Myths Debunked: How to Engage Donors With AI for Nonprofits

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

While we’re incredibly excited for AI to enhance donor engagement, we recognize that its rapid rise to fame makes some hesitant. It doesn’t help that the rapid growth has led to the rumor mill working overtime. So, we’re going to talk about the different types of AI, debunk a number of myths, and address some of the frequent concerns that arise among nonprofit organizations.

What Are the Different Types of AI for Nonprofits?

Before we dive into the myths, let’s first cover the basics. AI, or artificial intelligence, is a form of computer science that simulates human intelligence. There are a variety of types of AI that show up in nonprofit fundraising tools.

Machine Learning: A type of AI that leverages the creation of algorithms and models so computers can learn and make predictions based on data. By evaluating large quantities of data, AI can help make predictions regarding donor behavior, understand if donor engagement is slipping, and determine how a donor wants to be communicated with.

Predictive Analytics: A type of Machine Learning that uses historical data and statistical algorithms to forecast future events or predict behaviors. When fundraisers want to better understand their donors’ likelihood to give, predictive analytics can leverage donor data to forecast donor behavior.

Generative AI: This type of AI uses existing data and information to create content. This could take the form of images or written text. Generative AI can help fundraisers draft donor outreach emails, thank you notes, or event invites.

Natural Language Querying: A type of AI that allows computers to translate normal human language into computer languages automatically. This gives fundraisers the ability to search key phrases within their CRM, such as “donors who gave in the last 3 years in San Francisco” and have the entire list be returned automatically.

How AI Fits into Responsive Fundraising

Responsive fundraising puts the donor front and center within the fundraising process by creating personalized donor journeys that respond to the needs of each individual donor.

By combining artificial intelligence with donor-centric experiences, fundraisers are able to better understand their donors and connect with each person at the right time. This helps fundraisers build trust among their donor base and foster more authentic relationships with donors.

To learn the five building blocks to responsive fundraising, download The Responsive Maturity Model: 5 Building Blocks to Drive Increased Generosity.

9 AI for Nonprofits Myths to Put to Rest

Myth: AI Is Insecure

While you should, of course, be careful anytime you are handling sensitive donor data, there are secure ways to use AI with donor info. Some providers are anonymizing data before passing it into an AI model, and others are simply deploying dedicated AI assistants for each client so that all their donor data stays contained to their own dedicated servers.

When exploring AI technology for your organization, look for tools that are open and transparent about their data usage as well as their security and privacy protocols. This will help you identify AI tools that prioritize data security.

Myth: AI Is Too Expensive

While this is a case-by-case basis depending on the tool, the AI solution should always be worth the investment. A good AI tool provides excellent ROI, scalability, and offers a competitive advantage.

ROI: AI tools can help streamline tasks, identify potential donors, and prevent burnout. AI implementations can lead to significant time savings, cost savings, and revenue increases over time, outweighing the initial investment.

Scalability: As your organization grows, AI solutions can scale with you and adapt to your changing needs. If you’re not quite ready to hire additional fundraisers, but find that your current employees have too much work to keep up with, AI tools can act as the fundraising assistant that teams need. While AI will never replace a nonprofit professional, it can help remove a lot of the administrative work on fundraisers’ plates.

Competitive Advantage: AI tools improve efficiency, enhance decision-making, and deliver personalized experiences, which can ultimately be a competitive advantage to your organization to reach the right donors at the right time.

Some tools are free: Tools like ChatGPT or Google Bard (now Gemini) are actually free for users. If you’d like to take AI for a spin, play around with these tools. While these aren’t specific to fundraisers or nonprofits, they’ll show you the power of AI. Ask the tools specific queries (the more specific, the more accurate they’ll be), and you’ll see firsthand how Generative AI operates.

Myth: AI Is Unreliable

AI is as reliable as the data you give it. When people think of AI as unreliable, they typically think of AI tools that create conspiracy theories or biased results. This is because the data the AI was fed contained that information.

To avoid issues with AI creating biased or inaccurate content, look for solutions that have bias mitigation protocols and are trained on high-quality, diverse, and representative data.

We also recommend that people review whatever AI creates. AI can give you the information to make data-informed decisions and create content that resonates with your users. However, you shouldn’t let AI make decisions for you.

Myth: AI Will Replace Human Jobs in Fundraising

While AI can help nonprofit fundraisers strengthen relationships with donors, AI cannot take the place of a human.

We think of AI as a third hand. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a third hand to help you pick up the house? You’d get through chores so much more quickly! The same applies to AI. Using AI tools, nonprofit fundraisers can more easily get through their manual administrative tasks, identify the right donors to target, and send personal communications.

