How Artificial Intelligence Can Improve Your Nonprofit Fundraising Channels
Big promises are being made about artificial intelligence and how it will impact our lives. Experts say artificial intelligence is slowly “edging” its way into daily life, but tectonic changes in transportation, the workplace and lifestyle have yet to pass. So, when will artificial intelligence truly “arrive”? In some areas, it already has.
One such area generating substantial value is, perhaps surprisingly, the nonprofit space. While nonprofits aren’t historically at the forefront of technological advancement, this sector is quietly becoming an early adopter of artificial intelligence (AI).
Before exploring the natural pairing of nonprofit fundraising and AI, let’s briefly discuss some definitions. Broadly speaking, AI is “a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success.” Basically, AI is a program that acts and thinks in ways that resemble intelligent humans. A distinct sub-area of AI is machine learning (ML), which “gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.” Simply put, ML—the most common application of AI—helps computers access and learn from data without human intervention.
The key to successful nonprofit fundraising and AI is teamwork: Human fundraisers team up with AI assistants, with each half doing what they do best. First, the AI assistant develops and applies algorithms to ingest, clean, enrich and then search through large amounts of data in order to recognize patterns and give non-intuitive recommendations. Then, the human fundraiser applies judgment and context to select from those recommendations the right donor and message. This Human-AI team is the future of nonprofit fundraising.
The result is a win-win for both sides. Human-AI fundraising teams will produce fewer unwanted “noisy” appeals and more personable, relatable messages to prospective donors about causes that align with their interests. Thus, Human-AI teams reach the right donors in less time, creating an even greater impact.
How does AI work with common fundraising channels? Why do nonprofits need AI assistants? What’s the benefit of teaming up? Let’s explore three common fundraising channels and how AI can take each to the next level.
Peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising helps nonprofits unlock the potential of new donors interested in their cause—and fast—through their current donor and supporter networks. Simply put, supporters ask for donations from their networks on a nonprofit’s behalf. The benefits are massive: Nearly one-third of online donations are now made through P2P. It’s a year-round fundraising solution, and the most passionate supporters multiply a development team’s workforce for little to no extra cost. However, P2P campaigns are usually designed to deliver the same generic fundraising message to as many people as possible, which loses effectiveness over time. In fact, revenues from top peer-to-peer programs are in decline.
How AI Can Help
AI Fundraising Recruiting. AI assistants can identify the most promising fundraisers among a nonprofit’s constituency. One way AI assistants do this is by utilizing the nonprofit’s past fundraising campaign data to identify the traits of previously successful fundraisers. Additionally, AI assistants take data points and connections that would be impossible for human fundraisers to match without an unrealistically high investment of time and training.
AI Fundraising Assistants. AI assistants can team up with human fundraisers to discover overlooked potential donors and suggest tailored messaging. This results in P2P campaigns with fewer unwanted messages and with higher success rates because the fundraiser is reaching out to prospects with higher affinity and engaging them with tailored messaging designed to activate that particular prospect.
2. Board Fundraising
Most nonprofits often have a “give or get” requirement for their board members, who, in turn, usually have access to substantial resources and valuable networks. The annual “give or get” allows nonprofits to ask board members to donate outright or ask for donations from their networks. Board members can expend significant time and energy meeting their fundraising requirement if they choose to “get” them. For this reason, rarely do nonprofits receive full access (or full benefit) of their board members’ networks.
How AI Can Help
AI Fundraising Assistants. Providing AI assistants to board members can supercharge their annual “give or get” efforts by recommending recruitments from their high-value networks.
There are typically three friction points board members face in fundraising: 1) deciding who to ask, 2) figuring out how to ask and 3) finding the time to make the ask.
AI assistants can reduce these friction points for nonprofit board members by recommending those with similar affinity and propensity to donate in their networks. Once board members decide to engage with a recommendation, the AI assistant generates messaging that resonates—in seconds—for each specific individual. Board members are busy and have limited time. AI assistants can provide them the “answer to the test”: Here is who to ask and here is the message how to ask.
3. Capital Campaigns
money over a period of time. Normally, the fundraising goal is clear and it is for a specific purpose (e.g. a building project). These campaigns often focus heavily on donors with high capacity, which can lead to donor fatigue if the asks are done incorrectly or too often.
How AI Can Help
AI Data Hygiene. In less time and at lower cost, AI assistants can consolidate, deduplicate, and standardize nonprofit’s email (or direct mail) contact lists better than current methods, which often rely heavily on human-initiated searches and manual edits. AI assistants accomplish this task with the patience of a machine and “learning” over time from feedback provided by the nonprofit. A “cleaner” mailing list decreases cost by reducing duplicate mailings and outreach to inactive addresses.
AI Data Analysis and Visualization. AI assistants can analyze, visualize and segment the results of capital campaigns in real-time, thereby providing feedback on where a nonprofit’s time, attention and resources should be focused. AI assistants can excel at finding non-intuitive patterns in large datasets; these patterns are hard to find using traditional analysis tools. In addition, AI can enrich a nonprofit’s existing data by appending additional data to make meaningful analysis possible.
AI Fundraising Recruiting. AI assistants can help identify high-potential human fundraisers from existing donors or supporter to recruit for the capital campaign effort.
AI Fundraising Assistants: As discussed in the above “Board Fundraising” section, AI assistants can empower human fundraisers to expand beyond their traditional circle of donors by suggesting new donors to recruit from, then provide tailored messaging that enables fundraisers to make asks easily and with confidence. AI assistants can also suggest the optimal time to make an ask or even who from within a fundraiser’s network can assist with making the ask.
The key takeaway is this: Successful nonprofit fundraising is found at the intersection of receptive donors and effective outreach. Teams of human fundraisers and AI assistants can find that intersection more intelligently, quickly and cost-effectively.
AI assistants in the nonprofit sector are poised for rapid development in the coming years. Nonprofits will increasingly turn to the powerful teaming of motivated human fundraisers with AI assistants for the acceleration of their missions. The AI revolution will take time to reach all aspects of our society, but it is already generating substantial value where we might need it most: charitable giving.