Leveraging AI in Major Gift Fundraising: A Game-Changer in Philanthropy

June 20, 2024
5 min read
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Welcome to the artificial intelligence era. You might have noticed: AI is everywhere.

You can barely go a day without hearing about ChatGPT or new AI tools, and for good reason—it’s reshaping our world and how we work in countless ways. The social sector and major gift fundraising are no exception.

AI tools enable major gift officers to do more with their time by minimizing administrative tasks, helping with research, and drafting communications. Ultimately, this helps major gift teams focus on what matters most—building relationships with donors and helping their organization make an impact.

In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of AI to fundraising, cover a few of the concerns that frequently arise with AI, show you how AI can be a powerful ally in every stage of the donor funnel, and demonstrate how leveraging AI can be a true game-changer for major gift fundraising.

The Benefits of AI to Major Gift Fundraisers

Fundraising is an industry that faces high stress and burnout. AI can be an incredible tool to alleviate some of the time-consuming tasks that burden fundraisers. Here are a few examples of how AI can save you time while helping build better relationships:

  • Streamline administrative tasks: When you’re juggling 100+ major donors in your portfolio, your whole day could be spent sorting through donor lists, sending emails, and updating multiple systems. AI tools help minimize those tasks by prioritizing and identifying donors, drafting email communications, and syncing data to your CRM.
  • Access comprehensive insights: AI models can analyze vast amounts of data far faster than any human. By analyzing donor data, AI models can help you learn more about your donors, prioritize outreach, and identify new major donors.
  • Build relationships with your community: As a major gift officer, your goal is to build long-lasting relationships with donors. AI can help draft personal emails and thank-you notes mirroring your writing style and that of your donors. With pre-written touchpoints, it’s much easier to regularly connect with your supporters.

AI capabilities integrated with your existing fundraising software simplify the adoption of this new technology. Blackbaud customers have access to an ecosystem of powerful AI tools. An integration with Momentum, for example, connects donor portfolios with automation and generative AI for email communications for Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT® and Blackbaud CRM™ customers. Organizations using the Momentum app to create personalized touchpoints have averaged an increase of $60,000 in donations per month.

“AI technology for major gift officers is not a luxury,” says Ellen Bristol, President of Bristol Strategy Group. “It’s a necessity. Momentum brings a powerful new toolkit to hardworking major gift officers, one they’ve been needing for ages.”  

How AI Supports Each Stage of the Major Donor Funnel

AI can help fundraisers minimize manual work at each stage of the funnel while using data and research to make data-informed suggestions.

1. Identification: Predictive AI Models for Prospect Ranking

  • Type of AI: Predictive AI
  • Where to use it: Modeling prospects and ranking them

The first stage in major gift fundraising is identifying potential donors.

AI shines here with its wealth screening and predictive modeling capabilities. By analyzing datasets and integrating with your database, AI can help fundraisers proactively identify prospects with the financial capacity and behavioral likelihood to donate. This process involves wealth screening for all donors, not just those who make large gifts. Add to this indicators of affinity to give, including past giving patterns, social and professional affiliations, even social media behavior or news articles.

2. Qualification: AI-Driven Analytics for Donor Insights

  • Type of AI: Predictive AI
  • Where to Use It: Deepening affinity models beyond just wealth screening

After deciding if a donor can give, it’s time to decide if they will give.

By combining publicly available wealth screening data with the richness of first-party CRM data, advanced analytics and predictive AI can evaluate and qualify donors. This ensures that efforts are concentrated on individuals who not only have the capacity to give, but also the interest to give significantly.

AI can help determine:

  • Who is likely to give at what level?
  • Who will give in the next year?
  • If someone does give, will it be a one-time gift or recurring gift?
  • Who has the potential to become a midlevel donor, a major donor, and a legacy donor?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you nurture and cultivate donors to reach higher giving potentials.

