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Successfully Training Your Fundraising Team on AI: 3 Best Practices

By Joshua LaBorde posted 01-23-2024 09:00


When leveraged correctly by nonprofits, AI tools can elevate fundraising success. Just take a look at this image to see how AI can help with nonprofit fundraising:

However, a tool is only ever as effective as its wielder. That’s why it’s imperative to train your nonprofit’s team members on properly using AI tools.

If this is the first time you’re in charge of a team or implementing a large operational change for your nonprofit, we’ll guide you through three best practices for training your fundraising team on AI.

1. Establish a Responsible-use AI Policy

Poor fundraising AI usage can lead to ethical and legal consequences. That’s why it’s imperative to set guidelines for using nonprofit AI responsibly before you even begin training your coworkers.

Cover the following elements in your policy:

  • Your approach. Emphasize that team members should approach AI as a supplement rather than a source of authority. Chatbots, for example, invent information between 3 - 27 percent of the time. State that AI is fallible, and, while helpful, their work should always be double-checked.

  • Ethical data usage. This is especially important if you plan to use tools that will review donor information. Outline how you will ensure your AI use complies with local, national, and international data protection regulations, such as the GDPR and CCPA. Include how you will be transparent with supporters about using their data and steps to opt-out.

  • Accountability. Mistakes happen to everyone—sometimes, data gets leaked or tools are used improperly. This section of your responsible-use policy details how you will handle these situations. Your procedure should cover how you’ll contain the situation, notify affected parties, fix the error, and prevent future incidents.

Adapting to your new AI tools will pose a challenge for some of your fundraising team members. Set a strong foundation with a detailed responsible-use policy and build your training program on top of that.

Be sure to include your policy in your training materials and publish it on your nonprofit’s website so that your team members and constituents can access it.

2. Develop an Organized AI Training Program

Depending on who’s on your fundraising team, you’ll probably find a varying level of skill and familiarity with AI tools. Your goal is to create an organized training program that caters to all skill levels, ensuring that everyone can feel confident and knowledgeable about the AI tools you use.

Think of developing an AI training program like creating an onboarding program for a new hire. You wouldn’t expect them to know the ins and outs of their new role on day one, so don’t expect your team members to know everything about AI.

Your training program should include:

  • Hands-on learning. Knowing how to perform tasks in theory isn’t always enough. Luckily, with AI tools, you can simply have team members practice using the tools directly. For example, if they’ll be using ChatGPT to generate donation request email templates, have them practice writing prompts within the tool itself to become more familiar with it.

  • Relevant skills. Different AI tools require different skills to operate effectively. Consider the tools you’re planning to use and the skills they require. For example, you may use an AI tool to generate internal action recommendations to help you adjust your fundraising approach. You need your team members to be able to assess if these recommendations will work for your nonprofit and to create plans for making these changes. Reinforce these skills through your training program by asking team members to practice with sample prompts.

  • Adaptability. The AI world is constantly shifting and changing, meaning that tools may suddenly become obsolete. To support your nonprofit’s continued growth, emphasize the importance of adaptability with AI tools. Ask team members to subscribe to informational blogs, like Techsoup’s blog on tech for the nonprofit sector, that cover the AI world to keep up with emerging trends and technologies. 

Consider your AI training course’s format, including:

  • What lessons will look like, whether they’ll be in-person lectures, video lessons, etc.
  • How long you’ll give team members to complete it.
  • How you’ll assess mastery, such as through tests or projects.

Having to take all of these elements into account when designing your AI training course can feel overwhelming. To reduce your workload and increase the efficacy of your training, keep your focus on the types of AI fundraising tools your team members will be using. For example, if your fundraising team is not in charge of creating marketing materials and will be focusing on using prospect identification tools, you can mention ChatGPT and other content generation tools in passing, but avoid diving too deeply into them.

3. Create a Supportive Learning Environment.

It’s normal for people to be resistant to change. AI tools represent a large shift in the world. Because of that hesitancy, you might find that your fundraising team members are less familiar with AI tools than you would like.

When coupled with the sensitive nature of implementing these tools, it’s crucial to create a supportive learning environment so fundraisers can easily pick up the knowledge and skills they need.

While there are various ways you can foster a supportive learning environment, we recommend leading by example and setting a positive precedent.

Tell team members there are no stupid questions and do your best to answer all questions without judgment.

You might also involve trainees in the learning process by asking them to answer any of their peers’ questions. By doing so, you’ll establish a collaborative and supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable asking for help and pushing each other to do better.

Mastering AI tools is a great way to improve your nonprofit’s efficiency and it can help your fundraising team members expand their future career opportunities. Continue to keep an eye on the latest developments to stay updated on new fundraising techniques and update your learning materials accordingly.