How Does Artificial Intelligence Work in Fundraising and What Should You Do About it?

Alert! You Can Benefit from Artificial Intelligence in Fundraising

What is this Topic?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been making waves the past few years, including automated cars and energy efficiency. Now, the AI buzz recently has found its way to the world of fundraising.

Recently at Association of Philanthropic Counsel, Mark Geiger, President and CEO of AFP said, “It’s important to recognize that artificial intelligence is here, and we need to know how to harness it.” In early 2019, iWave presented on its partnership with Gravyty that brought Artificial Intelligence into the world of donor engagement.

In this post, we help you assess the current AI environment and focus on key actions you can take today.

What are key findings?

  • AI may be able to make certain systems more efficient, such as donor identification and outreach. When University of Buffalo implemented Gravyty, “visits are up 70% year-over-year, and overall philanthropy is up 32% year-over-year” according to the Gravyty blog. Gravyty can review lists of prospects and donors to help identify the ones that major gift officers should reach out to instead of wasting valuable staff time doing the same thing.
  • Gravyty’s system, called First Draft, will draft an email for the fundraiser to send including recommendations of where to meet. First Draft may also be a boon to stewardship efforts as well.
  • AI could be used to facilitate board members with prospect identification; AI fundraising assistants can “recommend… those with similar affinity and propensity to donate in their networks” (NonProfit PRO).
  • Another use would be to assist with data hygiene for Capital Campaigns as well as major analyses to help campaigns focus their time and resources.
  • AI has been used to replace essential prospect management and operation functions. Cleveland Clinic used AI to take over prospect management functions, to assign prospects to fundraisers, replacing two full-time staff members. Staff members review the remaining 5% records. Their system also checks all donors against their fundraising database and creates new records if they are not already in the system.
  • Other uses include making recommendations for student calling campaigns, and making recommendations on ask amounts. Experts also predict the development of chatbots for prospective donors and predicting donor’s passions.
  • However, questions remain on whether nonprofits should spend time worrying about AI in fundraising. Zach Shefska of the Fundraising Report Card believes that use of AI in fundraising is overblown since the for-profit sector is still figuring out how to leverage AI themselves. There are other more top of mind issues in fundraising than AI such as “Relationship building, stewarding legacy gifts, and respectful donor communications.” Shefska believes that conversations of AI are too early and that it may be best to return to the topic in 2020 or 2021.

What can I do as a result?

  • Schedule a demo. Since AI is such a hot topic in business and to a lesser extent fundraising, it is worthwhile educating yourself about AI as a whole and some of the new products and services in the fundraising field. Consider doing a demo on the products available such as Gravyty, Blackbaud Guided Fundraising, and ExactAsk.
  • Be prepared for questions. Not only is being informed about what products and uses are available good for professional development, it will help in any questions that might arise from eager Vice Presidents of Development or Presidents.
  • Get AI-ready. However, implementation of AI systems in fundraising is only at the beginning and may not be a necessity to start right now at your organization. As Shefska noted, there may be other essential tasks that need to be prioritized first before AI. If that sounds like you, conquer the fundraising essentials to get your organization AI-ready.
  • Do what AI can’t do. If you are in a field that has seen the automation of some functions, you may want to consider how the human touch provides a value add that AI cannot provide. What tasks in your organization represent important human contact internally and externally?

Additional Resources

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3 thoughts on “How Does Artificial Intelligence Work in Fundraising and What Should You Do About it?

  1. Thanks for mentioning my perspective, Elisa. Your suggestion to, “schedule a demo,” is fantastic advice. There are some really interesting innovations happening in our sector, but the only way to address whether they are “shiny objects” or practical solutions is to learn more about them.

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