The AI Revolution and Its Implications for Advancement Teams

The AI Revolution and Its Implications for Advancement Teams 

With November’s launch of ChatGPT, artificial intelligence (AI) and its implications for mankind are front and center. At Thanksgiving I had never heard of ChatGPT, and by Valentine’s Day it had become a ribbon running through my days – on both personal and professional levels.  

It is an overnight hot topic and deservedly so. For the unfamiliar, in summary, it is an artificial intelligence application (more specifically, a “chatbot”) that can, among other things, produce convincing written materials. Not surprisingly, ChatGPT has garnered particular attention at schools both in the context of next-level plagiarism and for anticipated pedagogical shifts comparable only to the introduction of calculators and personal computers. Awareness has quickly given way to a mix of concern and fascination.  

Our writing will need to be punchier, and our cases will need to be more compelling than ever before.

Interestingly, AI has also witnessed an uptick in consideration in the field of advancement. For those of us professionally housed in both fundraising and education, this emerging technological revolution has given us much to consider. Yet, pondering the distant future and implications of technology strikes me as being as pointless as trying to imagine a new primary color or a life-form that is not carbon based.  

Few among us have the imagination to think with so few boundaries. However, it is critically important for us to consider the somewhat imaginable and predictable near-term impact. At the risk of embarrassing my future self – but with the benefit of the preparation that contemplation yields – I am committing to print some predictions about AI in educational advancement.  

1. AI’s Emergence Will Require Us to Be Informed

It is not stepping out too far on a limb to say that we cannot control AI – it is arriving as we speak and barring an unprecedented global agreement, it is here to stay. The emergence of this new technology will invigorate some of our constituents, but others (particularly among our higher education and independent school colleagues) will feel that it threatens the pureness of education.  

As with any social movement or significant shift in curriculum, we need to understand the topic at hand and our organizational orientation to the issue so that we may speak with our stakeholders about AI and its place in our classrooms. As always, we need to listen, but we will probably also need to be prepared to defend the use of AI to some as well as the limits on its use to others. Further, we need to assure our audience that these decisions have been made thoughtfully and that our organizations will not lose their way.  

Our donors’ trust in institutional integrity is at stake.  


2. We Will Need to Set Professional Boundaries over Our Use of AI 

This technology is impressive but not yet perfect. To place our full confidence in it during its infancy will be negligent. It will, however, immediately help us all. Our job is to define the boundaries around the uses of ChatGPT and other AI within our shops. Should a lead donor receive a chatbot-generated letter? Of course not. But should we disable our predictive text (a form of AI we all readily accept)? Also preposterous. Office policy – formal or informal – around the exact role of AI will be important.  

It is reasonable to assume that AI-generated material might serve as a starting point of certain communications but rarely the final product. The moment a donor or prospect believes she is hearing from a bot, rather than a compassionate gift officer, she has ample reason to stop listening and never to listen (or give) again.  

In this regard, not only will we need to continue to produce personal letters, but more than ever we will need to take the time to prove that each letter is written only for its recipient. Of course, technology’s role in communications is not a new topic. We already manage a version of this tension when we determine which donors receive a personalized, written request or acknowledgement as opposed to a batched form letter, but technology has added a new wrinkle to our thinking around customization.  

Gift officers’ credibility and sincerity will be under newfound scrutiny.  


3. AI Will Create HR Challenges

Development managers pay close attention not only to resumes but also cover letters. Is this job candidate an effective communicator? Can this candidate sell our school if he can’t sell himself? Does this candidate employ usage and tone that will be compatible with school culture? These are the questions we have grown used to when screening candidates.  

What will happen now that candidates can use AI to assist in portraying themselves? With today’s technology, bot-generated letters will probably be easily identified, and candidates employing ChatGPT will be eliminated from consideration. But in time, the technology will experience upgrades, and its users will hone their skills. These candidates will deserve places in our organizations alongside those others with expertise in technology and, yes, communications.  

