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AI and Fundraising: Does Fundraising Need a Human Element?




Artificial intelligence is one of the most valuable tools in the digital age — nonprofits and charities are right to use it for fundraising. However, it’s still a machine at the end of the day. It’s crucial to analyze the operational and ethical considerations of using it without oversight.

How Can You Use AI in Fundraising?

Since AI can process massive data sets rapidly and form conclusions nearly instantaneously, its potential in nonprofit and charity work is promising. Here are some of the main ways you can use AI in fundraising. 

1. Success Prediction

Acquisition costs money, so making the process efficient is in everyone's best interest. Fortunately, AI is capable of predictive analytics — it can forecast behavior and trends. As a result, it can maximize success while minimizing spending. 

A machine-learning model can use massive data sets to segment donors. From there, it compares their historical donation trends to their profile. The result is a highly accurate prediction of success. It can tell you whether an acquisition will be worth the initial investment.

2. Public Interaction

You can use an AI chatbot to interact with the general public instead of having specific support roles. Since it can automatically field questions and engage with multiple people simultaneously, you can put your energy into something more productive. 

3. Donor Outreach 

Many people make donations for tax purposes, but even more of them donate because they feel a personal connection to the cause. Personalization is necessary to make the most of this relationship. Luckily, AI can create donation requests, outreach messages and appreciation letters nearly instantaneously. 

4. Content Generation

Fundraising involves a massive amount of donation requests, grant applications and appeals. While these processes typically take a tremendous amount of time, generative AI makes things much more straightforward. It can even develop new fundraising ideas if you ask it to.

Why Should You Use AI in Fundraising?

AI can completely overhaul traditional fundraising processes. Previous methods are tedious because they rely on manual effort, but AI is incredibly efficient because it uses automation. Couple that with its unique ability to analyze massive amounts of information and you have a beneficial tool.

You can tackle the most common fundraising pain point — donor retention — with AI. While the 2019 rate was 45.4% on average, it dropped to 43.6% by 2020. Organizations retained fewer than 20% of first-time donors because they couldn’t support their new acquisitions. 

Introducing AI simultaneously saves staff time and boosts personalization. This combination could drive people to feel a stronger connection with your work. People who think an organization has more time for them and its mission will be more inclined to continue their support. As a result, you drastically improve donor retention rates. 

Should AI Be in Charge of Fundraising?

While AI is an indispensable tool, it has limitations. For one, outdated data points are common among most models. Many of them — generative versions especially — train on massive open-source collections of information. In the process, they often pick up on human bias, influencing their output. 

In fact, most generative models use LAION-5B — a massive internet-scraping data set — to train. Many pick up unsatisfactory behaviors when their primary source of knowledge comes from websites, forums and comment sections. If you don’t review your model’s output, you may end up with something inaccurate or offensive. 

Most importantly, while most nonprofit and charity work centers on a moral mission, AI can’t comprehend the nuances of compassion or morality. Even though it can mimic people, it’s still a rule-based tool running on logic. It needs human input since it lacks genuine creativity, curiosity and empathy. AI can be a fantastic autonomous tool but shouldn’t take over fundraising responsibilities. 

Is Human Involvement Still Necessary?

If you want AI to be effective in its role, you need human involvement. Support and manual validation are essential to its success. You must be there to give a model’s output a personal touch and guide it properly. Otherwise, its work will seem robotic and stale.

Imagine if you trusted AI to generate appreciation letters and it wrote about made-up scenarios. Donors wouldn’t be pleased to receive such a thing and would potentially pull their support. Even if a model can do its job, it isn’t wise to let technology run without checking in on it.

How Can You Use AI Responsibly?

Even though AI shouldn’t be in charge of fundraising because it has a potential for error, you can still integrate it extensively if you use it carefully. Like any other technology, it must operate within a system of accountability. 

The simplest way to use AI responsibly involves establishing a manual review and validation process. Instead of assuming the model’s output is always factual, have someone review it and double-check everything. This approach minimizes bias and false statements. 

Audits are also an excellent way to keep your algorithm in check. They’re an in-depth, ongoing process to ensure models operate ethically and consistently. You review training data, analyze output, double-check validity and test for bias. The goal is for AI to be fair and transparent. 

Above all else, you should establish a clear ethical guideline. It should contain procedures outlining how, why and when the organization can use AI. For example, you could decide grant application generation is acceptable, whereas appreciation letters remain a human-only task. Creating and sticking to a set of rules will dramatically improve accountability.

Humans Are Still a Necessary Part of Fundraising

Humans are unique — their creativity, passion and abstract thinking are the beating heart of nonprofit and charity work. Even though AI technically outperforms them in many areas, it still has limitations. While you can use it in almost every administrative or generative task related to fundraising, you still need to stay involved.

Zac Amos is a tech writer who focuses on artificial intelligence. He is also the Features Editor at ReHack, where you can read more of his work.