Penelope Burk

Months after the Giving Challenge, we still marvel at the number of new donors who came forward to support organizations they did not donate to in last year’s event. According to Penelope Burk, CEO of Cygnus Applied Research and author of “Donor-Centered Fundraising” and “Donor-Centered Leadership,” it’s pretty likely that first-time donors will not give again. Why? We don’t always do the right things to make them feel good about their first gift.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County and The Patterson Foundation invest heavily in the Giving Challenge with the hopes that gains made in a 24-hour period will continue to nurture and sustain participating nonprofits for many years to come.

According to Burk’s research, 87% of donors said they needed only three things to give again:

  1. To be acknowledged in a prompt and meaningful way.
  2. For their gift to be assigned to a specific purpose.
  3. Communication about what the gift accomplished or helped to accomplish.

5 Penelope Burk Tips for Thanking Donors:

Burk says, “A great thank you letter can carry a donor into a greater commitment.” Donors consistently said that being thanked was the single most important communication they ever receive from nonprofits.

  1. It shouldn’t be more than one paragraph long.
  2. Stop hand-writing a crossed out “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wilson” for the more familiar “Jerry and Judi.” Donors are likely to think you made a mistake and didn’t bother to print a new letter, Burk says.
  3. Consider the impact of the highest level volunteer at your organization, a board member, calling to thank a donor for her first-time gift. 92% of donors said they would give again if a board member called to thank them. (And imagine how fulfilling this fundraising role can be for the board member who is uncomfortable asking for money.)
  4. The sincerity of your thank you letter is everything. An informative thank you letter full of programmatic details can be icy; be genuine instead.
  5. Write using “you” instead of “your” to emphasize the donor instead of the donor’s money.

Other donor-centered advice from Penelope based on data from her extensive research:

  • Every organization’s mission out there is “worthy.” Successful organizations move beyond the “worthiness” factor in their appeals and thank you letters.
  • Consider the cumulative impact of making one call each morning to a donor (only to thank them) and one in the late afternoon. Starting and ending your day like this can create unlimited potential for future gifts.
  • Donor recognition didn’t make it to the top three factors driving donor loyalty and more generous giving over time. Think about it.
  • In many cases, an organization can get a first gift by selling its brand. After that, it’s about showing your philanthropic investors they have a good return on their investment.

Many first-time gifts were made on September 1 and 2. With the strength of our nonprofit community and so many committed staff and board members out there, we know we do a lot of things right. Our continued message: let’s make sure the impact of the Giving Challenge lasts far beyond the 24-hour success we experienced and read about.

Penelope Burk visited Sarasota on November 18 for a special session with nonprofit leaders, a partnership of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, U.S. Trust, and Merrill Lynch.



We’re reviewing the results of the 2015 Giving Challenge survey, in which 221 participating organizations shared their thoughts and input about the largest online giving event in Florida’s history.

As we reflect on your feedback and ideas for the future, along with so many touching comments of gratitude, we are also meditating upon answers to the question the community may be most interested in: “How will your organization use the funds it raised?”

It is an inspiration to consider the varied and impactful work that will be achieved with the $6.9 million raised from so many generous donors and citizen philanthropists, with support from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and The Patterson Foundation, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

In addition to funding some of the hardest and most-needed dollars to come by–general operating support–here are some of the programs and projects your Giving Challenge contributions will make possible here in Southwest Florida:

