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AI boosts charities’ direct mail campaign performance

Melanie May | 5 March 2021 | News

Parkinson’s UK and Prostate Cancer UK have both seen revenue and response rates rise through testing AI-driven fundraising techniques in direct mail campaigns.
In late 2020, Parkinson’s UK and Prostate Cancer UK each teamed up with young Australian AI firm Dataro to find out how machine learning techniques normally used in large scale marketing campaigns could be applied to direct mail appeal fundraising.
Both organisations found AI-driven donor scoring increased revenue and response rates while reducing mailing volumes in their autumn appeals, compared to their normal data selection methods. Parkinson’s UK received 411 additional gifts worth over £15,000 that otherwise would have been missed. Prostate Cancer UK received 440 additional gifts worth over £11,000.
Dataro CEO Dr Tim Paris said charities had been left behind by the recent boom in data science and AI, but the results with Parkinsons’s UK and Prostate Cancer UK showed that the technology could make immediate improvements and deliver a real financial benefit:

“While most big corporations these days can use data to maximise their efficiency, charities do not have the skills or budgets needed to do the same. Dataro is the fast track for charities to use these innovations. Our mission is to help all charities raise more money, from the smallest art gallery to the largest multinational charity. We get a real kick knowing our technology is actually resulting in more dollars for research, supporting more vulnerable children, and helping protect the environment and rescue more animals.”

Dataro uses machine learning algorithms to analyse patterns in the charity’s entire history of fundraising, including transactions, engagement and communications data, to paint a much more detailed picture of giving. Each donor is then given a predictive score reflecting their estimated probability of giving. These scores are updated weekly and loaded directly into the charity’s database helping fundraisers choose who to include in the campaign, as well as the best list size and ask strategy.
In this case, Parkinson’s UK and Prostate Cancer UK ran experiments where they generated their own lists using their usual methods. They also generated a recommended list using Dataro’s machine learning. At the end of the campaign, both lists were compared and:


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

Ceri Smith, Individual Giving Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said:

“Parkinson’s didn’t stop for coronavirus, so nor could we. In a challenging landscape, our appeals had to work harder than ever so that our pioneering research and vital support services could continue unaffected by the pandemic. We knew we needed to take a new and innovative approach to our appeal selections and this meant using the data we have available in a different way.
“Dataro’s AI software allowed us to both maximise income and minimise wasted costs. Their model has transformed the way that we keep up with the rapid changes in how supporters are engaging with us and target them with relevant asks.”

Holly Matthews, Direct Marketing Manager at Prostate Cancer UK, commented:

”Our work with Dataro has not only led to an increase in funds, but it has shone a light on what is missing, and what we can achieve in the future.
“Our current data selection model is based on a supporter’s gift behavior, but we know this is not entirely inclusive and misses out valuable prospects. Ideally our data selection would be based on multiple areas of a supporter’s journey with us, not just about their gift history, but this takes time and resource so Dataro’s AI model allowed us to test something new. It demonstrated what we had suspected; that valuable data had been missed.”

Dataro has expanded into the UK from Australia, where it works with organisations including Greenpeace, Barnardos, and Royal Flying Doctor Service. The software startup was also recently selected as one of the top 10 fundraising innovations globally in the Reimagining Fundraising competition. The competition was hosted by 14 leading international nonprofits to find game changing fundraising solutions.