Why Nonprofits Need an AI Strategy to Enable Larger Gifts

By: Wes Moon, experienced fundraiser who has personally raised over $70 million, supported nonprofits in raising more than $2 billion, and is the Co-Founder and COO of Wisely

In recent years, overall donation to nonprofits is up. But the number of donors is dropping; charities have to rely more on large individual gifts and compete for a smaller pool of donors. As a result, many non-profits are turning to fundraising intelligence or artificial intelligence (AI) to help them better facilitate major contributions. If you’re considering a similar move, you’ll need a good AI strategy to steer the rollout and ensure the new technology pays off.

How Fundraising Intelligence Helps Nonprofits

Fundraising intelligence systems use machine learning to help you understand which prospects are most likely to give, how much they’ll give and when they’ll make the donation. The AI software analyzes all the data in your customer relationship management (CRM) system and, with sophisticated algorithms, identifies patterns that major donors share.

Having learned the “traits” of large givers, it looks for other prospects who show similar patterns. If someone has many of the characteristics of a typical major giver, the AI can predict when and how much they’re likely to donate.

AI resolves the mystery of who the next big donor will be, thereby giving fundraisers the information needed to make appointments, send letters, and conduct meetings that move toward a contribution.

How an AI Strategy Enhances the Effectiveness of the Technology

Fundraising intelligence could introduce significant changes in your major gifts program, priorities and daily habits. A recent survey by International Data Corporation (IDC) on how businesses are using AI found that over 60% of organizations reported a change in their business model as a result of AI adoption.

An AI strategy helps you prepare for the change and manage it. The plan details how you intend to handle change, how you’ll use the new insights about prospect behavior and how workflow or priorities may shift. For example, with predictions about how much each prospect will give and when, you can choose to focus attention on those with the highest dollar amounts or those who will give sooner rather than later.

What Makes a Good AI Strategy

Review your business strategy.

Your AI plan has to align with the business strategy or the new technology will be working against you. Thus, as the first step to an AI strategy, ensure you’ve defined current organizational targets and challenges, including changes in the fundraising landscape.

Specify overall priorities as well, such as increasing the proportion of major gifts or attracting new prospects. Understanding where your organization is going will ensure the AI strategy helps take you there.

Determine how AI best supports your goals.

Once you’ve clearly defined targets and priorities, consider how the information AI provides can help you reach them. For example, if you want to encourage second and third gifts, the AI can identify who is likely to contribute again so gift officers know which donors to continue working with.

If you want to increase the number or size of major gifts, use fundraising intelligence to predict how much a prospect is likely to give, then focus gift officers’ efforts on those prospects. The AI will also find promising givers you might have overlooked in the past.

Consider how you can redirect fundraisers’ time if they no longer have to spend hours each week reviewing portfolios and research reports to find possible donors. They could use the extra time to prepare better for meetings or reach out to new prospects.

Set short-term and long-term objectives.

Determine what fundraising intelligence can do for you right away and what will take time and development on your part. For example, in the short term, you can get better insights into your current set of prospects, save administrative work and help fundraisers connect with more donors.

Over time, you can flesh out the database with additional prospect details, which further improves the AI system’s predictions. After working with the AI for a while, you may find other ways to leverage the information, such as capturing smaller gifts or attracting new contributors.

Assess your data capture capabilities.

Fundraising intelligence gets better and better as you feed it more data. But not every organization has a good scheme for collecting prospect information. Review your sources of donor data and determine whether you need to implement improvements.

Ensure you’re compiling details from events, outreach campaigns, website forms, emails and personal interactions. If necessary, define how you’ll pull all this information into the CRM.

You might need to appoint someone in charge of data collection or find ways to integrate the website and emails with your CRM. If so, add data collection improvements to your AI strategy.

Plan the AI rollout.

While a new fundraising intelligence system will confer direct benefits to your fundraisers, it also creates change. And people often have a hard time dealing with change.

As you build your strategy, consider how you’ll introduce the application and help fundraisers adjust to it. Put yourself in their shoes to understand how it will change their daily lives.

Communicate your plans openly to keep the rumor mill closed. And stir up excitement by explaining how the AI system will reduce the drudgery of prospect research while filling fundraisers’ portfolios with the most promising donors.

Schedule training if needed and give people time to get used to a new interface. You might want to roll out the application to a small group first so others can see how well their peers like it before they’re asked to use it.

Incorporate intelligence into annual planning.

With the insight from fundraising intelligence about who will donate, how much and when, you can base annual targets on the realistic giving capacity of your market.  As you build the AI strategy, consider how you’ll use the system’s predictions to plan more accurately each year.

It’s always tempting to bring in a new tool, plug it in and see what happens. But you’ll rarely get the best returns with that approach. Fundraising intelligence can give you a measurable advantage in competing for major gifts. And with a good AI strategy, you’ll have the foundation for optimal results.

Looking for more information on how AI and prospecting fit into your major gifts strategy? Check out: Major Gifts Fundraising: A Complete Guide for Nonprofits

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