  • Scholarship funds—for special camps, tuition, attendance at after school programs, athletic programs
  • Rescue and rehab for dogs and cats, some with medical and behavioral needs
  • Veterinary bills for rescued wildlife
  • Development of a school library and computer lab
  • Toiletries for school backpack programs
  • Maintenance and upkeep for the two oldest building in the city – the Bidwell-Wood House (1882) and the Crocker Memorial Church (1901)
  • Temporary financial assistance to a family whose child is on the cancer floor at All Children’s Hospital
  • Critical veterinary care for 75+ pets of low-income families
  • Student Playwriting Festival and the development of a new event for the area, Twenty-Minute Musicals
  • Youth bereavement camp for children who have lost a parent, guardian, or sibling
  • ALS research and raising awareness of the disease
  • Update and purchase of new equipment
  • Community outreach and education
  • Veterans Farm Project and other programs to help vets, but we anticipate primarily for the farm project
  • Parent success programs and support of student character development
  • Musical performances
  • Food for children and families in need
  • Programming expenses for Architecture and Design Month
  • Texcellence program and program related initiatives.
  • Subsidizing costs of living quarters for retired circus performers
  • Furnishings for a new nature center
  • Live, local music talent at out 70+ free events in downtown Bradenton
  • Medical equipment loan program
  • Garden seed for volunteers to prepare for empowering a hungry world to grow food
  • Educational program for elementary and pre-school students
  • New building costs, furnishings & medical equipment
  • Free counseling hours
  • Child care services to low-income children in DeSoto County
  • Construction of six new affordable homes in Warm Mineral Springs
  • New transport van
  • Solar power expansion and operations
  • Support for active duty Coast Guard personnel and their families
  • Purchasing and renting musical scores
  • Disaster relief
  • Music education, entertainment, and community engagement
  • Support girls with financial assistance to participate in outdoor leadership opportunities
  • Spay/neuter services
  • New habitat for six African Servals
  • Updated sound system and microphones for performing arts
  • Architectural and engineering study of a facility
  • New home construction
  • Expanded programs into South Sarasota County serving an additional 2,000 children
  • Renovations to Wildflower Preserve
  • Increased shelter space and improved living conditions for families with minor children
  • Advertising to increase mission bandwidth
  • Support Our Troops care packages
  • Increase face to face interaction with citizens of our seven sister cities across the world
  • Enhance and expand Parkinson’s education programs
  • Occupational Therapy equipment for students
  • Bulletproof vests for K9s in Florida
  • Broadcasting on WUSF TV, WUSF 89.7 and WSMR 89.1
  • Resources for teachers and students in Sarasota County Schools
  • Field trips, equipment, and other educational opportunities outside the classroom
  • Help qualifying patients in Florida who are undergoing cancer treatment and need help paying their rent/mortgage, utilities and car
  • Add new, eligible children to the Imagination Library program
  • Bullying prevention workshops and programs
  • Hearing aids to those who cannot afford them
  • Weekly mission flights to missionary families serving in Haiti, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic.
  • Playground equipment
  • STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts & mathematics) programs and clubs for students
  • New uniforms for athletes
  • Artist residencies
  • Safe homes for foster children
  • Young Entrepreneurs Academy and Youth Leadership
  • Medical care, spay/neuter, food and shelter for homeless cats and kittens
  • Water filters and training for mothers in Ghana, West Africa– impacting 10-15 villages
  • Restore a mural that has deteriorated due to water damage
  • Replace crucial but aging field research equipment
  • New air conditioner
  • Therapy and classroom supplies for children with autism
  • Update learn-to-sail boats
  • Accessible bus for residents who are mobility impaired
  • Technology upgrade
  • Granting wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions
  • Books for young children in poverty

That’s quite a list. And it’s only part of what we’ll see happen in our community and beyond over the next six months with this infusion of generosity.

Whatever role you played in helping to make this happen–whether it was serving as your nonprofit’s Team Leader, fundraising as a board member, or giving your time, talent or treasure to the Giving Challenge campaign–thank you.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

A Giving Challenge campaign that garnered attention from the beginning–and was ultimately selected by a local panel of media judges as one of two Best Overall Campaign recipients–belonged to the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.

“Make 24 hours equal forever” was its very apropos call to action, considering the organization’s work to protect the environmental character, biodiversity and natural integrity of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

But beyond this mission, we can’t help but love its implications for every organization that took such time and effort to prepare for a record-breaking day of giving in Florida on September 1 and 2.

By now we all have the numbers firmly engrained into our consciousness. In just 24 hours, more than 36,400 individual donations were made to 449 local nonprofits serving Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and Desoto counties yielding $6.7 million from online gifts, matching funds from The Patterson Foundation, and funding from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, and the Knight Foundation.

Long after the media attention, Donor Lounge fanfare, and Leaderboard addiction melt away, we have opportunities of a nonprofit lifetime in front of us.

On this first week of Fall, it’s a perfect time to consider how we can harvest the Giving Challenge and its treasures for all they are worth.  Here are three plans your team should be jotting down furiously, while all of this is fresh and exciting.

  1. Your plan for retaining the donors who contributed to your organization in the Giving Challenge.
    Whether your organization had one new donor or hundreds of new donors, don’t let them be “first and only” gifts. Let’s also consider the long-time supporters who gave during the Challenge. Going forward, how will your nonprofit make sure these donors feel appreciated, are engaged, and give again? For first-time donors, getting that second gift is both a challenge and an opportunity. Meet it!

  2. Your plan for sharing the impact Giving Challenge donations will make.
    I bet you have a plan for how your organization will spend the funds it raised in the Giving Challenge. How will you share the impact those dollars will make on real people, on animals, on important issues, or our environment? When donors can see their gift tied to a real result in the community, they are more likely to give again. Consider videos, newsletters, media relations, your website, social media–all of the different ways you can share the outcome created by so much generosity.