But when it comes to actually building relationships with donors and making an impact on your organization’s mission, no one can do that better than nonprofit professionals.

For fundraisers especially, one thing remains true: donors do not make donations to computers. The relationships that fundraisers cultivate and steward are still the primary drivers of giving, and nothing can replace the very real human connection that underpins so much social good.

Myth: AI Makes Fundraising Impersonal

The opposite is actually true. AI makes it easier to create personalized fundraising messages. With AI, you can not only learn more about your donors, their interests, behaviors, and giving history, you can actually have AI create personalized messages for your entire portfolio.

Instead of spending your entire day crafting individual emails to each donor in your file, you can have AI individualize the emails according to your donor’s writing preferences and your writing style.

By hearing from you more often and in a personalized manner, you continue to build and strengthen your relationships with donors.

Because Virtuous consolidates relevant donor information in one place, organizations like Heidi’s Village can simply search, filter, and segment data, and create personalized communications plans for each type of donor.

“That personal relationship is so important. Connecting with donors in a personal way and making them feel valued and noticed. That’s always been kind of huge for me. If you’re a donor, you’re probably going to get five or six different thank you notes, handwritten from various members of our board, me, my CEO. I like being able to personalize and automate a lot of that functionality.”

Lisa Evans Johnson, Chief of Staff at Heidi’s Village

Myth: Only Big Organizations Can Benefit From AI in Fundraising

Small organizations can benefit from AI tools just as much, perhaps more, than large organizations. If you are a small nonprofit, you may be one of two fundraisers on the team. The “third-hand” analogy becomes even more important as you don’t have the time or resources to spend on time-consuming administrative work. Yet, there’s no one else who can take it off your plate.

By having AI—aka your third hand—take on the administrative work, such as making updates to your CRM, adding summaries to your contact report, and drafting outreach communication, you’re able to focus your time on initiatives that truly move the needle.

Myth: AI Can Only Help With Donor Acquisition

Donor acquisition is just the tip of the iceberg. AI can help fundraisers with every step in the donor funnel.

Identify: With AI’s ability to quickly analyze vast amounts of data, AI can review your information within your CRM, assess donor engagement with marketing campaigns, and track responses to emails. This helps in identifying both new and existing donors who have the potential to give.

Qualify: Taking it a step further, AI can analyze the donor’s giving history, wealth screening information, and affinity to the organization to determine not only a donor’s ability to give but also their propensity to give.

Cultivate: By crafting donor communications and touchpoints in your writing style, AI can help you create personal communications at scale. Have AI draft emails, thank-you notes, or event invites for you to send to donors and cultivate your relationships with them.

Solicit: When asking for a gift, it can be challenging to know how much to ask for. AI can help take the guesswork out of the ask by estimating how much the donor is willing to give.

Steward: After a donor has contributed to your organization, you can continue to nurture the relationship with your donors. Through AI-crafted donor plans, AI will make sure that you have regularly scheduled touchpoints with your donors.

Myth: Implementing AI Requires Replacing Existing Systems

AI can not only sit on top of and connect to your existing systems, it can automatically sync information from the AI tool to your CRM.

For example, Momentum’s AI Donor Engagement platform can sit on top of Virtuous’ CRM. Whenever you update information in Momentum, such as send an email to a donor, Momentum automatically syncs that information to Virtuous. This avoids any tedious copying and pasting, and helps keep all of your tools as up-to-date as possible.

Build Momentum With Fundraising & AI for Nonprofits

The myths around fundraising and AI often dissuade nonprofit organizations from adopting AI technology, but AI can be the tool that helps your organization get to the next level. It can open up fundraisers’ days by minimizing administrative tasks, sorting through vast amounts of data to provide donor predictive insights, and draft donor communications.

To review, here are a few key ways that AI can help fundraisers:

Save time: AI can help remove administrative tasks from your plate. Whether it’s updating your CRM or adding to contact reports, AI can help you automatically update that information.

Analyze data: AI is able to evaluate large sets of data much more quickly than a human could. This provides fundraisers with more comprehensive insights regarding their donor data.

Create personalized communications: By learning the fundraiser’s writing style and the donor’s communication preferences, AI can generate copy that resonates with each donor in your portfolio.

Scale your work: Create individualized donor plans and send personalized communications at scale. If you create the basic framework, AI can craft individualized plans and communications for each donor in your portfolio.

We hope this helped clear up some of the misguided notions around AI and fundraising. If you’d like to learn more about how AI and fundraising work together, check out this AI and Fundraising guide.

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