ChatGPT: A Fundraising Perspective on the AI Tool

As a nonprofit fundraiser, you’ve probably asked yourself whether artificial intelligence fits into your engagement strategy. What are the capabilities and limitations of AI at this stage, and is efficiency a worthwhile trade-off for the human touch so necessary to connect with donors? One such program at your disposal is ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched in November 2022. Available in a research preview, it has quickly gained popularity for its ease of use and conversational interface.

I decided to put ChatGPT to the test using a fictitious nonprofit that builds community gardens in food deserts across Appalachia. This description was the only information I gave, without details on programs or initiatives that accomplish its mission. ChatGPT named my nonprofit “Cultivating Appalachia,” with nine other (excellent) options. It then promised to help me raise money for this cause by providing fundraising ideas that have proven successful for similar organizations, assisting with grant research by identifying grant sources that I’d have the highest success rate with, creating donor engagement strategies, crafting fundraising messaging by donor segment, and finally analyzing my fundraising data itself for trends.

I focused on donor engagement and fundraising messaging capabilities for this experiment. I asked ChatGPT to give me a call for donations by donor level. It provided two calls for donations, one for Major Donors and one for Low-Level Donors. Both began the same way, “I am writing to ask for your help in supporting our mission to build community gardens in food deserts across Appalachia. Your support is vital to our ability to provide access to fresh, healthy food to the communities we serve.”

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Major donors were then told, “As a major donor to Cultivating Appalachia, your support will enable us to expand our efforts to build more community gardens, provide education on sustainable farming practices, and empower communities to take control of their food sources.” While Low-Level Donors were reminded, “Even a small donation can make a significant impact on the lives of those who need it most.”

ChatGPT explained, “These calls to action aim to convey a sense of urgency and importance while highlighting the unique value proposition of Cultivating Appalachia. For major donors, the emphasis is on their ability to make a significant impact, while for low-level donors, the focus is on the power of collective action and the potential of even small donations to make a difference.” This messaging did accomplish the goals of a call for donations by clearly outlining the organization’s mission, needs, and the impact that the donor will make. However, I couldn’t help but think it might read as generic for recurrent donors. With a few follow-up requests, however, ChatGPT provided versions of this message that prioritized ongoing partnerships and encouraged upgrading donations.

What can we take away from this little exercise? Ultimately, I was impressed with the AI’s ability to craft the messaging I needed and explain to me why it was making the “choices” it did. For a grassroots nonprofit, this tool would save staff valuable time and serve as a teaching tool for early-career fundraisers.

For more established organizations, it may be worth surveying your donors to ask if they would be open to occasionally receiving AI communications. Explain that using this tool would increase the impact of their donations, giving staff more time to focus on growing the nonprofit’s reach. A/B testing your engagement with this tool may uncover communication preferences you wouldn’t have discovered before.

No matter the size of your organization, relying too much on AI will likely lead to a disconnect with donors who have grown used to your unique voice. No one can advocate for your mission like you can. However, suppose you’re daunted by the prospect of segmenting your engagement strategy. In that case, this may be the perfect tool to expedite the process and give you a solid framework to build off.