  3. Your plan for harvesting what you learned.
    Every time we host the Giving Challenge, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County learns a little more about our internal capacity, what we could do better, what worked really well, what surprised us, how we could be more efficient or effective using technology differently. We capture these comments from our team members and from external feedback and use them in multiple ways. We know there are similar nuggets about your team and about the fundraising/communication strategies you tried. Apply them to your work throughout the year, outside of the Giving Challenge, to build your fundraising strength and experience.

Thousands of people were part of the $6.7 million success our community owns. We owe it to them and to the important missions that were part of the Giving Challenge to carry that success with us into the future.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


The countdown clock on the Giving Challenge website tells me we have less than 3 days until the 24-hour giving “extravaganza” we’ve been waiting for officially begins.

Here are some closing thoughts about exploring new possibilities in giving, brought to you by the letter “r.”

  1. Represent community. 
    Be an active role model in creating community. Be complimentary of what others are doing. We’re all in this together. See another organization doing well in the Giving Challenge?  Imagine what its success will mean for the people, places, or animals that benefit from its mission.

    Two people who have been particularly active on The Giving Partner’s Facebook page sharing positive commentary about other organizations: Carisa Campanella of Neuro Challenge Foundation and JoAnne DeVries of the Hearing Loss Association of Sarasota. What nice examples they have set for building community online.

  2. Respect that donors are all different.
    It’s true that some donors choose to give to animal causes rather than those serving people. Some give to education, some to the environment. Some donors give to the same organizations year after year. Other donors give to a different organization every year, depending on where they can maximize their dollars. One reason philanthropy works in our community is because we have so many diverse interests when it comes to social causes. Respecting these differences will lead to more giving for all of the missions we care about.

    As you see the Leaderboard fill up with donations, remember that each one is there because one person deeply cares about making the world better in a certain way. We should celebrate that.

  3. Resist the urge to compare your campaign to others.
    Be proud of what your organization is accomplishing. Money for your mission is good! But so is bringing your team together, building an online community around your work, making more people aware of the services you offer, growing the fundraising participation of your board, appreciating your volunteers…

    Have you moved the needle in any of these areas? That’s success. If you set your target too high, that’s okay too. You learned what’s possible and what to tweak in your future fundraising efforts.

  4. Recognize your people.
    I bet you didn’t do it alone–we hope you didn’t do it alone. Donors will give. Social media ambassadors have been liking and sharing your posts on Facebook or Twitter.  Others have helped you plan and execute your campaign. Whether you celebrate digitally or at your office, take the time to thank people for being part of your organization’s success, and most importantly, share what this success will mean for the people, special places, or animals you serve.

  5. Reveal yourself as a new donor!
    What if each nonprofit staff member, volunteer, or board member gives to her own organization and to an organization she hasn’t supported before? You too can be part of The Patterson Foundation’s generous matching dollars, up to $250 when you give to a nonprofit as a new donor! Go to http://www.GivingPartnerChallenge.org to find the 449 participating nonprofits.

See you on September 1 & 2 from noon to noon!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County



With all this time preparing for the Giving Challenge, you may just be sitting around during the actual event with nothing to do.

Or you could stay supercharged on September 1 at noon through September 2 at noon and be a driver of new possibilities in giving.  This year 450 nonprofits are participating, and you can be sure that excitement will be running the show.

If you want to make the most of the 2015 Giving Challenge, be sure not to do these things:

  1. Ignore the the Leaderboard on your laptop, iPad, desktop, or mobile phone. Some have described the Leaderboard as “addictive” and “hard to ignore.” It will update every 60 seconds to reflect the dollar amount of gifts received, the number of new donors who give, and other important stats that keep you tied to your seat.

  2. Sleep from 12:00 a.m. on September 2 through 3:00 a.m. on September 2. Do you remember that two random donors who donate on www.givingpartnerchallenge.org between the hours of 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. will be selected for a $1,000 grant added to their donations?

  3. Stay away from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. It’s going to be fun here. Food, a photo booth, an interactive and soothing Giving Challenge painting, entertainment, special mission focused hours. We hope you can stop by and enjoy our Donor Lounge made possible by our friends at Home Resource.

  4. Talk excessively about how tired you are. This campaign requires a great deal of energy! The week after the Giving Challenge is a three-day weekend. We can make it.

  5. Wait until you receive your Giving Challenge funds to email your donors and thank them for their gifts.
    The beginning of a beautiful relationship is an immediate, heartfelt thank you. Why not thank your donors in “real time” since you can see their gifts come in with updates every 60 seconds?

