This almost certainly isn’t the first time you’ve read about artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on non-profits. If it is, let me be the first to welcome you back from whatever remote mountain cave you’ve been hiding in for the last few months.
AI’s presence in virtually every part of life feels inevitable, and reactions in the fundraising space have ranged from dismissive handwaving to preemptive mourning for soon-to-be-obsolete careers in development.
ChatGPT and other AI-driven chatbots may well revolutionize how non-profits communicate with donors. Chatbots can learn, adapt, understand, and produce in ways that far exceed the limits of the human mind. But, at the risk of this post aging like milk left out in the sun, I don’t think they’ll replace human fundraisers… at least not quite yet. Until the singularity arrives and ChatGPT and its digital siblings break free from human influence entirely – in which case let me be the first to say how excited I am to serve our new robot overlords – we still have the final say in how we build relationships with our organizations’ supporters.
I think we should embrace chatbots and incorporate them into our development toolboxes, rather than reject them as threatening. To that end, there are some practical steps you can take to introduce AI into your organizational and individual work.
Identify Personal Needs
The amount of tasks chatbots offer to do for you is overwhelming, from generating recipes based on what’s in your pantry to solving complex mathematical equations, so it’s important to approach AI with a strong sense of what you’d like it to do. Before you even interact with a chatbot, take some time to write down the parts of your job that take time away from your fundamental task of building authentic relationships with donors.
Maybe you’re not a strong writer and you’re struggling with creating touchpoints, or maybe you’re stuck in an endless loop of surface-level introductory communications with new donors. Ask yourself, “If I could figure out a way to do this task better/more efficiently/consistently, would it free up time to focus on donors?” If so, it goes on the list.
Recognize Organizational Areas for Improvement
Chatbots can be overwhelming in their apparent simplicity. How do you even begin to harness the combined knowledge of humanity when you’re starting with an empty text box? Luckily, experts much more tech-savvy than I have produced primers, FAQs, tutorials, and tips for making the process of using chatbots less intimidating. Explore, read, and learn about where to start and how to construct prompts and questions that will lead you to great solutions.
Make another list, starting with the question, “What could I provide to donors that would help them feel closer to the mission?” Focus on areas your organization or department doesn’t currently do as well as it could – tone of written materials, focus areas, length, format – and keep a running tally of projects to explore with the assistance of AI.
Start Simply, Then Build
Dip your toes into the AI abyss by asking the chatbot to answer simple questions, like, “What does a non-profit major gifts officer do?” You’ll probably be surprised at the quality of the answers you get. Once you feel comfortable, start training the chatbot to not only answer your questions, but to refine the answers based on your particular needs. One of the greatest advantages of AI is that it can iterate endlessly and adapt to what you tell it to do with infinite patience.
I worked with a client recently to draft an overview of her organization’s mission. She started with simple prompts to get a baseline description of a healthcare non-profit, then refined her prompts and gradually fed the chatbot information to inform its responses. In the end, she was able to generate a concise, compelling, accurate synopsis of the mission, complete with the appropriate tone and focus on a particular audience.
Collaborate, But Have the Final Say
Remember that anything you produce, whether it’s from your own imagination, assembled and edited from other departments, or written entirely by AI, is your responsibility. You are often the primary link between your organization and donors, so be sure to review, edit, and take full ownership over anything you produce using a chatbot.
As you explore and get more comfortable with AI, it may help to write in parallel with the chatbot. For example, you might ask it to produce an introductory letter, then compare that letter side-by-side with the version you typically use with new donors.
Don’t Be Afraid
However AI fits into your work life, keep in mind that your goal isn’t to outsource the fundamental qualities that make you a great relationship builder and fundraiser, but to enhance them. There may come a time when AI upends the industry and removes humans completely, but in the meantime there’s plenty of space for people and technology to coexist peacefully.
And remember: AI might be able to tell you the perfect proportion of ground coffee beans to water, the ideal temperature for brewing, and the best mug material for optimal heat retention, but it can’t sit across from a donor and share a cup while you learn about their philanthropic passions and bring them closer to the mission. At least, not yet.
Drew Coursin is a Client Experience Leader at Veritus with more than 20 years’ experience building partnerships, developing strategic visions, communicating effectively, and helping non-profits and donors alike unite their philanthropic goals with opportunities to move missions forward. No matter what the project, Drew approaches his work with a positive attitude, enduring sense of humor, consistency, and a philosophy that relationships and the ability to tell a crisp, compelling story are central to any individual and collective success.