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Becoming AI Proficient on the Job: A Fundraiser’s Brief Reflection

I challenged myself to use generative artificial intelligence (AI) for one week to improve the volume and quality of my work as a nonprofit storyteller. What a waste of time that was!

What Fundraisers Need to Know About Working With AI

There are many use cases for nonprofit frontline fundraisers to consider using AI. With only the power of your computer and an algorithm or two, you can create audio, code, images, text, simulations, and videos quickly and without much coordination. I was following the latest trend. 

Surveys found that early adopters used ChatGPT for entertainment, education, and employment. In July 2023, a Pew Research Center survey showed that 18% of U.S. adults who had heard of ChatGPT used it. Seven months later, usage increased to 23%. 

Based on these and other findings, the more we use generative AI to learn about the world around us, create a life we enjoy, and ensure we remain employable, the more indispensable generative AI will be to our existence. I don't want to be left behind.

abandoned tv on a beach
Who would leave a TV on the beach?

Applications like ChatGPT and DALL-E promise to do more in less time, day and night. AI would give me more time to dream up a successful mini-fundraising campaign or quickly craft a topical and eloquent letter of intent. Tempted by the promise of ChatGPT, I tried the chatbot to draft an email. If that worked well, I planned to use it to create other time-consuming donor materials, grant applications, and reports.

What I learned about using ChatGPT might surprise you.

ChatGPT Needs Your Help Before It Can Help You

I didn't fully understand that I had to model the ideal email for the powerhouse large language model ChatGPT to produce a message tailored to my organization as effectively and efficiently as promised. I struggled to do that without divulging specific information. 

So, this is what the squawking about privacy is all about! This large language model is hungry for knowledge.

I had to stop and think: What could I share with ChatGPT? 

I started by prompting ChatGPT to email a donor and ask them to take a tour. As you can imagine, the results were lackluster. What was needed to make the email personal and urgent were specifics. I had demographics, market behavior information, and relationship insight on my target donor audience. Only, I had to stop and wonder: What's my organization's policy on using ChatGPT to create an email?

Slowdown #1: Finding my organization's AI policy. I searched but didn't find one, which is not unusual. According to the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, it's common for nonprofits to lack a policy on the responsible use of AI. 

Ultimately, I asked the IT Director if I could use ChatGPT. Sure, they said. I use it, and you can, too. 

Next, I asked ChatGPT to write an email from the nonprofit CEO about touring a new building to a longtime donor. What came out read like a car manual. I tweaked the prompt about five times. I added adjectives such as "persuasive" and "long and loyal." Those adjectives and synonyms showed up in the results. I asked for 200 and then 1000 words but got shorter or longer versions with the same lack of confidence and warmth. ChatGPT can only regurgitate what it's fed. I had the specifics or insider knowledge that could make this email irresistible to the reader. However, I'd spent most of my one-hour work block tweaking the prompt during this attempt to use AI in my work.

Slowdown #2: Developing my ChatGPT prompt-writing skills. I was surprised at how long it took me to tweak my prompt. I didn't put a timer on it, but I think it was about 15 minutes. That was time wasted on writing a prompt rather than completing my task and getting me closer to my goal of engaging with donors.

Fundraisers spend a lot of time writing descriptive, persuasive, informative, logistical, urgent, and thankful emails. Not all at once, but you get what I mean. ChatGPT promises what a time-crunched fundraiser needs to email more efficiently and effectively: efficiency and effectiveness. So, why didn't it work for me? 

Young girl in a white short sleeved shirt with her finger on her chin looking up
I'm not as cute.

One of the Worst Ways of Learning New Ways of Doing Something is on the Job 

Yes. For a fundraiser who wears several hats — tour guide, matchmaker, content creator, goat herder, and report wizard — to learn a new way of doing something takes focus, concentration, purpose, and time.

My experience trying to incorporate a generative AI tool into my email writing process illustrates my point. I hit two slowdowns that stopped my learning progress.

I wonder if my early AI experience would have been inspiring had I received training from a nonprofit consultant who knows fundraising work and how AI can help them.

Nonprofit consultants specializing in change management and technology adoption can be the best coaches your fundraisers need to become proficient users of AI. 

EV Strategic Partners can help your fundraisers become proficient and responsible users of artificial intelligence.

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