2013 Donor Trends

“You know, Jerry, I’ve decided to focus my philanthropic dollars on fewer organizations going forward. I’d prefer giving a larger amount to support two or three organizations rather than giving smaller amounts to numerous groups.”

Essentially that was the verbatim comment one organization’s major donor told me recently as I conducted a Campaign Strategy Study interview.  According to a new study on donor trends, this donor is not the only one who is paring back on the number of organizations to support.

The 2013 Burk Donor Survey (formerly Cygnus Donor Survey) conducted by Penelope Burk and her Chicago-based company, Cygnus Applied Research, Inc., shows the long-term trend continues among donors to move toward giving to fewer causes.

Penelope, who I had the pleasure of introducing as the keynote speaker at an Alexander Haas-sponsored luncheon for the 2012 Planet Philanthropy conference in Florida, has focused her research on determining how to help organizations become more “donor centered.”

Her first study, which resulted in the book, Donor-Centered Fundraising (2003), is revisited in the 2013 research. In the new study, which surveyed nearly 25,000 recent donors, it is clear that organizations are going to have to work even harder to distinguish themselves from other non-profit groups.

If you remember my blog post from a few weeks ago, you’ll recall that being aware of the age demographics of your constituents is playing an increasing role in our organizations.  The Burk Donor Survey this year shows that 43 percent of the survey’s oldest donors were still supporting eleven or more non-profit groups versus only 24 percent of middle-age donors.

Interestingly, the survey’s youngest donors were more likely to increase their giving (60 percent) when compared to either middle-age donors (43 percent) or donors over the age of 64 (37 percent).  So, once again, segmenting your organization’s messaging and approaches according to age is extremely important.

And speaking of messaging, not surprisingly, donors under the age of 35 are least satisfied with print materials, with 45 percent  preferring to receive information electronically.

Among all donors, few read the communications thoroughly; the majority skims them or read selected sections. The study points out the fact that a non-profit organization has a challenging time getting a donor’s attention:

Fifty seven percent of donors said they set aside non-profit communications that appear to be uninteresting on first glance!

This is an information-filled study with a solid methodology that says we should all pay close attention to its findings.


As Giving USA 2013 shows, over $316 billion was given to charitable causes last year, yet 42 percent of Burk Donor Survey respondents stated they still could have given more!!!

Based on all of this important research information, let’s all work harder…and smarter!