It’s all about the here and now, isn’t it? Let me give you a moment’s respite.
We as fundraisers and most of us working in and with charities have necessarily been focused on the short term in recent months, but in this blog I’d like to take you out of that head space, and think about the future of fundraising, if I may.
Before I take you forward a couple of decades, let me take you back so far that we’re actually talking last millennium!
OK, it’s only the 1990s, but there I was, a young fundraiser, cutting my teeth in the charity sector. I’d already raised some money for charities through community events while at university, but this was my first office job, and I was learning my way round computers.
What I remember first and foremost was the mind boggling administrative and technological processes and procedures which sucked up my time and actually got in the way of making human contact with our supporters.
I remember whole days lost to folding and “stuffing” newsletters. I remember the nightmare of printing address labels so that they didn’t print over the lines for each mailshot, or even stick themselves to the printer and render it inoperable. I remember complicated systems of photocopying the letters I was writing in triplicate for filing in different places and sharing with colleagues, because we didn’t have shared servers.
What I realise now is that even the very simplest tasks took too long. Sending basic information about the charity to an enquirer (this was a year or three before most charities had websites, remember) could take at least a half hour. The threshold was so high that it was impossible at the time to prioritise effectively, and work out who I should be spending most of my time on.
All of which brings me to Clippy. If you wrote letters on a computer in the 1990s, you will remember Microsoft’s animated paperclip character. In fact, you just needed to type the word “Dear” on an otherwise empty A4 page, and Clippy would bounce into action, appear on the side of your screen, and say these words:
It looks like you’re writing a letter. Would you like help?
Does anyone remember the Office Assistant, Clippy?— mona (@ysinlaurent) May 24, 2020
My only form of entertainment at the I.T lab pic.twitter.com/meU9da4ynI
Now, unless Clippy happened to know much about the charity I was working for or the person to whom I was writing, he wasn’t really able to help much. Nobody else liked him much either. He was greatly derided, and Microsoft took him out of action a decade or so later.
And I hadn’t really thought about the little chap for the last twenty years until I considered writing this piece on the future of fundraising.
Over the next few decades, AI is going to transform fundraising. Humans may not know whether they are communicating with computers, but that’s not the point, and it shouldn’t worry us as fundraisers.
The best fundraising is done human to human.
It’s the tricky time-consuming queries. It’s meeting face to face when we can, or even online of course. It’s making sure we surprise and delight our supporters with a personal touch. This can’t be done by a chatbot.
But think for a moment about the time threshold in terms of doing any basic fundraising task. I think back to my time as a tyro fundraiser with more hair and just as many hopes and dreams.
There are so many tasks that bots and the like can already do, and some charities are already using them. Basic queries that computers are now able to understand and answer, and do at scale.
This isn’t a threat to fundraisers. It will free us up to do more of the brilliant personal fundraising that only we are capable of, and that our supporters need.
Poor Clippy came into my life a decade or three too soon to help me much, but his more intelligent successors will make a huge difference to all of our fundraising.
Bring it on.