A Philanthropist Stands Ready to Reward a Donor-Centered Not-for-Profit

Not long after I published the first edition of Donor-Centered Fundraising, I heard from a donor who had participated in several of our research studies. He was excited (and relieved) to find there was a formula for sustaining donors’ loyalty and inspiring more generous gifts, that the formula was evidence-based, and that the evidence came from donors themselves.

This donor wanted to know which not-for-profits had shifted their fundraising operations from typical to donor-centered. This was back in 2005 or so, and I suspected no one had done so yet as the concept was still fairly new. Undeterred, he bought many copies of Donor-Centered Fundraising over the next several years, distributing them to not-for-profits whose work he admired.

We corresponded occasionally and once I even had the pleasure of meeting him in person. I hadn’t heard from him in some time, so was delighted when he reemerged via email a couple of weeks ago. I noticed a shift in his tone, however. He had become more focused and there was a sense of urgency I had not detected before. Again, he asked for my advice about not-for-profits that were donor-centered. He was seeking to establish a relationship with one or more donor-centered causes – and he was open to any type of not-for-profit or mission.

Being “donor-centered” involves more than just having a positive attitude towards donors. It means committing to a short but specific list of actions whenever a donor gives and doing so in ways that transmit a not-for-profit’s gratitude and respect. Donor-Centered organizations check “yes” in the three boxes below, not just with their donors who give the most money or with those who have been contributing for the longest time, but with all donors.

If you are confident that you do everything on this list, it means you are already Donor-Centered, and I’m sure this thoughtful donor will want to know who you are. We will be happy to pass on your contact information, after which you may hear from him or receive an unsolicited gift. Then you can take it from there. You can provide your contact information to our Director of Customer Service, Kristen Hazell who can be reached at k.hazell@cygresearch.com.

On the other hand, if you review this list and conclude that your fundraising operation is not yet Donor-Centered, there’s no time like the present to move forward. Donors are managing their philanthropy differently and much more confidently today, making some long-standing practices in fundraising less effective. According to donors, these three things capture their attention, keep them loyal longer, inspire more generous gifts, and influence them to prioritize your cause.

If you would like more detailed information on how to adjust your fundraising to be Donor-Centered, you can find it in the second edition of Donor-Centered Fundraising. Among other things, it includes an entire chapter of Donor-Centered thank you letters to inspire your own creative compositions, and strategies to help you help your Board and CEO make good decisions that boost fundraising profit.

Showing 5 comments
  • Jay Love


  • Holly

    Regrettably, I didn’t know these practices had a formal name or were the exception rather than the definition of fundraising until I changed organizations. Quite a culture shock! I am grateful for the opportunity to see various perspectives, practices, and results. It is educational and an opportunity to ask lots of questions.

  • Anne Peyton

    I’m not a nonprofit but simply want to convey how much Penelope’s book has meant in my consulting practice. I just worked with a crafts studio to encourage them in their donor stewardship, outlining how to pay more attention to their top donors ($3,000 – $5,000 level giving) and to their mid-level and to their $100 regulars. I integrate her work into every course I teach for the Third Sector New England – public workshops that have experiential exercises so participants understand, experience first hand, how to have a listening conversation with a donor or would-be donor.

    Her work has made such a difference – more than any other author.

    All this is just to say THANK YOU to Penelope!! Many times THANK YOU! I recommend her 2nd edition to everyone I teach.

  • Sheila Ferguson, CFRE

    Just read the Chronicle of Philanthropy article about this and LOVED IT! Love your ideas and so glad I had a mentor who taught me how to be #DonorCentric years ago…he never wrote a book, but he is one of the best nonprofit strategists out there – Leo Arnoult, CFRE * President of Arnoult & Associates Inc in Memphis, TN.

  • David Porter

    A robotics tournament volunteer version of Donor-Centered Fund Raising or how I survived the experience!

    Please note, I am a 16 year veteran of the high school robotics program FIRST Robotics, 7 of those years as Oregon FRC Regional Tournament Volunteer Coordinator. Each 3.5 day (yearly) event needed 165 volunteers (adults & students). I believe I survived the experience due to a high retention rate of volunteers (79%, taken from a pool of 474), based on a volunteer version of Donor-Centered Fund Raising. The funds raised came in the form of volunteer time working for up to 12 hours/day when needed…

    The following is my FIRST Robotics version of Donor-Centered Action https://www.burksblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/donor-centered-action-chart2.jpg

    At the Oregon FIRST Robotic tournament all volunteers receive a personalized Donor-Centered thank you by being fed breakfast & lunch. The meals are at specific times and meat/vege options per the volunteer’s preference. These meals afforded the opportunity to address all volunteers in a common room where they meet their fellow volunteers in a relaxed atmosphere. That volunteer room has created many friendships and strengthens the STEM ed community!
    Each volunteer is given an opportunity to select a volunteer position (“restricted” or “designated”) based on preference/ability (robot inspector, judge, field technical advisor, field operations, team queuing, etc.) and is given training by a key volunteer. Each volunteer gets a birds eye view of the value of donating their time as they provide guidance to students participating in a robotics tournament under the banner of Gracious Professionalism.
    Each volunteer is given the opportunity to watch final rounds of the tournament live or on screen. The universal report given to all volunteers is the completion of the tournament!
    Volunteers will go to great lengths to participate in a program practicing Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition. By seeing these two concepts practiced in a tournament one year do many volunteers respond positively the next year!
    Thank you Penelope Burk for speaking at a WVDO conference in Portland, Oregon! I would not have understood the volunteer version of your DCFR without having heard your words!

    David Porter
    Program Developer
    Painted Rock Initiative

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