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Monday, January 22, 2018

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Only one in two donors confident about contributing to not-for-profit causes this year; many forced to cut back
Penelope Burk

March, 2009

More than half of individual charitable donors plan to give the same amount or more to philanthropic causes in 2009 despite the recession, according to a recent survey conducted by Cygnus Applied Research, a leading market research and fundraising consulting firm specializing in the not-for-profit sector.  However, nearly half will either give less or are unsure about their giving threshold in 2009, which could determine the ability of some charities to survive this year. 

The Cygnus Applied Research study, “Philanthropy in a Turbulent Economy,” of nearly 22,000 American donors conducted in January 2009 showed that 52.3 percent said they will give the same amount or more to charity in 2009, with 17.5 percent planning to give less and 30.2 percent indicating that it is too early to say whether their giving will increase or decrease.  Of those donors planning to give less to charity in 2009, 55 percent cited the economic downturn as the main reason.

It is a sense of obligation that is driving those donors who plan to increase or maintain their charitable giving, as 50 percent said that they are willing to make compromises in other areas of their lives in order to sustain their donations.  Fifty-nine percent also plan to give the same or more because not-for-profits need their help more than ever during the recession.

“Not-for-profits need to pay close attention to the nearly one-third of donors who are unsure about their giving ability this year and those who plan to give less,” said Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research. “In fact, many charities’ continued success might depend on how this group reacts to ongoing economic conditions.”

Indeed, of those donors who plan to give less, almost 75 percent will reduce the monetary value of their contributions, while 11.6 percent of respondents plan on reducing the number of charities they support and 13.6 percent were not sure.

“While donors are attempting to soften the blow by taking this approach,” says Burk, “it could actually hurt charities more as the cost of soliciting these smaller gifts will remain the same.”

The survey also captured individual comments from donors who expressed their sense of obligation and commitment to helping not-for-profits.  Regarding the need to compromise on spending, one donor remarked, “We want to continue our level of support, and are adjusting expenses like the coffee-shop coffees, fewer restaurant meals, etc. so we can continue to donate.”

Burk provides suggestions for donors who must cut back on their giving in 2009 on how they can maximize the value of their philanthropy:

  • If you must cut back and intend to give less this year overall, it’s better that you reduce the number of causes you support rather than giving smaller gifts to the same number of not-for-profits you supported last year.
  • Tell the not-for-profit why you intend to stop supporting them. This will help the organization by allowing them to stop sending costly and unproductive appeals. Donors seldom do this and leave charities appealing for more contributions for three years or longer after donors have stopped giving.
  • Consider offering a major gift (or forming a group of donors who could offer a major gift) as a matching-gift challenge to other donors.

Philanthropy in a Turbulent Economy” is available for sale from Cygnus Applied Research by calling (800) 263-0267 or by visiting the company’s web site at


In January 2009, Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. engaged almost 22,000 American donors in an on-line survey about their long term and recent giving history, how they had personally been affected by the economic downturn so far, and whether and how the recession will impact their philanthropy in 2009. Overall study results are accurate within a margin of error of +/-0.74 percent, nineteen times out of twenty.

About Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.

Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. is a research-based fundraising consulting firm serving the not-for-profit sector.  President Penelope Burk, a renowned author, speaker and fundraising futurist, leads the company.  Cygnus is recognized as the innovator of Donor-Centered Fundraising.  The company’s training programs and client services are devoted to helping professional fundraisers, managers and leadership volunteers adopt a more customer service-oriented approach to fundraising.  Cygnus continues to conduct new, meaningful research aimed at encouraging philanthropy and improving fundraising performance.  The firm has offices in Chicago, Toronto and the United Kingdom.  For further information, please visit


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