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The Future of Fundraising: Are You Ready?

The start of a new decade is upon us, and what better way to usher in a new year than to take a moment to think about the future of fundraising over the next ten years. Change is never easy, but as the famed French biologist Louis Pasteur once said, “fortune favours the prepared mind”.

My objective is to help prepare you for major changes impacting our sector to ensure you continue to find success. Here are my three thoughts on the future of fundraising.

1. We are in the midst of a major shift in donor demographics.

Simply put, the next generation of Canadians will not engage, behave or donate the same way past generations did, and this shift is happening as we speak. The Conference Board of Canada states that, “In 2015, those aged 65 and over made up 16.1 per cent of Canada’s total population, a share that is all but certain to rise to over 24 per cent by 2035”1. At the same time, the 2018 Giving Report from CanadaHelps showed that, over the past 15 years, the percentage of Canadians giving to charity has fallen from 24 per cent to 20 per cent 2. So, it’s no surprise many of the fundraising leaders I speak with are concerned about their databases ‘aging out’ and are struggling to fill gaps in their prospect lists for their next major capital campaign. The old 80/20 rule of acquiring 80 per cent of your gifts from 20 per cent of your donors is much closer to 90/10 today and the gap continues to widen. What happens after those top donors make their final gifts?

The responsibility to adapt to this changing donor demographic is on our shoulders. Youth and new immigrants to Canada are becoming the prime earners and we need to shift with our donors. Are you ready to provide them with meaningful and impactful ways to connect with you, using the technology and interfaces they prefer? Direct mail and telephone programs will continue to give way to highly personalized yet automated engagements. This leads me to the next point.

2. Automation should be embraced, not feared.

When discussing automation, it is natural to entertain the negative and fear machines will replace jobs. I challenge you to think about what your team could accomplish if you automated and streamlined certain timely and repetitive tasks. Considering how much effort it takes to acquire a donor, I guess most teams would prefer to spend more time on high-value work, thanking, cultivating and stewarding existing donors.

An article from Global News3 says half of Canadian jobs will be impacted by automation within the next ten years BUT this is good news: there will be more jobs, not fewer.

The demand for automation is already impacting the world around us and it will certainly impact the way we fundraise and build relationships. From banking to grocery shopping to dating, there is very little we cannot do from the comfort of our smart phones. Even ordering pizza can be done within a few clicks! If we think about the future of our fundraising programs, we need to understand how the next wave of donors is engaging with the world and we need to invest in those tools which are becoming commonplace. Which brings me to artificial intelligence (AI) and fundraising.

3. AI can be used for social good.

Hollywood and sci-fi literature have cornered the ‘killer robot’ angle on AI, while Alexa and Google have taught us AI can be used to learn our behavior and sell us more products. But what if we harnessed AI for massive social good?

I recently learned that Kids Help Phone is using AI4 and language processing to quickly identify key words and phrases to help access the threat level (and response type) from an incoming child in distress. Simply based on the words they use, AI will help detect and triage each incoming call. Leading cancer researchers are also using AI to detect cancer much faster and at earlier stages than traditional methods5.

Even if you don’t feel your charity is at the size or scale to benefit from automation and AI today, knowing how these changes will impact your donors is the first step in getting ready for the future of fundraising. The shift in demographics and their use of new technology will force the sector to embrace new methods of engagement and communication. Pioneering fundraising teams are already applying AI to study, learn and better predict donor behavior. Without a doubt, AI will become the backbone of our technology stacks in the next decade.

Let’s discuss what you could be doing today to better prepare for the future of fundraising. Give us a call or email me at c.s@globalphilanthropic.ca


  1. A Long-Term View of Canada’s Changing Demographics, The Conference Board of Canada, Julie Ades, Daniel Fields, Alicia Macdonald, and Matthew Stewart, October 2016, https://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=8282
  2. The 2018 Giving Report, CanadaHelps.org, https://www.canadahelps.org/en/the-giving-report/
  3. Half of Canadian jobs will be impacted by automation in next 10 years, Global News, Jessica Vomiero, March 26, 2018, https://globalnews.ca/news/4105713/automation-workforce-canada-human/
  4. Kids Help Phone using AI to help save lives every single day, Global News Radio, The Morning Show with Stafford and Supriya, https://omny.fm/shows/am640-the-morning-show/kids-help-phone-using-ai-to-help-save-lives-every
  5. AI system outperforms experts in spotting breast cancer, Ian Sample, Science Editor, The Guardian, January, 1, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jan/01/ai-system-outperforms-experts-in-spotting-breast-cancer