The Annual Giving team at the University of South Carolina is testing out AI-generated messaging to power their Giving Day messaging, fiscal year-end Dean’s appeals, and interview strategy for new hires. Here’s what they learned.
After working with thousands of Annual Giving teams across the country for over a decade, we have concluded that Annual Giving teams are like a startup company within the broader advancement shop.
Stick with us on this. Here’s what Annual Giving teams and a tech startup (like EverTrue) have in common:
- We want our messages to reach to a lot of people, often.
- We have the space to test out new strategy and new tech.
- Everything we do is data-inspired.
- We know how to gather quick data on what works and what doesn’t.
- We love to iterate.
We could go on and on. In short, Annual Giving teams are our people.
Here’s one affirming example from the Annual Giving team at the University of South Carolina. They are leaning into the power of new tech (AI-generated messaging through ChatGPT and BingAI) and they shared some pretty cool anecdotes.
ChatGPT and Giving Day
Building out a creative and impactful communications calendar ahead of Giving Day can be… a lot. You need a theme. You need a strong call-to-action. You need a bunch of different versions of your messaging for social media, email, text, video, printed pieces, and the website. And they all need to communicate a sense of urgency for impact.
Cameron Hall, Executive Director of Annual Giving and Lead Generation at the University of South Carolina, shared the burden of Giving Day messaging with ChatGPT this year.
The Cameron + ChatGPT combination produced some great synergy. Cameron and his team brought the strategy, the institutional knowledge, and the basic tenets of Give 4 Garnet Day. ChatGPT brought the extra-catchy creative hooks and the broad-scale messaging.
Cameron used the AI-generated copy, tweaked and molded it to fit with their Giving Day communications plan, and then the team let the high-volume outreach commence.
The results of this collab speak for themselves. The SCU Annual Giving team…
- Saved dozens of hours of staff time from creating basic rough drafts of messaging;
- Recorded the highest number of Giving Day donors in 6 years;
- Recorded the highest number of first-time donors on a Giving Day in 6 years;
- Saw very few copy mistakes across the board.
Fiscal year-end appeals in the Dean's voice
The process of drafting gift appeal letters from university leaders can also be… a lot. Typically, it would take Cameron about a week to draft a big batch of Dean’s appeal letters, given the nuances of different gift designations, donor history, and donor name preferences. And then there would be the inevitable round of text edits from the Dean, which would take about another week to incorporate.
This fiscal year-end, Cameron provided ChatGPT with a few examples of previous Dean’s appeals, prompting ChatGPT to analyze the letters and the Dean’s writing style and voice. He then provided ChatGPT with fund descriptions, and used the suggested text to craft hundreds of slightly-different versions of fiscal year-end appeal letters to be sent from the Dean.
ChatGPT has strong summarizing abilities, and it does a great job organizing document structure. It thrives with a prompt like, “Write an appeal letter from the Dean communicating the urgency and impact of a gift by June 30th to the Student Wellness Fund.”
With ChatGPT’s drafting, it took Cameron a few hours to craft 392 appeal letters from the Dean. The Dean returned the letters with “nearly zero edits.”
Creative interview prompts for the team
Like most advancement teams across the country, the USC Annual Giving team is hiring for a number of open positions. A few members of Cameron’s team were involved in the applicant interview process.
To power his team with great interview questions for new applicants (and save them prep time), Cameron entered the open job description text into ChatGPT and prompted it to “Draft 10 interview questions based on this job description.”
He gave the suggested interview prompts to his team. They were able to ask similar questions and compare nuances, which made the interview and applicant selection process more efficient and streamlined.
A few takeaways
- For broad-scale, themed messaging with a clear call to action (CTA), AI engines like ChatGPT or BingAI are your friends. (ChatGPT loves a good theme.)
- ChatGPT has strong summarizing abilities, and proves most helpful when provided with clear prompting.
- Fundraising will always (always!) need strategic human minds to bring AI-generated messaging to life.
- Annual Giving is the perfect playground to test out new tech tools, discover new ways to capture alums’ attention, and open doors with thousands of previously-disengaged alums.
The name of the game here is to automate the process so that you can personalize the experience. The synergy lies in leaning on the power AI to streamline the more mundane, rote aspects of the day, freeing up fundraisers to do what fundraisers do best: build meaningful relationships.