Donors’ Priorities, Funding Needs Might Be Diverging

More than 70 percent of fundraisers are wary of donor fatigue, on top of concerns about budget cuts, hiring freezes, layoffs and furloughs. Fundraisers are concerned about reaching deeper into the donor pyramid with less staff and redefining roles in advancement, according to the second annual State of AI in Advancement, released in December by the AI in Advancement Advisory Council (AAAC).

The most significant reason that there’s concern about donor fatigue as a result of COVID-19 is that donors’ financial situations have changed, according to more than four out of five advancement leaders. Cited less frequently but still a majority (55%) was that a fully digital cultivation and solicitation approach is an unknown and may impact major gift relationships.

Still significant concerns are that an organization’s funding priorities no longer align with donor giving priorities (44%), and relationships weren’t fully developed before the crisis and it’s hard to grow and maintain relationships without in-person meetings and travel (41%).

Budget reductions and layoffs are prevalent, with 73% of advancement shops taking these measures. Some 85% of respondents restrict or limit travel to ensure both staff and donors’ safety and well-being, with 81% no longer having events and face-to-face visits significantly affected.

With most advancement offices expecting shrinking budgets and hiring freezes and without the ability to conduct face-to-face visits consistently and at scale, 62% of respondents believe that a digital gift officer role will prominently emerge.

“Advancement leaders in 2020 acknowledged they need to reassess our true North. The tried and true methods we used in the past to secure philanthropic support for our nonprofit organizations must adapt and innovate,” said Reed Sheard, Ed.D, CIO and vice president of Advancement for Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and chairman of the AAAC. “Finding a new model for successful fundraising and artificial intelligence presents an incredible opportunity to move significant donor relationships forward at scale.”

Two-thirds of organizations are considering investments in new tools and technologies to address fundraising challenges more than four out of five believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will be part of the solution.

“This year, more than any other, advancement as a whole has been forced to face the uncomfortable and adapt to ensure future growth. The intersection with artificial intelligence is inevitable,” said Adam Martel, CEO of Gravyty, a Boston-based AI fundraising company that created the AAAC in 2018. “This year’s State of AI in Advancement not only proves the leaders are already adopting AI to solve their largest challenges, it also is an amazing guide that shows three exciting areas where AI is yielding tangible results.”

The 2020 State of AI in Advancement report was compiled from the volunteer members of the AAAC. Data used for all sections of the report comes from surveys of advancement professionals conducted between March 3 and July 29. In total, 337 advancement professionals participated in the surveys.

The complete 2020 State of AI in Advancement report is available here.