ChatGPT is your newest fundraising hire, straight out of school

ChatGPT knows a lot about fundraising, but still has a lot to learn — if only it could

You know that new face on your fundraising team? The recent grad, just out of school and starting their first professional gig. They know all the jargon and the latest fundraising trends, and they can talk strategy and tactics from top to bottom. But they have so much to learn …

Pleased to meet you, ChatGPT. Welcome to the team.

I’ve been working with ChatGPT for a few months now. ChatGPT has helped me write fundraising appeals, create marketing plans, and summarize reports. It’s also helped me with obscure tasks such as scoping out a machine-learning pilot on predictive donor behavior.

Here’s ChatGPT’s advice when I asked it to identify which features (characteristics) of donors would be good indicators for future giving.

ChatGPT seems to know its stuff.

Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about each other.

Here’s what I’ve learned about ChatGPT:

  1. ChatGPT can take on a wide variety of knowledge tasks, and will often surprise you with its ability to combine, synthesize, and summarize complex information into easily digested pieces, such as bullet lists.
  2. It’s best to walk ChatGPT through a complex task step by step rather than give it a complete, multipart task all at once. ‘Train of Thought’ prompting can actually improve its reasoning and accuracy.
  3. ChatGPT can drill down to increasing levels of detail on many topics, but it will eventually hit the wall — and that’s when it can start to go off the rails.
  4. You can prepare ChatGPT for a conversation by providing a priming prompt that includes such things as a model of how you want the output to look, reference documents it should consult, or examples of successful fundraising copy that you want it to emulate.

And … actually I was lying when I said ChatGPT has learned a lot from me.

It hasn’t. It can’t.

ChatGPT’s whole knowledge base was locked in about two years ago and it never gets updated. So every time I start a new conversation, we’re back at Square Zero. New face, just walked in the door.

But, like any new work colleague, I’ve learned what to expect from ChatGPT, and what not to expect.

  • ChatGPT can write good first drafts of fundraising copy for emails and social media — and with some additional guidance can turn those into excellent finished products.
  • ChatGPT can be very helpful for generating ideas, and for helping focus my thinking on a complex topic, but it is often repetitive and circles back on itself.
  • ChatGPT can’t do math, even if it seems to think it can. (Same for most physics, geography, and other science problems)
  • ChatGPT sometimes hallucinates and makes stuff up. Even though its early headline-making errors are mostly fixed, it’s best to steer clear of anything that pertains to actual facts.

Like many work relationships, it’s about setting expectations.

ChatGPT and its like are poised to transform many aspects of our jobs — in largely positive ways — but we won’t start to see those benefits until we’ve invested some time into getting to know how they work, and how we best work with them.

So now would be a good time to go get a tea or coffee, and sit down with your new team member. Tell ChatGPT about the tasks you’re working on, and you’ll likely be surprised how helpful it can be.

By the way, I’ve heard we hired another recent grad, and this one just finished their PhD in Nonprofit Fundraising.

Pleased to meet you, GPT-4. Welcome to the team.



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