Experience and advice about using AI in fundraising as a small nonprofit
Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) envisions a world where no one impacted by breast cancer feels uninformed or alone. To that end, they work to connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support.
LBBC has been one of Thread’s most courageous partners when it comes to experimenting with new technology and fundraising, specifically around Artificial Intelligence (AI). In this Spotlight on our Spool, we are delighted to introduce Monica Steigerwald, Vice President of Development, and Becky Mills, Director of Development, and to share their experience and advice for incorporating AI into your fundraising program as a small nonprofit.
Thread: LBBC is well practiced at analyzing its fundraising data to inform future decisions about strategy or tactics. What’s some advice you’d offer to other organizations looking to get better at making data-driven decisions?
Monica & Becky: Start with a small, but mighty cohort. LBBC has a small fundraising department with over 3,000 annual donors. We segmented our donors using a framework that Thread Strategies helped us to develop three years ago. This framework helps us to focus our attention to cultivate and engage donors who have the greatest capacity to give. When we decided to try Arjuna’s ExactAsk AI to set custom gift suggestions for each donor, we first tested the AI-calculated gift arrays with these segments with the greatest capacity to give. Once we became more comfortable with AI, we then expanded to apply it to all donor segments.
Thread: LBBC has experimented with using AI to optimize solicitations to its small and mid-level donors. Describe for us how your team decided to take a risk and try this new technology?
Monica & Becky: We knew that we needed to have a bigger return on our appeals. We focused on two areas with Thread’s coaching: 1) Making a more compelling, specific ask in our appeals as compared to general support asks; and 2) Piloting AI with ½ of our donor community to see what results the AI “asks” would generate versus our traditional, typical approach.
We saw great results with the pilot, including:
+12% lift (percent difference in total donations between the Exact Ask and our control group)
+$10,661 lift in dollars
+$7.07 amount returned for every $1 invested in Exact Ask AI services.
Thread: How did this experiment change your team’s work and workload, if at all?
Monica & Becky: Using a product like ExactAsk is not only more accurate in building personalized ask arrays, but it is also a time saver. Being a small shop there is not enough time to review the giving history and research for each prospective donor. By having an AI system perform this task, we can focus on polishing up the message and/or fine-tuning the segmentation of the solicitation.
Thread: How do you think LBBC’s experiment with AI-optimized solicitations has prepared it to explore and experiment with other new technology, if at all?
Monica & Becky: We continue to use ExactAsk AI for our appeals. And we continue to see results – despite an uncertain economy. We highly recommend that teams implement AI with other tactics, such as strengthening an organization’s appeal or including a stewardship “outreach” ahead of the appeal, etc.
Thread: What advice would you give to organizations eyeing new technology but unsure if they’re ready to try it?
Monica & Becky: Develop a pilot approach. Try a segment that you would like to experiment with, partner with an AI company on an affordable basis, and keep reviewing and modifying your approach. The world needs us to keep moving and changing. Stick your toe in and see if it has results for your organization!