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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Will they come? Will they give? Will they even care to read our newsletter?
Penelope Burk

August, 2010

The Cygnus Donor Survey

“In the boardroom, leadership volunteers are discussing a new idea for a fundraising event. The question on the table is, “Will our donors come?” Down the hall, the CEO and Development Director are debating the latest forecast. Their question is, “Will our donors give at this level?” Downstairs, the Communications officer is poring over the fourth draft of her newsletter and wondering, “Will our donors read this?” wrote Penelope Burk, President of Cygnus Applied Research.

“Somewhere out there are the donors with the answers to those questions, just waiting to be asked. That’s where we come in,” continued Burk.

The bad economy continues to hurt philanthropy.

Close to 7,000 donors found a split between typical donors—those whose smallest gift was $81—and more affluent donors, whose smallest gift was $135.

8 percent of donors in the study said they plan to give less to charity in 2010, down from 17.5 percent in a similar survey last year. Among wealthier donors, 11 percent said that they would give less to charity this year than in 2009. That percentage grew to 17 percent among the top 10 percent of donors who gave the most money to charity.

 “To me, recognition and appreciation are two separate ideas. I don’t need to be recognized but a sense of individual appreciation such as a personal thank‐you goes a long way!” Donor

Many charities rely on loyal donors who make large gifts rather than small. The economic downturn may continue to depress giving for a long time.

• “I do see that the nonprofits I support are offering more information to donors relating to accountability and transparency. This is a good direction. Though best practices in the sector are nascent, they are emerging. Relevance and effectiveness are high on my list of things for which I seek accountability from the organizations I support financially.” Donor

The survey was conducted by Cygnus Applied Research—an international research company that examines fund-raising techniques and donor behavior. It studied American and Canadian donors to 42 charities.

"While these findings are generally positive, and suggest that the impact of the recession in philanthropy is abating, they do not predict a wholesale recovery in the charitable sector as yet," Cygnus officials wrote. "Together these numbers suggest a moderating trend in the negative impact of the economic downturn on philanthropy and yet also a year in which the fund-raising landscape is unlikely to change dramatically."

“Keep it simple! I don't need all of the nitty gritty – it’s a waste of your time on gifts at my level (under $500 per gift). Make sure I understand the basics... $25 will plant a tree, $200 will provide eight soccer balls for the team, $500 will go towards a nursing scholarship, etc...” Donor

The survey went beyond asking how much donors plan to give, and Cygnus said that many donors are:

  • Cutting back on the number of charities they support.
  • Increasingly favoring organizations that provide them with measurable results.
  • More likely to stop giving to charities that they think solicit them too frequently.
  • More influenced by the amount charities spend to raise money than in the past.
  • Increasingly shifting their support to local rather than regional or national causes.   

Cygnus has made available an executive summary of the survey at .

You may purchase a copy of the entire report for $50.00.


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