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By Rich Palmer • March 12, 2018

In the Studio: David Woodruff, AVP & COO at MIT

We were thrilled to host David Woodruff, Associate Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). David has a rich background in fundraising and development operations. He talked with our team about a wide range of topics include fundraising, artificial intelligence, understanding millennials, having a fulfilling career, and much more.

We took some time to  consider David's discussion and share some key thoughts below:

rich.png            Rich Palmer, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, reflects:

It was wonderful to understand the perspective of someone who has seen philanthropy from many different directions - from MIT to Harvard to MGH.

 

David had a very pragmatic and optimistic view on the role of millennials in the philanthropic process. He talked a lot about the importance of understanding where trends will take you and how to mobilize your organization - especially large organizations - to get ahead of trends and meet them as they arrive.

 

David addressed the prevailing concerns about how changes in the tax code may affect philanthropy, but he is bullish on the idea that people give for many more reasons than tax purposes and that thoughtful dialogue with donors is the path forward in uncertain times.

lindsey.png            Lindsey Athanasiou, Director of Sales and Customer Success, found the following takeaways especially valuable:

Our conversation with David reinforced two important points for me that I often observe during my interactions with current and future customers:


1. Until recently, the prevailing public opinion about AI was that it was a fad or trend. Now, this perception is rapidly eroding, and the majority of Americans see AI as here to stay.


2. In order for organizations to truly embrace and deploy the newest and best technologies (AI included), it needs to be a decision or imperative from the top.

jona.png            Jona Ferreira, Software Engineer, says:

What I learned from our conversation with David was that metrics are something that everybody seems to look at, but what people fail to realize is that metrics really don’t show the whole story. Especially when dealing with nonprofits. It goes beyond metrics when building personal relationships.

matt.png            Matt Pierce, Senior Software Engineer, reflects:

My main takeaway was that in order to best solicit donations for a college or university, donors need to be sold on the impact that the school is having on the world. Based on his experience, helping the donor realize the impact that their dollar can have on the world is the best way to encourage gifts. With this in mind, we must try to curate and leverage data to find relevant stories of impact that will create an emotional connection with the potential donor.

nima.png            Nima Abbasi, Director of Data Science, summarizes with three key points:

It is awesome to hear about the problems that organizations are dealing with and think about how we can improve their fundraising experience. David mentioned some of the problems that he had experience dealing with about categorizing the donors specifically in healthcare and connecting with the potential donors at the right time. Now machine learning algorithms and AI can solve these problems and make fundraising more fun.

We are excited to explore how David and his colleagues at MIT are continuing to lead from the front by deploying technology at meaningful parts of the fundraising process.

As a side note, MIT recent launched an AI related daily newsletter, "The Algorithm" which is a great way to keep informed with news and views on the latest in artificial intelligence. Check it out: https://www.technologyreview.com/newsletters/

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