Ops & Asks

The Musings Of A NYC Fundraiser

  • Juliana M. Weissbein CFRE

What’s the Point of Artificial Intelligence for Fundraising?

The following blog post was written by Lisa Alvezi, Director of Customer Success, Gravyty.


Lisa Alvezi, Director of Customer Success, Gravyty

By far, the most common question I get asked is — “Philanthropy is built on relationships, so what is the point of bringing artificial intelligence (AI) into fundraising?” It’s a completely valid question, though it is one that assumes the tired and predictable uses of AI are the same that make sense for philanthropic efforts. Let me explain.


Regardless of the community or type of nonprofit you represent — college, university, health care provider, human and social services organization, public media station, or otherwise — it’s likely that 90 percent of revenue driven through fundraising comes from less than 10 percent of donors, our major gift donors. It is a full-time job managing, maintaining and building relationships with this small subset of donors — and most fundraisers will tell you that they struggle to do this with their entire portfolio. Human capacity limits the number of relationships any one gift officer can manage. As a result, we use impersonal approaches, like direct mail or mail merge, to establish touchpoints with the remaining 90 percent (or more) of donors — even though there are incredible opportunities for inspiring major gifts in this large pool.


Anyone can spot a mail merge, automated dial, or form letter from a mile away. But, it takes personal appeals to grow giving in ways that are truly transformative for an organization and the community it serves. How can we build meaningful relationships with this large pool of people, at scale, if it’s already a challenge to definitively say that you’ve reached and engaged your entire managed portfolio? This is where AI changes what’s possible.


The promise of AI is that it can look at your fundraising data the same way that a seasoned fundraiser would and condense it into a digestible format, as well as take action. Think of your GPS. In a past life, I had to consult maps — know precisely where I was, where I was going, traffic patterns at that time of day, make time estimates, and more. Now, I allow technology to make those computations and free some headspace for myself. Similarly, AI can be trained to scan your database to determine who you should reach out to next and when you should conduct that outreach. At Gravyty, we tell our AI to take it a step even further — to craft the first draft of what that outreach message should look like and deliver it all directly to a fundraiser’s inbox. There, a fundraiser is informed as to who they’re reaching out to, why they’re reaching out, additional meaningful data points, and a message for them to edit and tweak to ensure that personal appeals are the rule, not the exception.


"The promise of AI is that it can look at your fundraising data the same way that a seasoned fundraiser would and condense it into a digestible format, as well as take action."

We’ve found that this approach first shifts a fundraiser’s capacity. Typically, while fundraisers struggled to ensure that 30 percent of their time was spent on donor-facing activities, they are now able to interact with donors with more than half of their time. Suddenly, not only do they gain the capacity to definitively interact with all of their managed donors, they are now able to reach deeper into the donor pyramid and personally engage with other donors and supporters, in an attempt to inspire sustainable and increased giving. And, because AI learns the writing style of each particular fundraiser — and the relationship they have wish specific donors — the messages it suggests become more tailored, meaning less time is needed for tweaks and edits for each message.


When you do the math on how AI can rearrange a fundraiser’s day, the results are staggering. Individual fundraisers operate more than three-times what they were typically capable of, entire organizations inspire hundreds of new gifts, and annual revenue has been proven to increase by more than $1 Million.

In today’s tense environment, fundraising leaders are being challenged not to maintain the status quo, but to elevate giving programs to be a part of the larger solution. So, as you think about the relationships that you need to build to achieve those goals, I encourage you to learn how AI is transforming what’s possible — and empowering fundraisers to grow genuine relationships with more people.


A Note From Juliana:

If you want to learn more about how Artificial Intelligence can work at your organization, check out a recent webinar 'Artificial Intelligence and Messaging During a Crisis' that I produced in collaboration with Gravyty, MIT and Salesforce. Craving even more? Check out a live demo of Gravyty here. Happy learning!


Lisa Alvezi is Director of Customer Success for Gravyty, the nonprofit sector's AI fundraiser enablement leader. Lisa has worked with countless organizations across Higher Education, Healthcare and Hospitals, and Nonprofit organizations to transform the way fundraising works through the revolutionary nature of artificial intelligence. Prior to Gravyty, Lisa was a fundraiser for Babson College as Director of Alumni Relations.


Juliana M. Weissbein, CFRE is a respected leader and decision influencer in regard to fundraising operations best practices. With over a decade of experience, Juliana thrives on professional growth, team success, measurable results, and inspiring fundraisers to utilize data-based strategies. Juliana currently serves as the Associate Director of Development Operations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is AFP Global's 2019 Outstanding Young Professional Fundraiser and is a member of the AFP Global Women's Impact Initiative. Juliana is immediate past chair of the AFP New York City chapter’s Emerging Leaders Committee and currently serves on the chapter’s board chairing their mentorship program. She resides in Brooklyn, NY and never turns down a good kombucha.


Drop Me a Line, Let Me Know What You Think

© 2019 by Juliana M. Weissbein, CFRE