April 24, 2024
Donor Science

Photo: Chris Lake

Michael Peterman, the founder and CEO of VeraData, recognized the promise of AI nearly two decades ago. Today his company serves about 400 non-profit clients.

Artificial Intelligence

Donor Science

The Fort Myers company VeraData is using machine learning and AI to help non-profits improve their fundraising.

Mike Brassfield | 2/21/2024

Artificial intelligence might be all the rage these days, but Michael Peterman was an early adopter of the technology. In the early 2000s, the Naples native was working at a Fort Myers company called AccuData and started closely watching what tech giants like Amazon and Netflix were doing with all the data they were collecting. “It was around the time when some juggernauts in Silicon Valley were launching their early forms of machine learning,” he says.

However, the venture firm that acquired AccuData wasn’t all that interested in pursuing machine learning. Peterman saw the possibilities and decided to strike out on his own, founding his own company in 2007. “I started VeraData to leapfrog what was then the current state to bring cutting-edge analytics coupled with enormous volumes of data to the non-profit industry — a sector that arguably needs it more than any other.”

Today, Fort Myers-based VeraData has about 70 employees and uses AI and machine learning to help about 400 different non-profits improve their fundraising and marketing efforts. VeraData gets described as a marketing company — which it is — but it also calls itself “a performance-based decision science company.” Charities such as the National Children’s Cancer Society have to make all kinds of strategic decisions about their fundraising, and VeraData helps them make those decisions — everything from what type of font and what size envelopes to use for mailers to how to best spend their digital marketing dollars, and perhaps most importantly, how to identify the best audience.

“We use machine learning and human-assisted artificial intelligence combined with vast amounts of data, advanced creative strategy and production science to help non-profits raise more money more efficiently while growing the donor pool,” Peterman says. “We delve deep into the intricacies of donor motivations and preferences.” VeraData calls the discipline “donor science.”

In a time when finding qualified workers can be a challenge, it’s not as difficult to hire top tech talent in Fort Myers as you might think, Peterman says. “There is a concentration of data talent in this area,” he says, and the company has branch offices in Fort Lauderdale, New York, Romania, Ukraine and India, along with various remote employees. Peterman himself lives in Sarasota now.

What does the future of AI look like? That, Peterman says, is a difficult question to answer well. Like a human brain, AI keeps getting smarter as it continues to amass data. But unlike humans, it never forgets anything.

“As more granular information is captured and standardized, more and more decision-making will move from humans to AI,” he predicts. “No miscalculations, no mathematical mistakes, no more relying on your gut.”

Beyond that, he says it’s hard to imagine what kind of impact AI will ultimately have on society. “My bias is to look at the positive side of this because that’s our business,” he says, “but I’m glad that we, collectively as a species, are working to establish global oversight on AI development.”

Tags: Feature, Artificial Intelligence

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