Chat­G­PT and fundrais­ing – what do you need to know? (part one)

You’ve prob­a­bly heard about Chat­G­PT. You might have read about how it could rev­o­lu­tionise or destroy (depend­ing on who you ask) every­thing from inter­net search­es to jour­nal­ism. But as fundrais­ers, what do you need to know? In part one of a two-part piece, we ask three knowl­edge­able fundrais­ers to give us their opin­ions on what Chat­G­PT could mean for fundraising.

Written by
March 09, 2023
© Image by Phonlamai via Canva

With so much talk about ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer), it can be hard to understand what this new technology could mean for us – as individuals and as fundraisers.

SOFII decided to speak to three experienced fundraisers – Emily Casson, Deniz Hassan and Matt Smith – to find out more. We asked them five questions about ChatGPT and how it could impact fundraising now and in the future. Please note, the answers below have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Emily Casson is Digital Marketing and Fundraising Manager at The Salvation Army

Deniz Hassan is Digital Director at Astarita Aldrich & Ward (AAW)

Matt Smith is Director of Transformation & Innovation at THINK Consulting Solutions

In part two of this piece, we’ll also hear from, Cherian Koshy. But for now, let’s get started!

Q1: Have you experimented with ChatGPT? If so, can you please tell us what you learned?

Emily Casson (EC): I’ve been experimenting lately (both in a personal and professional capacity) asking ChatGPT everything from how to brighten up my balcony garden in winter, to asking it to draft a fundraising strategy. I liken it to having an eager intern, great for research tasks, answering questions faster than Google and basic copywriting but it needs a steer in the right direction. 

ChatGPT sometimes presents opinion as fact without citing sources, so you do need to fact check – but it is possible to debate it and it even apologises when you question it. For example, I had a lively discussion with ChatGPT on what constitutes a ‘small’ charity.  

Deniz Hassan (DH): I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT since launch, across a number of areas including creative and campaign analysis. I think, like anything, it’s a case of you get out what you put in. The richer the information you feed in, the higher the quality. 

Matt Smith (MS): I’ve used it for both with writing supporter-facing communications for charity clients and to help with new product development. I’ve learned that the more time you spend on writing the brief (as with working with human writers!) the better the output. 

It’s incredibly impressive and I’ve found it particularly helpful with the start of a project or getting going on a first draft of a piece of work – it can help remove the anxiety of having a blank page and give you a great skeleton to then add your own thinking and creative flourish.

Q2: What do you think are the most exciting applications of ChatGPT for fundraisers and the charity sector?

MS: It will mean we can get much more done in any given day. By using AI (artificial intelligence) tools wisely, we’ll be able to be much more efficient, perhaps even get double the amount of work done, but whilst providing us the chance to spend more time on the truly human and creative parts of our roles. And by writing great initial briefs, we’ll then be able to use ChatGPT to create first drafts that give us back more time and creative energy to use on perfecting multiple pieces of work – all in the same time it would usually take to write one. 

It will also help with idea generation and can be used a great starting point for ideation sessions.

DH: It will certainly help rapid prototyping. In this digitally driven age, volume of creative executions is key. ChatGPT can really be an extra resource in creating variations that can be tested, combining top performing ads and identifying trends. 

EC: I actually asked ChatGPT this exact question and within seconds it gave a few useful examples – such as writing web copy, developing fundraising strategies, template emails and event plans.  

I think it has the potential to be a substantial change for society, similar to how search engines changed the way we find out information. For the charity sector it could mean we can get a starter for ten on a range of strategies, plans, campaigns, research and copy, that a human can then edit, saving us precious time. 

It is great for idea generation and research, as well as copywriting, so I see it as being beneficial to small charities who don’t have a lot of resources.

Q3: Can you see any risks/potential negative applications/ethical issues surrounding ChatGPT that fundraisers should have on their radars?

DH: Ubiquity has long since been an issue in fundraising and the danger is Chat GPT makes this worse. It exists by learning from what’s inputted so naturally if we keep putting the same stuff in and asking similar questions, it will output similar stuff. 

Ethically the issues are the same as without it. Stories need to be authentic and maintain dignity. We can’t use it to churn out disingenuous creative just as we can't write stuff like that ourselves. 

MS: One issue is ensuring that unconscious bias and unethical content is recognised, and that work is done to remove these. As with any technology that is based on a large language model (LLM), ChatGPT can and will generate offensive or biased content because it pulls from things like Wikipedia articles and web pages that themselves contain these biases. 

Another issue is that we become over-reliant on it in situations that require a human touch, or that we sleepwalk into replacing roles and tasks without fully understanding the consequences. It’s an incredible powerful and exciting tool, but this power comes with real risk.

EC: I think that there are a few risks associated and it is key to have human oversight. It presents thoughts as fact but is only as good as how it has been programmed, so I have concerns around amplifying bias. 

It also doesn’t currently cite sources, so it is hard to know where it has gained information from – and as we all know, what is on the internet isn’t always truth.  

ChatGPT can learn tone of voice, but I would hate us to lose what makes specific charities unique by a copy and paste approach, so I would use it as a starting point not the end product.

We also need to be aware of the fact our donors might use it. I asked it ‘what are the most effective charities to donate to?’ and it gave me a few options. So there is the question of how ChatGPT decides what charities to give prominence too, as donors may also use it to research charities.

I think one of the key ethical issues is around what AI can’t do. As much as we can programme them, it will never be able to replace human empathy and we have to be careful about how we use it and not lose the human touch where it is important.

Q4: Do you know anyone who is making good use of ChatGPT already?

MS: At THINK we’ve used ChatGPT to help us develop new products for our clients. It’s been incredibly helpful at that first development stage to provide structure and to save time during a particularly busy part of the year. Some of our charity clients are already using the tool to produce first drafts of press releases, copy for adverts and as an idea generation tool. 

So far, the examples I’ve seen have been appropriate time savers, rather than replacing whole tasks or functions (so far!). I liken it to using Google to answer a question, rather than thumbing through a hardcopy encyclopaedia for the answer. ChatGPT will help us be more efficient and get more done, but it won’t replace the need for human originality, scrutiny and nuance.

EC: An American mental health non-profit Koko has been doing some testing with ChatGPT and tried using a co-pilot approach with AI suggesting prompts to peer supporters. It will be interesting to see if other charities try this ‘co-pilot’ approach.  Someone also shared with me this list of prompts for marketing/comms that could be useful for charities to try. 

Q5: Any final thoughts for our community of fundraisers, who might be hearing a lot about ChatGPT right now?

EC: While ChatGPT is relatively new, it is a very fast-growing area (and often over-subscribed so potentially paid versions may be coming). Google will be launching its own version ‘Bard’ soon, so this technology will be a fundamental shift in our ways of working. It is important that as this technology grows, we as a sector debate the ethics and use cases. We should take advantage of the opportunities it offers, while keeping to our values.

DH: Like any shiny new tool, have fun with it learn what it can do. But whatever you do, just ensure you’re doing it with strategy in mind. Do things for reasons that help you achieve your goals. Use it if it fits, don’t worry if it doesn’t! 

Editor’s note: We hope you found this discussion on ChatGPT and fundraising useful. If you did, don’t forget that Cherian Koshy has added his thoughts in the second instalment of this series. You can now read part two by Cherian, here

About the author: SOFII

The SOFII collection aims to be the most comprehensive, best organised, and most inspiring collection of fundraising related content from around the world.

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