In this week’s @AvalonFYI dispatch, you will find leadership updates, creative AI, the end of Amazon Smile, and a stirring message on the importance of Black History. Read it here!
It has been a hard cycle of news. Tragic violence in Half Moon Bay made January a record month for mass shootings, and killings by U.S. police reached an all-time high. My heart goes out to victims’ families and their local communities, yet again. Thank you to everyone reading who is working to turn the tide on these issues. I am honored to support you through both Avalon and my civic life, and I’m grateful.
On a leadership note, I have been a longtime board member for my high school alma mater, Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Last week we announced a new Head of School, and now the work of transition begins. The process has been an exercise in embracing change, and I’m grateful to have had an incredibly committed team and a great outcome. This is the most recent in a long line of experiential learning from board service. I always encourage the Avalon staff and will encourage you too: Board service is a deeply fulfilling way to give back.
Related, congratulations to Avalon VP Kristen Shank Finn, who will soon be the new president of the Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association Board. Kristen is a longtime industry (and Avalon) veteran, and she brings a wealth of experience to the DMFA. I am so proud that Avalon leaders like Kristen are sharing their talents across the industry. Be sure to say hello to her at the next DMFA event!
I’m sure many of you are following as creative AI like ChatGPT and Dall-E shake up everything from the classroom to the creative world. Schools are rethinking how writing needs to happen, and creators are assessing how these tools will impact their work. At Avalon, the value of human copywriters and designers is without question. And it will be interesting to see how AI will augment our processes. For example, we have been testing with Otter to record notes from meetings.
Marketing VP Barb Perell shared a helpful perspective from Beth Kanter, who has been researching and writing about AI and giving for years: The Promise and Peril of Creator Tools like ChatGPT for Nonprofits. Kanter calls on nonprofit leaders to educate themselves, so they can use creative AI strategically and ethically:
As we move into the future, we carry best practices that stand the test of time. COO Kerri Kerr shared a great post from Steve Screen on “why simple, old-fashioned-looking fundraising still works like crazy.” He makes the point that certain techniques may look dated, but they perform well because they are more readable, more scannable, and more familiar. I support this, with one important note: It is critical to keep testing for performance—and to ensure that practices align with today’s values, particularly DEI-informed fundraising.
Speaking of change, Amazon Smile will end on February 20. The company cited the extremely low average donation, given how many charities were eligible on the platform. I agree with Jeff Brooks, who used the news to remind nonprofits that “free money” from programs like Amazon Smile has a cost: your staff’s time. It’s important to assess ROI before you dedicate resources.
Finally, tomorrow marks the beginning of Black History Month. I look forward to following historians, our clients and colleagues, and other leaders to deepen my understanding. For now, I will close with a stirring message from Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and current Smithsonian Institution Secretary:
Thank you, Secretary Bunch. Your words remind us that Black History is much bigger than the month of February.