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Author: Fundraisers must give back to charitable donors

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — What do charitable donors want in return for their gifts?

It’s certainly not refrigerator magnets or personalized address labels, according to an author who will speak Friday at the 2010 Fundraisers Forum on Anna Maria Island.

Penelope Burk says donors want one-on-one acknowledgment, the opportunity to give to a specific project and a detailed report of how their philanthropy benefited the community.

Giving donors what they want increases loyalty and the level of generosity, especially key during a time of economic uncertainty, she said Wednesday during a telephone interview from her Hamilton, Ontario, office.

“Loyalty and generosity are the two most important things in fundraising because that’s what you make a profit from,” Burk said. “You can have a lot of donors, each of whom give you a very small amount of money, and it costs the same or more money to keep all those donors up to date and solicit them over. It’s much more profitable to have a handleable number of donors from whom you get very generous contributions.”

About 220 leaders of nonprofit agencies from across southwest Florida will attend the forum, which will be from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at Anna Maria Island Community Center.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Nonprofit Resource Center and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southwest Florida Chapter, have combined forces to put on the forum for the past eight years. This will be the second forum held on the island.

Burk is the author of the book “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” and that will be the title of her address. She is the president of Cygnus Applied Research Inc., a fundraising research and consulting firm.

Research shows more than 80 percent of donors said they are inspired to stay loyal to certain causes and give their most generous gifts when they are acknowledged, offered specific projects and given follow-up reports.

“Donors are like investors,” Burk said. “Investors look for return on investment, and return on investment in philanthropy is getting measurable results on my previous contribution.”

Burk said proper acknowledgment doesn’t necessarily mean a public announcement, such as a picture in the newspaper. It can be much simpler. And token gifts, like the magnets or address labels some solicitors send out, can backfire if potential donors suspect their money could be used for marketing.

“They consider getting a beautiful thank-you letter as a perfect form of acknowledgment,” Burk said. “That to them is much more important than having their name show up on a list of donors in an annual report.”

Effective fundraising is especially essential for nonprofit groups during a time of economic crisis, when there are fewer donors with dwindling resources, Burk said. A recent Cygnus study indicated donors younger than age 65 are beginning to support a smaller number of causes than their elders. Meanwhile, the number of tax-exempt organizations in the United States grew by 3.2 percent from April 2008 to April 2009, Burk said.

“There are more organizations out there asking for money and, at the same time, donors are trending to support fewer causes. Something’s got to give in there,” Burk said.