Artificial Intelligence Changing Nonprofits: Where We Are and Where We’re Going
The nonprofit sector hasn’t been known to be quick adopters of technology, but the great thing is that we are slowly getting there. Right now, the big-ticket item is data. Nonprofits are finally using technology to analyze data to define algorithms, understanding more about their donors and more about their organization; thus making them more efficient and more effective at their mission.
But here’s a buzzword that’s been ringing in different parts of the sector: artificial intelligence—aka AI. But what do you know about AI? I’m sure not much because it seems light years away, right?
Actually, it’s not! Nonprofits are already implementing this magical technology force into their organizations, and it has the capability to really elevate the organization—by getting more done, in less time, with less people. To help us understand more about AI, its capabilities and how it’s impacting the nonprofit sector, we brought in our editorial advisory board member, Shawn Olds, who is CEO and board director of boodleAI.
What’s AI, Anyway? And What Does It Do for Nonprofits?
Data analytics have changed the way nonprofits are running their organizations, but that’s not to be confused with AI. The truth is that a lot of nonprofits aren’t using AI because they are either unsure of it or unaware of it.
“A lot of people confuse AI and machine learning with just very rigorous math or data analytics,” Olds said. “What you’ll see in the coming years is more organizations entering the space that are doing machine learning and AI, not just data analytics or heavy math.”
The capabilities of AI go outside of realms of data and heavy math. For one, there is opportunity to better understand social networks by being more effective—going through your networks and determining who actually cares about your cause, instead of guilting friends into giving. “As I’m sure you’ve seen, retention rates right now after a first-time donation are below 50 percent, and that’s something that would make a massive difference for charities if they could turn those retention rates after to 70, 80 or even 90 percent,” he said.
In order for nonprofits to increase retention rates, organizations need to pay attention to current donors because their churn is going to become very expensive. “Whether you’re a for-profit or a nonprofit, the worst thing you can do is churn your current customers—or in the case of a nonprofit, your current donors,” Olds explained. “Nonprofits need to be able to use machine learning to get a better understanding of what their current donor database looks like, what their current donors might like. Once they do, they can start not only reduce their churn, but potentially also increase the donations they’re getting.”
There are so many amazing stories out there about how AI is doing for nonprofits. As an example, AI has really impacted agricultural nonprofits because many of them have set aside millions, ten of millions aside to fix things, but they may be able to use AI and machine learning to do it at a fraction of the cost, which means resources can be spent in other, Olds said.
While there are plenty of opportunities for nonprofits in the AI arena, it’s also important to recognize that this technological revolution is still a work in progress. “The biggest challenge for AI in the next decade is that AI and machine learning are dependent on data. You can have the best algorithm in the world, you can have quantum computing available to you, but if you don't have the data to feed into the algorithm, the machine can't learn anything,” Olds said. “And so you have to get ahold of that data. Right now, I think one of the biggest obstacles for AI is just getting a hold of data.”
What are your thoughts on AI? Is your nonprofit considering adopting it into its processes, or is it still unsure of how it can be used? Let us know in the comments!