Punch Cards to AI and Everything in Between: Fundraising Times Are a Changing

By Sophie Penney, contributing writer to Advizor Solutions

Yes, Virginia, there are fundraising professionals who remember punch cards. For those Sophie Penneyof you unfamiliar with this technology, at one time it required large volumes of cards with holes punched in them to program information into and receive data from a computer. 

That was a long time ago. However, one could successfully argue that the use of data for fundraising has been revolutionized in a relatively short time. Even five years ago, much of the work being done to gather and employ data might have required a large cadre of researchers and data analysts. Today, however, major institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Buffalo, and Lycoming College are using AI to inform fundraising.

What’s more, data is being used not only to identify donors. Platforms like Advizor Solutions are employing data to enable major gifts officers and their leaders to employ staff time more efficiently and effectively. These are not changes around the edges—these are game-changing practices.

Yes, you say, but fundraising is a relationship business… what’s with this emphasis on data? Jim Langley, former VP of advancement for Georgetown and president of Langley Associates, said it best in a LinkedIn post: “Where Most of Your New Dollars Will Come From: Not from new donors but from learning something new about the donors you thought you already knew.” 

Jim notes—as have many others and as we explored in the recently released Giving Outlook—that the number of donors is on the decline. Retention rates are, in many cases, abysmal. Long gone are the days of donors simply trusting an institution and potentially becoming a donor for life.

These shifts in the landscape (I’ve been known to describe them as earthquakes—see Shifting Landscapes and Earthquakes) necessitate greater focus on those donors who are supporting us. It also means being ever more strategic about donor acquisition and retention. 

What’s a fundraising leader to do? Survey the landscape, learn and employ information (not just data) as strategically as possible, and be prepared to pivot. In these posts we will:

  1. Explore key shifts and changes, 
  2. Learn about what research and practice are telling us, and
  3. Offer up steps you might take to apply that learning to more efficiently and effectively raise more funds. 

Are you ready to begin? Next time we’ll focus on some of the shifts and changes that are impacting fundraising. In the interim, please let me know what shifts and changes you would like these posts to explore.