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How to Embrace Artificial Intelligence as a Nonprofit

The following post on how and why nonprofits can embrace artificial intelligence was contributed by Dr. JoyNicole Martinez, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Alchemist Agency, a management consulting firm serving leading corporations, health care facilities, non-governmental organizations, and not-for-profit corporations.


Judgment, reasoning, understanding, and comprehension. These terms are often used to describe the uniqueness of human capability. It is understandably disconcerting to the human psyche when these “owned” characteristics are connected with things artificial. The idea of combining things ‘contrived’ and ‘feigned’ with the philanthropic and charitable tends toward contradiction and conjures up betrayal.

However, the truth is much less histrionic and quite optimistic. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a part of our daily lives and is used in a variety of applications we may not even notice. Each visit to a website includes a host of algorithms processing in the background, analyzing thousands of data points to make intelligent “guesses” on what advertisements are of interest to the user. Keystrokes and predictive text on our smartphones and mobile devices make typing, movement, and communication faster and move more efficient. The use of machine intelligence has become more intimate than most realize. According to ComputerWorld, artificial intelligence employs human reasoning as a guide to provide better services and create better products.

So, how does the nonprofit industry embrace artificial intelligence and the use of machine learning? What’s the future of artificial intelligence and the nonprofit industry?

Continuous Listening and Customer Experience

Nonprofit organizations ‘listen’ through tracking and collection of data. Donors, funding agencies, and grant makers require reporting to justify giving and understand how dollars and resources are leverage toward best outcomes. Capturing data is a costly venture. Systems and personnel used to store, sort, and translate data into reportable information take capital and labor hours. Artificial intelligence transforms rich data sets into predictive analytics, making the nonprofit more successful and engaged. AI-powered software and applications can optimize performance by helping front line staff deliver more contextual intelligence without ‘data crunching,’ freeing them to develop more creative interaction.

When considering 72% of all money given to charity comes from individuals, empowering fundraising staff with actionable information becomes a bedrock of success. This data-informed and predictive model offers a more personalized experience for stakeholders and can help a nonprofit optimize expenditures in:

  • Fundraising and Donor Journeys
  • Program Development
  • Customer Service and Experience (CX)

Empathy, privacy, and delight make the key difference between a good customer experience and a great one. AI can help an organization understand what customers (vendors, fundraising, and donations) and clients (program development) want, predict their needs, and tie in an experience that is relevant and intimate. This creates an emotional reaction to the interaction, building trust and brand loyalty.

Employee Engagement and Retention

Small nonprofits are already spread thin with resources, and employee retention is king. Employee engagement is not far behind, and expectations are morphing alongside CX programs. C-suite executives cite retention of key workers as the most critical factor in planning for the organization’s future. Engaging nonprofit staff, who often wear many hats, is especially challenging. Employing a small staff while producing community-penetrating outcomes is often accompanied by long hours and the risk of burnout. This contributes to the high level of attrition and turnover in the nonprofit sector.

Employee engagement programs and approaches are increasingly significant, as they help to mitigate the risk and high cost of employee attrition. The concept of a survey-based approach to understanding how employees feel or react to decisions is being replaced at a rapid pace. According to research presented in The Race for Talent: Retaining and Engaging Workers in the 21st Century, the cognitive and behavioral components that construct engagement are tied directly to financial performance. Higher levels of engagement and continuous listening through artificial intelligence allows the nonprofit to develop employee engagement programs unique to the individual with respect to customized learning, development, and overcoming bias.

Access to insights and data allows creation of unique training solutions for employees based on individual learner behaviors matched with position and grant contract requirements. AI and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) can help employees compose documents and report in a manner that corrects for misspellings, colloquialisms, and acronyms, enhancing anonymity and helping to overcome human bias that may exist for the reader. While AI cannot eliminate biasit is as fallible as the humans that create itby mitigating the risk of bias, employee creativity and transparency is encouraged. Employee trust and feelings of value contribute to satisfaction, increase levels of engagement, and ultimately keep staff at work.

Full Brand Experience Improvements

Artificial intelligence can create richer experiences for customers, clients, and staff. Through continuous listening, NLP, and machine learning, data is translated into actionable information and can help front line staff increase productivity and stay engaged and satisfied at work. Organizations can build intimate relationships with vendors and donors based on uniquely identifying characteristics and needs.

Just think about the type of results these improvements can yield: Fundraising is less time-consuming.  Behaviors are better predicted. Charity and philanthropy are increased.

With a glimpse into the possibilities of AI, it’s important to remember that the technology is a tool. Like any tool, there is the possibility of misuse and abuse. Questions of privacy, ethics, and responsibility must be addressed as the organization includes AI in the strategic and operational planning. After all, each tool is only as powerful or as dangerous as the hands wielding it.


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