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Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy partnership banner

Amid recent concerns about the safety of artificial intelligence, Ben Wilson looks at its potential as a resource for fundraising, and the ethical questions it throws up.

Chatbot icons
Chatbot icons


There is no doubt that technology continues to embed itself in the fabric of the arts sector - whether in online ticketing systems, social media or streaming to a mass audience. 

But it is the emergence of the latest technology – artificial intelligence (AI) – which some say is likely to lead to the biggest shift in our working practices since the industrial revolution.

With every revolution comes trepidation. Looking at AI through the eyes of an arts fundraiser, we question whether this is the future of fundraising, or merely a tool to support us on our journey to maximise engagement in the arts? It certainly needs further debate.

With every revolution comes trepidation.

The use of AI in fundraising

AI can be a valuable tool for arts fundraisers in a number of ways:

•    Donor segmentation: AI can analyse large amounts of data to segment donors based on various criteria such as giving history, demographics, interests, and engagement levels. This segmentation allows organisations to tailor their fundraising appeals and communication strategies to specific donor groups.

•    Predictive analytics: AI can analyse past donation patterns and other data points to create predictive models that estimate a donor's likelihood of contributing in the future. By identifying potential high-value donors, organisations can prioritise their efforts and allocate resources effectively.

•    Personalised donor engagement: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can interact with donors in a personalised and scalable manner. These AI systems can provide information, answer questions, and offer donation suggestions based on a donor's preferences and interests.

•    Prospect research: AI tools can scan publicly available data sources to gather information on potential donors, including their philanthropic history, wealth indicators and areas of interest. This data can assist in identifying and targeting individuals or foundations with a higher likelihood of supporting their cause.

•    Data-driven decision-making: AI can analyse fundraising data to generate actionable insights and inform strategic decision-making. By identifying trends, patterns, and donor preferences, organisations can optimise their fundraising strategies, allocate resources effectively, and maximise their impact.

•    Donor recognition and stewardship: Chatbots can play a role in acknowledging and appreciating donors. They can send automated thank-you messages, share impact stories, and provide updates on how donations have made a difference. 

These are just a few possible applications of AI in a rapidly evolving fundraising landscape. But San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) offers a real-life example of an effective use of AI.

It has developed an AI-driven chatbot called Send Me SFMOMA.* Users can text the bot a keyword or phrase and it responds with a related image from the museum's collection. 

Alongside each image, the bot provides a prompt to encourage the user to donate or explore further. This innovative approach to AI-driven donor engagement has generated significant attention and support for the museum.

Will AI replace fundraisers?

Fundraising is a complex process that involves building relationships, establishing trust and engaging with donors on a personal level. While AI can support these efforts by handling routine tasks, it is unlikely to replace the human element entirely. 

Human interaction, empathy, and connection remain crucial in fundraising, especially when dealing with individual donors who value personal relationships and emotional connections.

Ultimately, AI tools are best seen as complementary to human efforts in fundraising. They can enhance efficiency, provide insights and support organisations in reaching their goals. However, fundraising will in future likely rely on a combination of AI technologies and human ingenuity and empathy - as well as relationship-building skills.

A confession…

I have a confession to make. Some of this article has been written using AI - specifically ChatGPT. Surprised, concerned, enlightened? Did you guess? Do you feel misled?

These are some of the questions we asked when testing this powerful piece of technology; a technology which obviously brings with it some ethical questions. Bid writing for example: Is it ethical for arts fundraisers to use ChatGPT to craft funding bids? Or is it cheating?

On the one hand, absolutely. Using it like this means that answers are not hand drafted and removes the skill of bid writing, including the ability to craft a careful, concise and considered narrative with which to approach funders.

On the other hand, perhaps it helps to level the playing field. For smaller arts organisations, without expert fundraisers, having access to a tool which provides a free resource to help draft applications is surely a bonus. 

A way to increase diversity?

It could be that AI will usher in a new generation of bid writers. It could help those who, despite having the necessary strategic thinking and knowledge, struggle to write well. For people with dyslexia, for example, or with poor literacy skills, might ChatGPT be a possible means of increasing social diversity in this field of the arts?

Given the technology is new and evolving, that very thought process shows we don’t have all the answers - and neither does the sector. Part of the coming revolution is going to involve wrestling with the ethics of when we should use AI and when it’s inappropriate.

What do you think? Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy would be delighted to hear your views as we look to provide further guidance on the use of AI for arts fundraisers.

Ben Wilson is Director of Development and Enterprise at Cause4.
@artsfundraising | @OfficialCause4 

This article is part of a series on the theme Fundraising for the Future, contributed by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

*This sentence has been updated to omit an incorrect reference to Cuseum as project partner.