May 27, 2018

Finding New Donors in a Changing Giving Environment – Penelope Burk

Penelope Burk Inside Charity

In my previous blog, “Is Giving Tuesday Helping or Hurting Fundraising”, I referenced how this fundraiser is contributing to the over-solicitation of active donors and risking their future support. I agreed wholeheartedly, though, that Giving Tuesday is an excellent strategy for acquiring new donors, especially younger ones.

How donors view not-for-profits and how they manage their philanthropy today is so different from forty years ago that it’s no wonder traditional approaches to donor acquisition have lost steam. This is especially the case for purchased or traded lists of names which now generate returns of about 0.65% to 2%, though the latter is seldom achieved.

Trying to acquire donors by relentlessly mailing or emailing people with no known connection to the cause is old-fashioned and devoid of influence. Giving Tuesday is a much better donor acquisition strategy for these reasons:

1. It is new. Yes, Giving Tuesday is now five years old, but it is still on the up side of the bell curve as more not-for-profits across the country jump on board;

2. It happens across all giving and communications platforms – online, mail, text, social media, even phone in some cases – a diverse execution strategy which can only be called logical in 2018;

3. It attracts young donors, a demographic largely overlooked by more traditional fundraising programs which are slow to accommodate younger donors’ preferred communications methods;

4. It runs on a concentrated timeline – one day – making it easy for the media to get behind it with promotion, sponsorship and personalities. Whether on purpose or by accident, Giving Tuesday emulates one of the most important design features of the best Capital Campaigns – raising a lot of money in as little time as possible.

Seeing Fundraising Events Through a Donor Acquisition Lens

It took me decades to fully appreciate the hidden value in fundraising events. My early career included working for a not-for-profit that raised all its money through events. (Forgive me, my colleagues; I was young and didn’t know any better.) Its flagship event was a bowl-a-thon that took place in alleys across the city and stretched over three months (groan). In those pre-electronic days, participants collected names and pledges from friends, neighbors and colleagues, recording them on quadruplicate printed forms that eventually found their way to my office.

For months I stared at those boxes, piled to the ceiling, and wondered whether it was worth transposing sponsors’ names (20 per pledge form) onto a file and doing something with them. “What if…?” was tempered by the time and cost involved in just assembling the list and, anyway, the next fundraising event was demanding my time and my coveted office space. The tower of pledge forms lost out to a mountain of auction items.

Thirty-five years later, The Burk Donor Survey answered my question. Among 8,500 survey respondents with recent experience sponsoring a participant in a walk-a-thon or other athletic event, we found that:

59% had never been asked to give directly to the not-for-profit hosting the event;
among sponsors who were asked to give directly to the cause sometime after sponsoring, 14% did (much higher than the percentage of prospects who give for the first time through traditional acquisition methods);
sponsors under the age of 35 responded even more positively. 19% gave directly sometime after sponsoring;
57% of sponsors who went on to give directly to the same cause (68% of those under the age of 35) said their experience as sponsors influenced the decision to make a direct contribution.

I wish I’d known that back in my bowl-a-thon days.

The post Finding New Donors in a Changing Giving Environment appeared first on Burk’s Blog on March 13, 2018.


Penelope Burk’s keynote speeches and training sessions are legendary in the fundraising industry. She is known for her clarity and humor and for tailoring every address to the needs of the audience in front of her. Cygnus’ vast repository of research themes and studies, all designed by Penelope herself, mean that every delegate – whether professional or volunteer, whether working in fundraising, marketing or management – feels that Penelope is speaking directly to him or her. No one knows donors better than she and her insight, her passion for donors, and her dedication to helping fundraisers become even more successful is evident in every session.

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