Face-to-Face Conver­sa­tion in the Digi­tal Age

AI technology is developing rapidly. The recently launched version 4 of ChatGPT makes it possible to actually talk to AI. Does this development put the future of personal fundraising into question? No. Direct human contact at the information stand is indispensable because it conveys trust and authenticity when asking for donations.

Version 4 of ChatGPT has just been laun­ched, so it is ente­ring the next stage. One of the new features is speech reco­gni­tion. Now it’s possi­ble to talk with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and receive an error-free, trans­la­ted spoken reply at the touch of a button. AI can also tell stories in an emotio­nal voice. This is just one exam­ple of the rapid evolu­tion of such tech­no­lo­gies. Will deve­lo­p­ments such as these make perso­nal cont­act in fund­rai­sing – and thus the many young fund­rai­sers who can be found in public places repre­sen­ting various aid orga­ni­sa­ti­ons – superfluous?

A quar­ter of a century of face-to-face fundraising

Street campaigns to attract new members for aid orga­ni­sa­ti­ons have been going on since 1995. Two students in Austria had the bril­li­ant idea of directly addres­sing passers-by on the street, provi­ding infor­ma­tion and signing them up for member­ships. Neither addres­sing people directly nor giving verbal infor­ma­tion were revo­lu­tio­nary at the time; nor was the idea of member­ships. The method’s success lies in combi­ning all these measu­res. Measu­res that were previously prac­ti­sed indi­vi­du­ally or only partly in combi­na­tion now all take place at the same time and in the same place. Suddenly, indi­vi­dual fund­rai­sing acti­vi­ties turned into a single campaign with long-term dona­ti­ons, thanks to self-rene­wing member­ships via direct debit. Adver­ti­sing methods were still comple­tely ‘analo­gue’ in 1995 – there were no tablets, the success of the campaign could not be veri­fied with figu­res, and even e‑mails were not yet very widespread.

Tech­no­logy meets face-to-face conversation

Viewed from a distance, street campaigns still seem to func­tion in exactly the same way today, as the focus is still on the person and the perso­nal conver­sa­tion. This is a good thing, because fort­u­na­tely, no arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence can replace humans with their emoti­ons, intui­ti­ons and imper­fec­tions. But even though the conver­sa­tion takes place between two people, digi­ta­li­sa­tion has long since found its way into the infor­ma­tion booth: presen­ta­ti­ons and videos on iPads have repla­ced analo­gue display folders. Data entries on the tablet are checked in real time. The success of each campaign can be analy­sed using various KPIs, both by the client and by the team leaders. The donors will auto­ma­ti­cally receive an SMS or e‑mail after the conclu­sion of the contract. Many orga­ni­sa­ti­ons use sophisti­ca­ted digi­tal commu­ni­ca­tion to conti­nuously inspire newly recrui­ted members to engage with their concerns and create a lasting connec­tion. Howe­ver, if someone deci­des not to become a member, the dona­tion can be adjus­ted or cancel­led online.

Recruit­ment for fund­rai­sers for infor­ma­tion booths – known as ‘dialo­guers’ – is largely carried out by means of targe­ted adver­ti­se­ments on online plat­forms. An e‑learning plat­form is used for their training.

Huma­nity in fundraising

With the growth of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, it would be easy to think that human inter­ac­tions were incre­asingly being pushed into the back­ground and that sophisti­ca­ted, measura­ble, controll­able digi­tal commu­ni­ca­tion was supe­rior. But the use of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence in fund­rai­sing must be done with caution, as trust and authen­ti­city form the foun­da­tion of every dona­tion. AI-gene­ra­ted images, texts and videos may seem convin­cing at first glance, but they run the risk of disgra­cing an entire indus­try. ‘The more we live in tech­no­lo­gi­cal worlds, the grea­ter beco­mes the need for authen­ti­city,’ fittingly obser­ves philo­so­pher Richard David Precht.

Making dona­ti­ons is a deep human need, feeding our instinct for soli­da­rity, which needs to be awakened. Whether by e‑mail, letter, TV advert or at the infor­ma­tion booth, ulti­m­ately it is always a direct message from people to people, for people. Although AI can gene­rate perfect donor letters, their authen­ti­city is quickly called into ques­tion. Fort­u­na­tely, there are still dialo­guers whose smiles bring passers-by to a standstill, and who make giving dona­ti­ons an easy and trust­wor­thy process.

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