent or with other ancestral roots). While almost one in five Americans is black, their views are under-represented in research studies on donors. An Advisory Group of black leaders, chaired by Tycely Williams, Vice-President of Development, YWCA USA is helping Cygnus expand our Partner Group to reach more black donors this year.



In late summer, 2019, Survey Partners reach out to their donors via email, asking them to take part in our anonymous, online survey. (Partners choose a two 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. 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.

  • Partners invite all their active donors to participate in the survey. (You will receive a unique link through which your donors will enter the survey. That allows Cygnus to group your donors and offer you a demographic scan of your supporters.) A minimum of 5,000 is required to qualify as a Survey Partner.
  • For any partner able to invite 500,000 or more donors into the Survey, Cygnus will produce a a separate report that compares your donors’ answers to every question with those of all other donors in the Survey. This is also free of charge.

Registration is mandatory in order to become a Burk Donor Survey partner.  See the registration form below.  The deadline to register as a 2019 Burk Donor Survey Partner is Monday September 16th. 

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 partners who reach out to 250,000 donors or more, a separate report comparing their donors’ results with those of all other donors in the Survey
  • a demographic scan of your donors that includes: age, gender, family situation, education, occupation, racial/ethnic heritage, language spoken at home, household income, religious conviction, political affiliation, state of residence

Cygnus will provide the Executive Summary of the 2019 Burk Donor Survey Report to any donor who requests it. In order to ensure donors’ anonymity, Survey respondents will be redirected to Cygnus’ website after they have completed and sent the electronic questionnaire. This is an opt-in opportunity only. Donors who participated in past Surveys say they appreciate the opportunity to learn what we found while knowing that their anonymity as a respondent is protected. Cygnus never solicits donors who provide their email address for this purpose.


Penelope Burk, President of Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. is this study’s author.  Penelope has forty-five years’ experience in market research, 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.


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