3. Cultivation: Personalized Donor Plans with Generative AI

  • Type of AI: Reinforcement Learning
  • Where to Use It: Generating and Adapting Donor Engagement Plans

At the cutting edge of the cutting edge, reinforcement learning is one of the most exciting new developments in AI. It can identify warning signs of decreased interest or disengagement.

For example, AI systems can detect that a donor is losing interest, and intervene to suggest special outreach efforts, such as personalized updates or exclusive invitations to events.

Conversely, if a particular communication style or event invitation is exciting a donor, the AI system learns and replicates this approach in future interactions.

When these signs occur, AI can immediately update a donor’s plan to highlight this information and prioritize when to contact the donor next.

4. Solicitation: AI-Enhanced Strategies for Effective Appeals

  • Type of AI: Generative AI
  • Where to Use It: Getting over the hump on the capacity-to-ask ratio

One of the most common issues in major gift fundraising is simply not asking donors to make as large a gift as they could.

By leaning on AI to provide an initial suggested solicitation amount, you take the guesswork and the insecurity out of asking for an amount that feels like too much.

Even if you end up adjusting the amount, we can count on our (very human) anchoring bias to help push us to make an ask larger than we initially would have considered. (Anchoring bias is the concept that the first piece of information we are given on a topic is what we’re most likely to hold onto.)

So, if you let AI write the first draft of the donation request, you’re more likely to make a larger ask.

5. Stewardship: AI-Crafted Personal Touchpoints

  • Type of AI: Generative AI
  • Where to Use It: Generating and drafting touchpoints

The final stage of the major gift fundraising cycle, stewardship, is about maintaining and nurturing relationships with donors post-contribution.

AI can be instrumental in drafting personalized communications at scale, such as thank-you notes, updates on how donations are being used, and invitations to special events.

For example, if you have an upcoming event and want to invite all the donors in your portfolio, instead of individually writing each email, you can provide the AI tool with a template. The tool then takes the template and personalizes each email to each donor. You can review each email before it’s sent to make any adjustments or tweaks. Similarly, the generative AI gift acknowledgment feature in Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT can help gift officers send personalized thank-you notes to more donors.    

By keeping these touchpoints front of mind and crafting personal communications at scale, AI helps fundraisers maintain strong bonds with their donors, laying the foundation for future giving.

Considerations When Exploring AI Fundraising Tools

If you’re feeling nervous about integrating AI tools into your current workflow, you’re not alone. A recent study by Pew Research Center found that 52% of Americans are more concerned than excited about AI’s presence in day-to-day life.

We get it. While we are on team excitement, we recognize that there are some bad actors out there as well as tools that aren’t as secure as they should be. Here are a few tips to help you identify reputable AI tools and use AI to the best of its ability.

Prioritize security and privacy: Look for tools that have robust cybersecurity measures and secure file handling. Companies with these protocols in place are prioritizing the safety of your data.

Demand transparency: You have the right to know exactly how your data will be used. Look for companies that are up front and transparent about data usage, where, when, and how it’s being employed.

Train employees on AI usage: While AI can help us out in many ways, it’s important to double-check its work. Train employees on AI best practices, such as reviewing AI-written communications before hitting send.

Clean up your CRM and system data: AI solutions use your CRM and other tools to help you prioritize donors, send communications, etc. However, if the data isn’t clean to begin with, your AI tool will have a much harder time accurately providing you with valuable information. Before you integrate an AI solution with your other tools, give the data a once-over.

Integrate with existing tools: Ensure that the AI solution you use easily integrates with your current tools and automatically updates information to your CRM. You don’t want to be copying and pasting information from another tool to your CRM. The purpose of AI is to help you streamline your work, not add to it.

AI and Major Gift Fundraising: It’s Just the Beginning

As we embrace AI in support of major gift fundraising, we’ll see the potential for growth in philanthropy expand, opening new doors for greater impact in the world. From helping fundraisers identify potential donors to regularly engaging and stewarding donors, AI can help fundraisers focus their time and energy on high-priority initiatives.

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