A major gifts strategy plays a vital role for nonprofit organizations. You might (understandably) hesitate to shake up the strategies and tools that have worked well for your development efforts in the past. But if there are opportunities to raise more in smarter ways and strengthen donor relationships, you owe it to your mission to explore them.
It’s time to consider how AI can help nonprofits. It’s a big, buzzy topic. There’s a lot of talk about how it’s completely revolutionizing the old ways of doing things in many industries. However, these discussions often obscure the real, on-the-ground ways that AI is actually being used frequently but in less flashy ways—as a supplemental efficiency tool to inform human decision-making.
The mix of increased efficiency, algorithmic insights, and human expertise can be a powerful combination. Nonprofits are already seeing its benefits in their fundraising efforts.
What You’ll Need for Your Major Gifts Strategy
First, some context. If your organization is new to AI, you’ll need to understand the different forms it can take. Most AI tools on the market today fall into two general categories:
- Generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, that can generate responses and images based on prompts after “learning” from broad sets of material and making logical connections
- Predictive AI tools, like DonorSearch Ai, that is designed for more specific purposes and uses focused datasets to identify trends and make statistical predictions in real time
Predictive AI is what you’ll need to support your major gifts strategy. There are a variety of options available today that are designed specifically for nonprofit fundraising.
So what does your predictive AI platform need in order to deliver results? A machine learning algorithm (the dynamic code or set of “rules” that guide how the system interprets and analyzes data) and the data itself.
The data that the AI analyzes for trends and uses to produce predictions can come from two sources:
- Your nonprofit’s own data, housed in your CRM and made available to the AI platform through a software integration
- External sources, like a third-party database of prospect research information
With these basics, you can turn on a powerful AI pipeline that screens your database for new fundraising insights. This AI pipeline will also supplement your database with external information. Additionally, good AI will continue to improve as you update your data over time. These processes are fundamental for a powerful major gifts strategy.
Using AI for Major Gift Fundraising
So how can AI fit into your nonprofit’s development workflow?
AI’s primary use case for major gift fundraising is helping you identify prospects more effectively and efficiently. The right AI support will essentially serve as a fast, effective first step that makes further qualification a breeze.
Predictive AI integrated with your database will screen and learn from your donor data. If supplemented with external datasets, it takes additional prospect research markers into account. The machine learning algorithm will then generate predictions, such as:
- Who is likely to give at different levels
- Who will likely give within the next year
- Who will set up a recurring gift?
- Who among existing donors is likely to generate the greatest lifetime value for your organization?
These predictions then form the basis of your development team’s qualification and outreach lists. Start with the AI-generated lists, then conduct a quick manual screen to confirm the predictions. From there, follow through with your normal cultivation processes.
In order to deliver maximum value, the AI process must incorporate the magic mix of prospecting data points: wealth, affinity, and philanthropic markers. These data points show the complete picture of a donor’s likelihood to give. They also ultimately lead to more helpful and accurate AI insights that inform your major gifts strategy.
Using AI for Major Donor Stewardship
What about the other, all-important part of major gift fundraising—ongoing stewardship? We all know that a focus on donor retention yields greater long-term results for nonprofits. This is especially true when it comes to large gifts and high-impact donors who want to form lasting partnerships.
AI can help support stewardship in a wide variety of ways. The most significant benefit is the time that it saves your development team in the fundraising process, freeing them to devote more attention to relationship building and engagement.
Apart from saving time so that you can better prioritize stewardship, AI tools can help in more direct ways, too, such as:
- Suggesting tailored changes to appeals based on past interactions and gifts
- Generating and refining outreach lists for fundraising and marketing campaigns
- Personalizing your mass or automated outreach with pre-populated names and past engagement details
Note that these use cases might require a mix of AI tools depending on the available features.
Over the long run, your AI tools will only become more helpful. As you continue engaging with donors at all levels and learning about their preferences, you’ll generate new data points about all those interactions. With a consistent flow of fresh data, your AI software can continually learn and refine its predictions, leading to more accurate insights and even more time saved.
Wrapping Up: Important Considerations for Your Major Gifts Strategy
There’s a huge amount of potential value to be generated with the help of AI technology in the area where it will make the most immediate difference for your nonprofit—major gifts. And, despite what many editorials and clickbait headlines might lead you to believe, AI can help without drastically upending your existing workflows.
However, even when using it in these focused ways, AI still brings new considerations that you’ll need to keep in mind. You’ll need to think about and enact responsible use policies that cover important facets like:
- Using only reputable, values-aligned vendors for AI technology and data
- Providing thorough training for all staff that will engage with AI, its source data, and its predictions
- Conducting regular data quality audits and maintaining data hygiene
- Securing informed consent from donors that your records of their engagement with your organization can be used to train a fundraising machine learning algorithm
- Staying on top of ever-changing AI best practices and data privacy regulations
The DonorSearch guide to responsible AI use takes a closer look at each of these considerations and more. And while they may seem like a big commitment for first-time AI users, keep in mind that they’re simply part of nonprofits’ due diligence as we enter a new era for fundraising technology.
The extra effort and care that goes into using AI responsibly, however, is a worthy trade-off. With a reliable, trusted AI system backed up with clean, ethically sourced data, the sky’s the limit in terms of fundraising efficiency.