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AI and Prospect Research: What Your Nonprofit Should Know

By Sarah Tedesco posted 06-04-2024 10:00


Strategically soliciting major gifts has always been essential to nonprofits’ fundraising success. By conducting prospect research and cultivating potential donors, your organization can secure the significant contributions necessary to fund its most important initiatives.

As a fundraising professional, you’ve likely also heard that a current trend in the nonprofit sector is the incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) into various fundraising processes—including major donor prospecting. In this quick guide, we'll explore the benefits of leveraging AI to enhance your prospect research process and provide actionable steps to implement it effectively.

Benefits of Incorporating AI Into Prospect Research

By leveraging AI tools during prospect research, you and your team will experience a variety of advantages, such as:

      More comprehensive and accurate information on each of your prospective major donors.

      More thorough analyses of prospect research data, providing deeper insights into potential donors’ giving capacities and likelihood of engaging with your nonprofit.

      Highly tailored outreach through prioritization of prospect lists and personalized fundraising content generation.

      Automation of mundane tasks like data transfer and report creation, allowing you to spend less time on those aspects of major gift fundraising and more time building relationships with prospects.

Generally speaking, AI helps your team make more effective, data-driven decisions, which can lead to acquiring more major donors and making more successful donation requests from them.

AI Tools to Leverage for Prospect Research

Your organization can maximize these benefits by integrating both predictive and generative AI tools into your prospect research strategy. Here is a brief overview of each type:

      Predictive AI solutions analyze data to look for trends and make suggestions based on those insights. The tools under this category that are most useful for prospect research are known as predictive modeling solutions. These segment and prioritize prospect lists so you know which prospects are most likely to respond, contribute to and become long-term donors to your organization.

      Generative AI solutions use data patterns to produce original content. There are two types of generative AI tools your nonprofit might use for prospect research. Prospect generator solutions provide custom reports to organize and summarize important details on each of your potential donors, while content creation tools help you design outreach materials tailored to each prospect’s background and interests.

When choosing AI solutions for your nonprofit, check that they integrate with your existing platforms to ensure a smooth, unified process. Additionally, select tools that are designed with your nonprofit’s needs in mind to obtain more useful outputs.

Steps of the AI Prospect Research Process

AI solutions are intended to supplement—not replace—the prospect research tools you already leverage, such as your organization’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system and third-party prospect research databases. Here is a basic step-by-step breakdown of how to use all of these tools in the prospecting process, from identification to outreach:

  1. Review your CRM to identify any potential major donors among your nonprofit’s existing supporter base.
  2. Leverage a prospect research database to gather demographic, psychographic, wealth, and philanthropic data on the prospects you’ve identified, as well as find additional prospects outside your existing donor base.
  3. Transfer these prospects’ data to a predictive modeling solution that will analyze the information and prioritize your list to show who your most viable prospects are.
  4. Generate AI-powered prospect reports on your potential donors—starting at the top of your priority list and working your way down—to help you decide how best to reach out to each of them.
  5. Create individualized outreach materials such as email templates, direct mail copy, and phone call talking points with your AI content creation tools. For best results, use your AI solutions’ outputs as a starting point and revise them to infuse a personal touch.

If one of your highest-priority prospects stops responding or turns down your donation request, move down the list and repeat steps four and five. Once you start reaching out to prospects, continue gathering data on them so you can keep their profiles in your CRM up-to-date and hone your strategy as you cultivate relationships with them.

How to Ensure Your Team Uses AI Responsibly

If you’ve tried to implement AI at your nonprofit before, you might have experienced some pushback due to concerns about its associated risks. While many of these risks—such as data breaches, noncompliance with legal requirements and unintentional bias—are real, they shouldn’t deter you from using AI for prospect research because the potential benefits to your organization are much more impactful.

To further minimize these risks, ensure your organization uses AI responsibly. In the context of prospect research, this includes:

      Adhering to all applicable privacy laws when analyzing prospect data

      Taking security precautions as you handle sensitive information

      Identifying and addressing biased outputs to create inclusive processes and outreach materials

      Being transparent with your community about how your nonprofit uses AI

When you hold AI prospect research training sessions for your team, include a segment on responsible AI use, and have participants pledge to uphold these principles to ensure everyone is on the same page as you get started.

AI is here to stay throughout the nonprofit sector, including in prospect research. While every organization’s process will look somewhat different, choosing the right AI tools and responsibly leveraging them alongside your existing prospect research platforms will go a long way in finding the best possible major donors for your nonprofit.