The Zen of Fundraising – Book Review

The Zen of Fundraising

Total read time: 3 minutes (approx.)


The unique quality of Ken Burnett’s The Zen of Fundraising: 89 Timeless Ideas to Strengthen and Develop Your Donor Relationship is its witty and engaging tone – it is a pleasure to read.

Burnett writes with genuine passion and enthusiasm, differentiating the text from many other works of non-fiction. Burnett claims there are eighty-nine small but “cumulatively significant” ideas in the book or “more than that for the thoughtful reader” and it’s easy to believe him. The ideas overflowing from Burnett’s book are part inspirational and part practical tips. Some ideas might be simple or straightforward but Burnett delivers them with the encouraging conviction of a fundraising veteran. Other ideas take a distinctively high level approach to fundraising and Burnett repeatedly considers the impact of effective fundraising on the organisation as a whole.


Burnett’s fundraising methodology is centred on donor relationships. He champions the method of donor relationship development and relationship fundraising and, as a specialist in fundraising, marketing and communications, he has written a number of other texts on the subject. Burnett believes that building better relationships with donors will not just bring in increased funds but more broadly enable non-profit organisations to reach their full potential. His approach to fundraising focuses on attitude, engagement and inspiration rather than technical or marketing skills. In fact, he strongly discourages any attempts to “sell” to donors.


The structure of The Zen of Fundraising appears fairly casual but is in fact thoughtful and deliberate, moving in a natural progression from one cohesive group of ideas to another in a way that is often surprising and thought provoking. Burnett’s positive attitude is infectious and his comical titles, subheadings and sidebars add an element of fun to the book.


In addition to comprehensively addressing donor relationship techniques, Burnett also places the importance of fundraising in the greater context of the whole, functioning organisation. Burnett notes the importance of good governance, transparent accountability and excellent customer service to successful fundraising – and recommends demonstrating these skills and successes to donors. Burnett also encourages fundraisers to be informed and educated in their thinking. He recommends that all fundraising staff keep abreast of new ideas and try to be “15 minutes ahead” in their thinking, in other words, be innovative and imaginative. He also appreciates the value of mastering the basics of fundraising and has included a chapter that revisits these.


Throughout The Zen of Fundraising Burnett offers brief analogies, anecdotes and case studies that render the book a highly engaging and entertaining read. A notable one appeared early in the book – in stressing the importance of great customer service in fundraising (which he has identified as a skill many organisations lack), Burnett likens customer service to personal hygiene – “without it your relationships won’t even get started”.


This book is a little gem. Despite its brief length, The Zen of Fundraising is a gold mine of really useful ideas and practical tips on fundraising that are appropriate at multiple levels of non-profit organisations, from staff members to the board. The book is informative, engaging and inspiring. It is equally suitable for a range of fundraising experience levels. Experienced fundraisers will find the book valuable as a reinvigorating read that will encourage them to see the role with new eyes and greater enthusiasm. Although it is not specifically targeted at novice fundraisers, the book is also appropriate as an introduction to the subject, especially if they start with Chapter 3 that specifically covers the basics. Inspiration is Burnett’s watchword in this book, but it is also its net result. The Zen of Fundraising will inspire readers as much as it encourages them to inspire their donors.


Published by Jossey-Bass, 2006. 163 pages.


Avatar About Julia Duffy

Julia is a writer and researcher at Better Boards. She has a passionate interest in the non-profit sector, particularly its legal and regulatory complexities and she follows all news and developments in this area keenly. Prior to joining Better Boards, Julia served as an intern at Philanthropy Australia. Julia has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne, majoring in Political Science and English Literature.

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