Why robots will never replace fundraisers and grant-writers

Why robots will never replace fundraisers and grant-writers

If you Google AI grant-writing you’ll find there are some sites offering AI-based services to do everything from generating instant high-quality content for appeals, emails, reports, social media reports and, yes, even grant proposals.

One site claims to generate research proposals for clinicians in five hours or less. It all gets a bit tech-y and acronym-y at that point – with NLP (Natural Language Processing) and NLU (Natural Language Understanding), ML (Machine Learning) and MT (Machine Translation) part of the science behind it. Another discussion forum points out that a novel co-authored by an AI program made it through the first round of a selection process for a Japanese literary prize, indicating perhaps that AI writing can be nuanced.

Fundraising jobs are safe!

But the ‘bots are not going to be replacing us fundraisers any time soon. All areas of fundraising are about building relationships and alliances, making real-world human connections, undertaking thorough research and understanding donor/funder behaviour and motivation, and importantly, the fine-tuning of language, messaging and emotion. It requires persistence, persuasiveness, passion and a socially progressive mindset. And, of course, an an all-important solid and up to date strategy.

Still, given the unexpected twists and turns the world has taken over the last two years – who would have imagined the sector could pivot to delivering so many programs online – it’s a relief, according to a site called Will Robots Take my Job, to see, that fundraising is deemed totally safe with an automation risk of just 6%.

In terms of grant-seeking and grant-writing, it’d be a challenge for an algorithm-driven robot to navigate – and decipher – the multitude of different templates and online forms and processes (some of which remain clunky and are not user-friendly)! And would an AI program correctly understand and interpret what’s required for each question?

Grants – a business case and a conversation with a funder

Grants are a presentation of a business case for funding but they are also a conversation with a funder. You need to balance the data and stats with compelling content, connecting on an emotional level to the funder’s motivation to give. And, needless to say, us humans need to pick up the phone and engage with the funder before we start to write. And where’s that’s not an option, to attend online or in-person funder briefings. It not only builds the relationship but saves everyone time – if your project is unlikely to find favour with the trustees, better to find out before you invest hours in the writing.

Words Matter

Moreover, every grant requires a bespoke approach tailored to the criteria and priorities of the funder in question. And when it comes to the writing, words matter! The language you use needs to be finessed accordingly; is the audience a small family trust or PAF, a Federal Government department or a corporate Foundation? Who will be assessing your proposal – and what is their language?

Avoid  motherhood statements

And answering a question well requires you to sometimes ask difficult questions of your organisation – again words matter. We may have inherited language used in our organisation that is no longer relevant or not clear. We’ve absorbed it and regurgitate it but what does it mean?

In my travels I encounter a lot of motherhood and high-level aspirational statements that don’t actually mean much.  Some applications get lost in frameworks, dashboards, policies, software upgrades and strategic speak. One of my favourites was a statement of strategic intent: Balancing financial rigour with pragmatism and compassion; evolving to focus on greater governance and service excellence delivered via efficiency and effectiveness mapped by a systematic outcomes framework.

This is what I call governance and organisational gumph. When not well expressed, it just sounds like something out of Yes Minister, the British political satire broadcast in the 80s, or more recently, the ABC’s Utopia ‘where bureaucracy and big dreams collide.’

A nuanced – and human – approach

In short, there’s way more fine-tuning needed in writing grants and fundraising copy than a computer program is currently capable of creating. It needs humans building relationships, asking and answering difficult questions, deep dives, left and right brain, colour, nuance, clarity, story-telling, and a strong supporting strategy and evidence base.