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  • Sammy Nielsen

Exploring the Power of Artificial Intelligence for Nonprofits in 2024

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making significant strides globally and across industries, and the nonprofit sector is no exception. In response to increasing demands for services, workforce shortages, and declining charitable donations, nonprofit organizations are turning to AI to enhance their operations and impact. However, the incorporation of AI technology presents both opportunities and challenges, prompting organizations to carefully consider how to integrate AI responsibly.

Like most organizations, the ZIM team is still learning about AI and its impacts on the nonprofit sector. We present this blog as an opportunity to engage in crucial conversations about the adoption of AI and what policies need to be in place to mitigate the risks AI poses if implemented without strong, transparent oversights in place. Below, we provide examples of how nonprofits are using AI, recommendations for integrating AI responsibly, and resources for continued learning.

Here are ways AI has been showing up in the nonprofit space in 2023:

  • Automated Content Creation and Editing: Nonprofits utilize AI, including ChatGPT, to automate content creation (donor thank-you notes, newsletters, and press releases) for increased efficiency and time savings. AI tools are also employed for editing purposes.

  • Integration with Everyday Software: Popular productivity tools like Google Workspace and Microsoft Office are incorporating generative AI functions. Nonprofits are adopting these tools to streamline tasks such as taking notes, crafting presentations, responding to emails, and scheduling meetings. Initiatives like the Generative AI Skills Challenge by Microsoft and Data.org are driving the training and upskilling of nonprofits to support the use of these AI features.

  • Chatbots for Communication: Nonprofits are deploying chatbots powered by large language models, like ChatGPT, to answer queries from website users and provide internal information to employees. This enhances user experience, provides quick access to information, and facilitates seamless communication within the organization.

  • AI-Powered Screening Tools: Nonprofits are using AI-driven screening tools to assess potential employees and service recipients. These tools help efficiently evaluate candidates and match them with appropriate roles or services, contributing to more effective organizational operations.

  • Fundraising Tools: AI is playing a significant role in fundraising efforts. Nonprofits utilize AI-driven tools for donor prospecting, analyzing donor behavior, and managing communication. These tools assist in identifying potential donors, understanding their preferences, and tailoring communication strategies to enhance fundraising outcomes.

  • Generative AI Training Initiatives: Initiatives like the Generative AI Skills Challenge are providing grants for nonprofits to train and upskill their staff to support the use of generative AI. This accelerates the adoption of AI technologies within the nonprofit sector, empowering organizations to leverage these tools for social impact.

While AI opens up exciting possibilities, it also poses significant ethical challenges. In hiring, organizations must recognize that while AI has the potential to identify and mitigate systemic discrimination and biases, it also carries the risk of amplifying them. (Read more about biases in AI in this Harvard Business Review article). Fundraisers also encounter ethical dilemmas regarding data privacy because AI systems collect and analyze sensitive donor information. In addition to these ethical challenges, recent studies have shown that AI models can become less accurate over time (read here, here, and here).

These ethical and accuracy concerns underscore the need for nonprofits to address fairness, transparency, and the potential for reinforcing systemic discrimination in their adoption of AI. ZIM’s recommendations for nonprofits aiming to strike a balance between leveraging AI for efficiency and ensuring ethical practices are in place include:

  • Create Clear Policies & Processes: Establish ethical AI practices and clear guidelines with input from staff and stakeholders. Consider forming an ethics committee to oversee and enforce these guidelines. Ethical practices include transparency in decision-making, regular audits, processes to mitigate bias, stakeholder feedback mechanisms, and meticulous documentation of ethical considerations—all with the goal of maintaining transparency and accountability.

  • Stay Informed: AI technology is constantly evolving, and organizations must adjust policies and processes to adapt. Harvard Business Review's article 'What Do We Do About the Biases in AI?,' recommends resources such as the AI Now Institute, the Partnership on AI, and the Alan Turing Institute’s Fairness, Transparency, and Privacy Group to help organizations stay up to date on current AI issues.

  • Empower Through Training: Invest in staff training programs and AI literacy workshops to enhance proficiency in utilizing AI tools and foster a culture of responsible AI use. Be sure to engage organizational leadership in these trainings to empower informed decision-making across the organization.

  • Start Smart, Scale Wisely: Kickstart AI initiatives with small, targeted projects to test feasibility and showcase tangible value, paving the way for the gradual and scalable integration of AI technologies.

  • Learn from Success: Conduct case study analyses of successful AI implementation in similar nonprofit organizations, extracting valuable insights, best practices, and potential pitfalls to inform strategic decisions.

  • Forge Strategic Collaborations: Explore partnerships with AI experts and technology providers to co-create tailored solutions that align with the unique goals and values of your organization.

  • Fortify Data Security: Implement robust data security measures to address concerns about privacy and data breaches, safeguarding sensitive donor information, and upholding the trust of stakeholders.

  • Financial Transparency: Conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis to understand the financial implications of AI adoption, evaluating potential returns on investment and ensuring responsible allocation of resources.

While the ZIM team is enthusiastic about the positive impact AI can have on solving challenges for nonprofits like improving efficiency and engagement, we're also aware of the responsibility that comes with it. Nonprofits, dedicated to inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA), must be cautious not to unintentionally reinforce discrimination or biases when integrating AI. Organizations must take a thoughtful and ethical approach tailored to their unique needs, prioritizing transparency and fairness. Our top suggestion is for nonprofits to embrace a continuous learning approach to AI, ensuring that technological advancements align with a commitment to creating a more just and equitable society.

In the spirit of continued learning, here are additional resources our team found helpful:

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