Before a donor even pledges a gift to an organization they support, there is an unwritten understanding that the donor will not see a tangible return for themselves. These gifts are often called “selfless” because, besides a potential tax break, it’s not a traditional exchange. Instead, the donor must trust that their money will be put to use toward a cause they hold dear. On the very surface, it may not seem to be a rational decision from an economical standpoint. But according to a recent study, over 70% of individuals plan to give this year. Obviously, there is an intangible force at play. That force is what economics can’t yet quantify: the value of a relationship.
Daniel Kahneman makes a similar distinction in his groundbreaking work Thinking, Fast and Slow. He argues that human decision making is split into a fast and slow path. Fast is instinct - based in fight-or-flight and prone to emotion. Slow is critical thinking - the word problem that takes you 10 minutes to unpack or a chess match that involves thinking three steps ahead. In many cases, the “fast” thinking dominates the “slow”, providing a path for emotions to control decision making.
A strong relationship with a donor widens the path for emotion rather than strictly economical or transactional thinking. It’s not a trick, it’s a sense of trust that makes the emotional decision seem logical. Todd Langenberg, AVP of Development at Towson University, agrees that, even when knowing the prospects with the highest giving capacity, “if the number of lifetime gifts is zero, good luck picking up the phone”.
Of course, every fundraiser knows that relationship-driven fundraising takes time. There’s no magic formula or shortcut. But to increase substantial gifts, fundraisers must increase the number of relationships they’re building. What little time fundraisers have is already packed full of meetings with their top donors, so there remain two options for scaling the relationships an organization builds: either hire more staff, which can be a costly endeavor that could take years to provide a full return on investment, or increasing efficiency for staff you already have. With tightened belts and stripped budgets, a hiring surge just isn’t feasible for many organizations. Efficiency, however, is within an organization’s control. Since many fundraisers spend the majority of their already scant time doing back-office work preparing for those personal communications, this presents an opportunity to reexamine processes that may be getting in the way of a fundraiser’s ultimate goal - getting in front of donors.
“If the number of lifetime gifts is zero, good luck picking up the phone.”
Langenberg recognized this for his own team and chose to evaluate fundraisers based on high-value actions like personalized outreach. To achieve this, Towson turned to Gravyty’s fundraiser enablement tools, powered by AI, to handle the background work for fundraisers, giving them more time to perform high-value actions to build relationships that drive giving. While AI will never be able to replace a frontline fundraiser, it can empower them to focus their time and energy on using the skills they were hired to use. With more time to spend in front of donors, AI-enabled fundraisers are making a difference for their organizations, missions, and communities.
So what is the value of increasing the number of relationships fundraisers can manage? For Langenberg, that means having a more robust major gift pipeline. But without talking to donors now, that pipeline won't grow in the future. You can read about Towson's strategy to reach more donors and create opportunities up and down the giving pipeline in our free case study.
Do you use emotional vs. rational thinking in your fundraising strategy? Connect with Gravyty to learn about how you can use AI to get the most out of your giving pipeline.