Nonprofit organizations live on fundraising. Spreadsheets and CRM systems have helped fundraisers track, sort, and reach out to potential donors. But fundraising is a high-touch, people-intensive activity.
Donor outreach may start out with mass mailings and email blasts, but effectively engaging with the biggest and most frequent donors usually requires a high degree of customization and personalization. For resource-constrained non-profit organizations, then, one of the biggest barriers to reaching out to more high-potential donors – and more frequently – is the need to tailor outreach.
This is one lesson Adam Martel learned firsthand as a fundraiser for Babson College, widely considered one of the world’s leading institutions for the study of entrepreneurship. Martel’s quest to solve this issue for himself and his team eventually became the kernel of an idea for an entirely new business he founded while studying for his MBA, which he pursued part-time while he helped Babson build its endowment.
Gravyty Technologies, which he co-founded in 2016 with Babson classmate Rich Palmer, draws on the power of AI to make data-backed predictions about the giving potential of donors and even help automatically write first drafts of personalized outreach emails.
Gravyty is acquiring new nonprofit customers, raising fresh funding, and earning accolades for its AI-based technology. Earlier this year, Gravyty successfully completed its second round of funding, raising $2 million by a group of investors led by Boston’s NXT Ventures and Launchpad Venture Group.
In 2017, The Chronicle of Philanthropy selected Gravyty as the first among fifteen “New Fundraising Ideas that Worked” for the role their artificial intelligence technology played in helping increase major donor retention for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. The Fund increased fundraising by 49 percent, or nearly $2 million, in the first year they used Gravyty’s applications.
I spoke with Adam recently about his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
1. Find a partner.
“Be on the search for somebody you can go through the journey with. Being an entrepreneur alone is not very much fun. I’ve done it. Rich has done it. It’s too hard to do by yourself. Have the humility to understand and know that you need other people. Having a partner that you go through these journeys with, makes the journey more worthwhile….To have a co-founder that goes with the same speed and has the same passion…is unique.”
2. Be prepared for the highs and the lows.
“Every day, we have high highs and low lows. There’s not a day that’s gone by where I haven’t felt like I was on top of the world and haven’t felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean…We use the phrase ‘ride a flat rollercoaster.’ Don’t try to get too excited. Don’t try to get too down. Just try to do your job to the best of your ability every single day.”
3. Find something that you truly want to do.
“Find something that you truly want to do. Find a problem that you truly want to solve. I’m compelled to be an entrepreneur because I want to provide my family with the life that I want to live with them. Working at a job that I love makes me a better father and a better husband. I’ve tried to do other things and I can’t. What drives me to be an entrepreneur isn’t anxiety or anything other than the fact that I love doing it. I wake up every day excited to do it.”
4. Find investors who are also mentors.
“I think the best investors not only give money, but give time. Raymond Chang, our investor at NXT Ventures, didn’t just give us money –he sat down with me and spent hours with me, trying to explain things and work through challenges that I was facing. To have somebody that’s gone through this so many times, who is on your side and really mentoring you, is very useful.”
(Note: Gravyty Technologies is not a client of mine, nor do I have any other business dealings with the company.)