For now, we will need to conduct in-person interviews and check references to ensure that our candidates are not computer-propped imposters. But in time, we might find ourselves competing for those most adept in using a miraculous tool appropriately. Since HR’s role extends into training, I will add that once hired, the opportunities for gift officer training, via bot roleplay – will be infinite and spectacular.  

Hiring managers need to understand both the pitfalls and significant upside of emerging AI technology.  


4. AI Will Flood the Grant Market

Writing grant proposals takes time. While foundations and other funders place some restrictions around applications, they often accept proposals from a wide audience.  

Most football fans pay attention to dwindling minutes on a clock if a “Hail Mary” pass is a possibility. Since there’s very little risk in submitting proposals to far-flung prospects, there are few barriers to prevent unscrupulous organizations from employing their AI grant writers to produce countless proposals for distant funders – that is, advancement versions of the “Hail Mary.” 

To be clear, I am not saying that AI-written proposals are best practice. Rather, what I am saying is that we will need to work harder for our human-written proposals to be seen through the clutter of bot-scripted proposals. Beyond grant proposals, we should all be prepared for a significant increase in targeted email.  

With an uptick in submission and increased competition, our writing will need to be punchier, and our cases will need to be more compelling than ever before. 


5. AI 1.0 Will Not Produce Bespoke Strategy

Do not disband your Strategic Planning Committees any time soon. AI might have a vague understanding of our industry, but it is not reasonable to expect that it can identify the specific strategic priorities each of our schools and organizations need. Even when fed the key findings of a strategic process, it is difficult to imagine AI writing compelling reports in their support. Maybe some of our rote annual appeal letters might begin with an AI creation, but our stewardship letters and the white papers, case statements, and other signature development publications will continue to require both human writers and extensive human intervention in the editorial process.  

ChatGPT cannot yet prescribe strategic vision. 


6. Some Administrative Gains Will Be Realized

Flabby form letters will get a shot in the arm, and some of our communications will improve. The opportunities for interplay between chatbots and wealth-screening algorithms and the data these screenings could yield is thought provoking, if not overwhelming. For now, pairing unmanaged gift prospects from our databases or wealth-screening files with ChatGPT feels outrageous, but I allow for the possibility.  

We must maintain an awareness of the emerging technologies that enhance advancement work, and ensure these applications work within the specific culture of our organizations. 


7. Chatbots Will Make Us Better, but Not in the Way We Might Think

Our industry and its design are not locked down – MacKenzie Scott has proven that advancement is subject to overnight disruption. In the coming decades, many advancement positions will morph beyond recognition, and our grandchildren will have job titles that do not yet exist. But AI will not unseat the interpersonal nature of our work.  

It is difficult to imagine the number of upgrades needed before AI is convincingly passionate, charming, persuasive, or empathetic. For this reason, it is challenging to believe that AI will ever replace the intimate and personal conversations gift officers have with donors and prospects. But AI will serve as a tool to relieve, perhaps, some of the administrative duties. At the same time, the human touch will be required to retain donor attention. This will force some of us to get out from behind our desks more often, which is not a bad thing.  

The arrival of chatbots make the human side of work that much more important. 


These predictions barely brush the tip of a gigantic iceberg of possibility that ChatGPT is delivering, but watching history unfold in real time is thrilling. Our industry might be on the verge of tech-assisted reformation. With luck, ChatGPT and other forms of AI are not hints of the decline of civilization but rather a tool that will soon be harnessed and leveraged for tremendous benefit for all professionals, including those in advancement.

Shelby LaMar, Vice President, serves clients within GG+A’s Independent Schools practice area. If you would like guidance in developing your institution’s fundraising strategy, contact Shelby at slamar@grenzglier.com. 

For more on key issues at the intersection of technology, analytics, and advancement services, download our GG+A playbook, Data That Drives Growth. 



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About the author

Shelby LaMar

Vice President

Shelby LaMar, Consulting Vice President, serves clients within our independent school practice area. He has more than 20 years of experience within this sector, including managing capital campaigns, annual funds, and advancement services, as well as communications and marketing development, including proposal writing, and case statement development. Since 2009, Shelby…