Using artificial intelligence (AI) and balancing personalization and authenticity for effective fundraising.
The rise of technology and artificial intelligence has completely changed how nonprofit organizations are able to fundraise and communicate with donors. If you’re overwhelmed—and maybe even a bit scared—of the many possibilities of AI, keep reading.
Historically, our communications with donors were limited to in-person interactions, direct mail, and phone calls. While these methods were effective, they were time-consuming; they often lacked personalization and struggled to reach a broader audience. When the pandemic offered new challenges for fundraisers, we switched to Zoom meetings and virtual fundraising events. Our donor communications became even less personal.
The pandemic also kickstarted the Great Resignation, which taxed donor relationships even more. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that nearly a million nonprofit jobs were lost in 2020 alone—and with those jobs, relationships between staff and donors were lost as well.
As we combat a generosity crisis and a shrinking number of donors, can AI be a solution to our fundraising woes? Can AI and related technology solve our challenges by changing the way we operate—specifically the way we communicate and build relationships with our donors?
How AI can help boost giving and donor retention
To many of us, artificial intelligence sounds alarming, like something from a Sci-Fi movie. But today nonprofits can use AI to overcome some of our biggest donor communication challenges.
The fusion of technology and a personalized human touch can transform our approach to fundraising, allowing us to create tailored, authentic, and impactful interactions with donors.
AI can step in to help us manage and analyze extensive amounts of donor data; it can help us identify our donors’ preferences, behaviors, and enable us to customize communications to each donor’s interests. This level of personalization strengthens the relationships with our donors and increases the likelihood of success while fundraising. Nonprofit professionals can turn to AI to help with:
- Content Creation: AI can help generate content for emails, newsletters, and social media posts that are tailored to each donor’s interests. Writing copy for newsletters and social media is time consuming; by allowing AI to help, we save time that we can spend with our donors. AI can personalize the content to grab donors’ attention and encourage them to engage with the organization.
- Segmentation and Targeting: AI can assist in segmenting databases based on many factors including history of donations, engagement level, and demographic information. Segmenting allows for more targeted communications, providing donors messaging that resonates with them.
- Predictive Modeling: AI can gather and analyze more data than most of us can begin to comprehend. Predictive Modeling with AI can gather current and historical data to help identify trends and patterns in your organization’s fundraising and uncover new prospective major donors in your database.
Don’t get too comfortable: the limitations of AI and donor communications
While AI offers numerous advantages in donor communications, maintaining authenticity remains of utmost importance.
Donors want to feel connected to their cause and the person asking them for a gift. Overly automated interactions can risk the sense of connection. Here’s how we can balance AI with an authentic human touch:
- Pairing Automation with Personal Outreach: We can use AI to handle routine tasks and communications, but personalized human outreach on sensitive topics with major donors is critical. We must continue to make personalized phone calls and write handwritten notes to make donors feel valued, acknowledged, and inspired them to continue contributing to your organization.
- Genuine Messaging: While AI-generated content is useful, important messaging such as major gift thank-yous, strategic plans, or cases for support should be crafted by us. These messages carry emotional and strategic weight and must reflect the organization’s core values to resonate with donors and deepen our relationship with them.
- Listening and Feedback: AI can be used to gather data and inform some decisions, but we should continue to actively seek feedback from donors through small focus groups, surveys, and informal polls. This two-way communication fosters trust and demonstrates our commitment to improvement.
Using AI to cultivate donor relationships
We’ve touched on how AI can elevate the donor experience while cautioning its limitations, but how can we implement these practices in our day to day?
We can make a big change for our industry and the people we serve through our missions by using AI to cultivate long-term relationships with supporters, but how do we do it? Here a few of the first steps your organization can take:
- Dive into the Capabilities of Your CRM: There are many constituent relationship management (CRM) software systems that provide donor segmentation using AI. They can notate donor behaviors such as open rates, donation amount, program interest, and communication preferences. This data can help you designate the frequency of communication and create content that aligns with donors’ interests.
- Acknowledge Milestones: Many CRMs also have the capabilities to set up automated alerts to notify you of significant events for your donors such as when a donor makes a large gift, has an approaching anniversary or birthday, or attends one of your events or programs. Having this automation paired with a personalized touch from a team member will deepen the relationship with the donor.
- Consider Social Media Content Scheduling Software: Many of these software use AI to analyze optimal posting times and how each post performs, helping you better engage with your audience. Paired with a content-generating AI tool, social media can become less daunting and time-intensive. The content-generated and scheduled posts should always be reviewed to stay authentic and true to your mission.
- Run A/B Tests: Many of the content scheduling software include the power to A/B test your social media and email campaigns. By changing elements such as headlines, images, and calls to action, AI can analyze engagement metrics to identify which versions perform better and resonate with donors.
- Computer Generated Handwriting: For less personalized pieces of direct mail, many organizations are seeing success with AI-generated handwriting. People are more likely to open mail that looks handwritten, and this results in higher engagement and stronger donor communications.
- Fine-Tune the Process: As the fundraising landscape is continually changing, it’s crucial to adapt your organization’s approach. AI-powered predictive modeling and advanced segmentation can be used to continuously review donor data to gain valuable insight and fine-tune your fundraising strategy. Use the data to identify donor behavior and maximize your engagement efforts.
A balancing act
In an era where technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives, nonprofits can harness the power of AI to transform our donor communications strategies and overcome some of fundraising’s biggest challenges.
AI’s ability to personalize interactions, predict donor behavior, and automate routine tasks is invaluable for donor engagement and communication as so many nonprofits are stretched thin. The more we can build authentic relationships, the faster our donor retention rates will improve.
However, maintaining authenticity and personal touch is essential to ensure that donors feel genuinely connected to the causes they support. By striking the right balance between AI and human interaction, we can forge strong and lasting relationships with our donors, ultimately advancing our missions and creating meaningful change in the world.
- Artificial Intelligence Could Transform Fundraising if It’s Used Effectively and Ethically (philanthropy.com)
- How to Automate Fundraising Communications (givinginstitute.org)
- What Nonprofits Stand to Gain from Artificial Intelligence (forbes.com)
- How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Nonprofits (nonprofithub.org)
About the Author
Anna Lipscomb is Marketing Events Coordinator for the Winkler Group, a national capital campaign planning and management firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina. A graduate of Clemson University, Anna is passionate about community development, sustainability, and the arts. Connect with Anna on LinkedIn.