Artificial Intelligence invaded the members-only community of The Fundraisingology Lab on Facebook recently.
Sean Triner posted a letter thanking members of our special community of fundraising professionals for their involvement and their work. What he didn’t say, at least at first, was that he didn’t write the letter. He had ChatGPT – the best-known AI writing tool – do the job. It was an experiment, not a real thank you letter.
The result was somewhere between disturbing and hilarious.
Here’s the thank you letter. I’ve edited it for length (you’ll quickly see why):
Dear members of Moceanic,
I am writing this letter to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to all of you who have utilized the tools and resources provided by The Fundraisingology Lab to improve your fundraising efforts and make a positive impact on the lives of people in need.
I am particularly grateful for the trust that you have placed in The Fundraisingology Lab, and for the many ways in which you have contributed to the community by sharing your successes, challenges, and insights with others.
Your willingness to collaborate and support one another is a testament to the power of teamwork and the strength of our shared commitment to creating a better world.
Thank you for your dedication, your hard work, and your unwavering commitment to making the world a better place. I look forward to continuing to support your efforts in any way that I can.
Probably the most notable feature of this letter is how boring it is. As one member of the community commented, “I only fell asleep twice while reading it.”
Most who commented, though, had a stronger reaction, much like this one: “I thought you were going to say The Fundraisingology Lab was about to be no more! I think because it was so formal and heavy.”
You’d have to call ChatGPT’s thank you letter a resounding failure. What should have been a warm, human, and inspiring message just upset and confused people. Not because of the actual content, but because of the tone.
You see, tone is most of the game in human communications. And ChatGPT, not being human, doesn’t grasp that. It just strings together sentences that say approximately what you ask it to do.
Calling it Artificial Intelligence is misleading. There’s no intelligence whatsoever. It’s a parrot that repeats back phrases it has read. What it’s read is the entire Internet. So you can see why it’s so terrible. Let’s note some of the problems:
- It’s written at a Grade 13 Reading Ease level. That’s nearly unreadable. If you want people to be moved by something you write, make it easy to read. Sean knows that. ChatGPT doesn’t. It writes the way the Internet writes … unreadable. That’s the main thing that gives the letter a heavy and joyless tone.
- It speaks in abstractions. Like make a positive impact and the strength of our shared commitment. Both of those are positive things, but ChatGPT hides them under a blanket of abstraction. It talks about good things the way most of us would talk about failure, loss, or death. Why? Because the Internet writes that way.
- It commits a lot of bad writing habits: Choosing needlessly complicated words like utilized when same-meaning short words like used are available. Or using two nearly exact synonyms like “gratitude and appreciation” for no good reason. Or packing two completely different ideas: “the power of teamwork and the strength of our shared commitment to creating a better world” — into one sentence.
It’s sloppy writing. The type of writing that dominates the Internet.
Sloppiness is the least of its problems. As a result, the tone says exactly the opposite of the intended meaning.
One solution would be for Sean to think of the ChatGPT letter as a very rough first draft, and to revise it until it’s good. Until recently, I’ve thought that might be what would make AI a good tool for fundraising writing.
Having tried that a few times in my own writing, I’m not so sure. The AI draft is so rough and needing so much revision before it’s even starting to do the intended job … I don’t think it saves any time over my usual practice of generating my own first draft the old-fashioned struggle-and-sweat way.
Maybe that’s just me and my own writing process. Your experience may be different.
To get a feel for how you might (or might not) use AI in your writing, give it small assignments and see what you get from it…
Tell it to write your own professional bio. Those who’ve done this often find that it’s surprisingly accurate, though the sloppy writing doesn’t help make the case that you’re a decent writer. It also tends to give you credit for things you haven’t done. (Mine says I’m an “accomplished musician and songwriter, with several albums and collaborations”!)
I just asked Chat GPT to write a limerick about fundraising. The result was a bit like Sean’s letter:
There once was a group in a bind,
Who needed some cash they could find,
So they set up a scheme,
To fundraise their dream,
And soon had the money combined.
Okay, it’s a limerick in the sense that it has the meter and rhyme-scheme of a limerick. And approximately about fundraising.
The real problem: It’s not funny. Not even close. Limericks are supposed to surprise and delight, usually with the last line. The last line of this one is nonsense, but not in a funny way…
So it’s not really a limerick. It fails in the same way that Sean’s ChatGPT thank you letter fails.
What really scares me about AI writing is that it’s grammatically correct and syntactically clean from the start. It doesn’t look like the mess it is. You could be fooled by that into thinking that means it’s “finished” – ready to send out.
That’s what’s happening on websites everywhere that need a steady flow of “content.” AI-generated content that’s on topic … but just bad. Maybe it doesn’t matter that much in some of those places.
But it matters in your fundraising.
Go ahead and use AI as a writing aid. But don’t subject your donors or your organization to the badness of AI writing.
Be prepared to master the tools you need to create powerful fundraising. Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll get the support, the information, and the like-minded community that will take you to new places in your fundraising career. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!
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