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Fundraising Published Date, 2023

Combining Technology And Trust To Create Fundraising Magic

Created By: Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D.
April 20, 2023

The good news for fundraisers is that artificial intelligence isn’t replacing you.

That’s not the end of the story, however. AI is going to change how you do business. As my Orr Group colleagues Jordan Ritchie and Brandon Emerson have pointed out, “Ignoring AI in fundraising can result in missed opportunities to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and engagement with donors.” Jordan and Brandon show how donor segmentation, predictive analytics, and other tools in the AI toolbox can give development leaders a competitive edge.

For me, as a newcomer to Orr Group (with its focus on the business of philanthropy) and a psychologist, a recent Wall Street Journal article called “Wealth Planning’s Digital Leap” clarifies the challenges and opportunities of this moment. The article traces the ways that financial firms are serving a new generation of high-net-worth individuals through big data technologies, digital brokerage transactions, and more, but Dr. Lauren Cohen, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, brings it back to a core value: “Trust is still the bedrock of wealth management. The big weapon [of established firms] is the trust that they have built. That’s something that can’t be replicated by the latest fintech.” Everything in this remark applies double to philanthropy.

Giving is a financial transaction, but it’s also a human activity. Across the continuum of the fundraising process, the ask is the most intimate, the most human of all.

Here are some suggestions for balancing the human and the digital.

  • Genuine, reciprocal relationships matter. In our current hybrid era, we can sometimes neglect in-person relationship building. We look at our calendars and think, Meeting by Zoom is always an option, right? Staying home means you can get more work done! And yet as we take advantage of these digital solutions, let’s remember that authentic relationships and the warm feelings derived from donating money flourish when we’re connecting on a personal level. Without that connection, appeals for support can feel transactional (and also easily be ignored). AI might help you generate a rough draft of a thank-you letter, but you’re the one who has to remind the donor of your mutual interest in going to the ballet or the New York Yankees. Your handwritten note at the bottom of the letter makes it more than a receipt for tax purposes.

  • Wealthy people are people too. Billionaires and millionaires have grown accustomed to being profiled by marketing, sales, and philanthropic technologies, but that doesn’t mean they like it. Imagine how refreshing it would be to be treated as a human being and not an ATM. I was struck by the empathy and sophistication Crystal Hayling of the Libra Foundation showed recently in the Stanford Social Innovation Review with these words: “Having a great deal of money can be isolating, and perhaps that’s why so many wealthy donors hold tight to the illusion of the importance of self-sufficiency. Ironically, the way that traditional philanthropy is practiced further distances wealthy donors from the communities they seek to serve through their philanthropy. Trust-based philanthropy, practiced thoughtfully over time, helps donors link arms with communities working toward shared goals of equity and fairness.” This insight can lead to far more effective philanthropic partnerships than would be achieved by technology alone.

  • You use tools, not the other way around. While AI and other tools can be helpful for research and the identification of patterns that might illuminate individual donor or even corporate funder backgrounds, experiences, goals, and interests that might align well to particular charitable organizations or causes, it’s ultimately the human interaction and relationship that realizes the potential of that match. You’re better than a machine at balancing stakeholder perspectives, establishing priorities, and assessing the nuance around the needs of your organization (which also requires human interaction) at any given time.

  • Be open to new tools. There really are some amazing technologies out there, and they’re getting better all the time. Two of my favorites are CauseMatch and BGenerous. The first facilitates peer-to-peer fundraising. The second offers individual donors the opportunity to choose how they spread out the payments of their charitable gifts while the nonprofit organization or charity receives the full gift amount at the point of donation. (Disclosure: I am on the advisory board of this organization.) New technologies are also proliferating that can help the program side of your organization, but here, too, empathy matters just as much or more. As Dev Patnaik and Kathleen Enright have written, “Charities can achieve so much more for the communities they serve when they involve those communities in their work in a more meaningful way.”

Just as fintech is disrupting wealth management along with other aspects of the financial sector, digital tools will upend many fundraising traditions, but for the foreseeable future, trust will drive both wealth management and philanthropy.

Technology, metrics, and data development are just some of the methods Orr Group has pioneered to build operational efficiency and donor relationships. We can transform how you’re raising your money.

Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D., is a Managing Director at Orr Group. Andrea is an applied developmental psychologist and thought leader with expertise in nonprofit strategy and leadership support, and has a strong background in strategizing and utilizing technology to drive social good. 

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