  6. Ask everyone else what’s going on instead of following #GivingChallenge15 on Facebook and Twitter.
    There’s so much you can see and enjoy out in our community on September 1 and 2, but you can also use the hashtag #GivingChallenge15 to enjoy the campaigns and activities of your nonprofit friends and colleagues. We have been enjoying the excitement building every day.

If you have taken part in the Giving Challenge in past years, let us know what we missed on our list!

The 2015 Giving Challenge is made possible by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and The Patterson Foundation with support from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, and the Herald-Tribune Media Group.

GivingChallenge2015LargeForPrintEvery year we are asked how much money we think local nonprofits will raise in the Giving Challenge through donations, matching dollars, and grant incentives combined.

A really easy answer: we don’t know. The uncertainty is both exciting and anxiety provoking, isn’t it? Anything can happen in 24 hours!

With this year’s focus on new donors from The Patterson Foundation and with other new grant opportunities offered through the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the possibilities are amazing to consider.

And although the total amount of money raised can understandably be a focus in the Giving Challenge, so many other positives that benefit our community’s diverse organizations are generated from their strategies and planning.

Here are 10 predictions for the 2015 Giving Challenge:

  1. Donors will see that a $25 gift can really make a difference.
  2. Videos that make us laugh, evoke profound emotions, showcase familiar faces, and feature impact will be created and will spread across social media platforms like wildfire.
  3. Board teams will come together in unprecedented numbers to actually have fun planning their fundraising campaigns.
  4. Some nonprofits will co-design unbelievably creative partnerships that will result in new possibilities for working together in the future.
  5. Business owners will align with nonprofits like never before to help them raise more money, meet more people, and gain more traction.
  6. Nonprofits will use the Giving Challenge to boost their current fundraising campaigns.
  7. Donors will give to organizations they have never before supported, and those organizations will start developing meaningful relationships with them.
  8. Clients of nonprofit programs and their families will be inspired to donate and will encourage others to do the same.
  9. Our community will be know as the “Region of Heartfelt Thank You Notes.”
  10. #GivingChallenge15 will dominate Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

What do you predict for your organization? We hope that enjoying your Giving Challenge campaign planning is in the mix!

Have a great weekend.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Just the thought of raising money can be a real challenge for many nonprofit board members. And it’s understandable when we frame “fundraising” in limited contexts.  But it’s easier when you think of your board as a team…and maybe even a fun team that is serious about helping your organization thrive. (Newsflash: your board is a team.)

I’m not your biggest sports fan, but I do know that on teams, each person plays a different role. On your board team, some people will feel comfortable making an “ask” while others will never feel comfortable doing so. It’s like asking a quarterback to be a wide receiver. You need both and wouldn’t expect one to perform the same role as the other.

With each Giving Challenge, we search for ways to help nonprofits raise dollars and build their strength. This year we have a new grant incentive, and it’s all about your board. Hint: how can you use the community excitement behind the Giving Challenge to rally your board’s enthusiasm for your mission?

Here are three ways your board can leap into the Challenge:

  1. Commit to 100% board participation in giving during the Challenge. If you’re asking the community to support you during this 24 hour period, it sends a powerful message when your board supports your organization too. Everyone can participate as a philanthropist in the Giving Challenge by donating $25. Last year, 74% of nonprofits indicated that some board members gave to them during the Challenge, and 19% indicated that everyone on the board gave. It would be exciting to see those percentages rise!

  2. Consider all of the ways your board members can be part of your fundraising team: hosting a gathering at their home; enlisting the support of their business; sharing their enthusiasm for your mission with their friends, family and colleagues via email, social media or a letter; thanking your donors. (Check out GuideStar’s recent blog post by Rachel Muir, CFRE for more.) Last year only 28% of board members participated in thanking Giving Challenge donors. That’s an opportunity for growth, and it’s actually fun and meaningful to thank donors.

  3. Evoke that team spirit! Anyone–not just board members–can be more open to fundraising when working together for the benefit of a cause near and dear to everyone on the team, right? Just look at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troope board in last year’s Giving Challenge. They do look like they were having fun. (The board challenged the community with their own match for dollars raised during the campaign.)


Can your board come together with a team spirit to help your nonprofit raise money, share excitement for your accomplishments in the community, and have a good time doing it?

You might just be the right nonprofit to earn one of two $1,000 grants that will be awarded for “Best Board Member Engagement” in the Giving Challenge.  With a positive experience in this campaign, the doors are wide open for a year of more board participation in fundraising.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County