AI and The Future of Nonprofit Technology - Heller Consulting

AI and The Future of Nonprofit Technology

You can’t miss the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) these days. Almost every day, we hear news stories about AI and how it’s being used to address any number of challenges. We’re also seeing a steady stream of new AI tools and technologies being rolled out.

Within this buzz, many nonprofit professionals are looking for answers about AI. There’s a lot of excitement about it, but also a lot of questions about what it really is, what it can help nonprofits do, and how to begin using it.

I’ve been looking for answers about AI, too. After reading articles, attending sessions, and listening to nonprofit professionals talk about AI, and after attending the recent Microsoft Global Nonprofit Leaders Summit, here are some of my top thoughts about AI for nonprofits.

It helps to think about AI for nonprofits in terms of productivity.

I think it can be useful for nonprofit leaders to think about AI in terms of how it can help staff be more productive. We’ve all used tools that help automate tasks – such as forms that pre-populate information, and we’ve become accustomed to using those types of tools. You can think about AI as process and task automation, but at an entirely new scale.

With AI, those things that you said you’d like to do – if only your staff had the time – are now possible. AI can free up staff time, giving people more time to spend in areas where their unique expertise and experience are most impactful to the organization.

Consider the idea you often hear in the sector that there’s more work to do at a nonprofit than there are people to accomplish it. When you think about the idea that AI can help your team get things done much faster with the same, or even higher, level of quality, then it’s much easier to start defining specific ways your organization can use AI.

Nonprofits should approach AI as they do any other technology.

It can be easy to get caught up in the potential of AI for nonprofits. But adopting AI shouldn’t be about adopting technology for technology’s sake.

The approach for adopting AI should be the same as adopting any other technology. It’s important to start by clearly defining:

  • What your organization is trying to achieve
  • What success looks like if you adopt this new tool

The answers to these questions will help guide you in adopting, and measuring the return on investment of, any new tool for your organization.

Successful AI adoption for nonprofits requires some preparation.

As a leader here at Heller Consulting, I’m excited about the possibilities of AI to help our staff be more productive. I want to get some of the AI tools I’m seeing into the hands of our staff as soon as possible, but I also know that we need to do some prep work before we jump in.

In addition to defining goals and measures of success, any organization that’s thinking about adopting AI tools should do a few key things before getting started, including:

  • Setting up guidelines around use of the AI tools to help ensure it’s consistent with the organization’s technology, security, and privacy policies
  • Confirming that the data sets that will be used with the AI tools are reasonably complete, accurate, updated, and accessible by the tools
  • Being prepared to always validate the product that the AI tools turn out to confirm that it is correct and of the quality expected

It’s important to note that while these are foundational steps to prepare for using AI tools, they aren’t one-time tasks. AI policies, data governance, and human interaction are ongoing activities that will support successful use of AI.

Nonprofits should be ready for changing expectations.

As AI helps to make staff members more productive, it will also create a new baseline of expectations for efficiency and productivity. For example, your evaluation of staff performance might evolve based on staff members having more time to work on higher-value activities.

At the organizational level, as nonprofits begin adopting AI tools and becoming more productive, those organizations that lag in AI adoption will risk being seen by their communities and funders as less efficient and effective. On the flip side, investing in AI to improve productivity can position a nonprofit to better handle future challenges – just as nonprofits who had a strong and modern technology foundation in place were better prepared to adapt quickly to changes related to the global pandemic.

Does that mean that you need to start implementing AI tools immediately? Not necessarily. But it does point to the need to start thinking about and preparing for the adoption of AI tools now.

Ideally, AI should become part of your technology roadmap. Because it has the potential to support activities across your organization, it should be on the list next to data management and data security in terms of critical factors in your organization’s technology ecosystem.

Take the next step with your nonprofit’s AI strategy.

The common theme in these thoughts about AI for nonprofits is that AI shouldn’t be ignored. While you don’t need to run out and buy an AI tool today, it is time to start thinking about and preparing for AI as part of your organization’s overall technology strategy.

Here at Heller Consulting, we’re ready to help you create a technology strategy that identifies the right solutions to help you achieve your organization’s goals.

Let’s get started: Contact us today to speak with one of our experts.

About the Author

Jeffrey Appell
Jeffrey began working with nonprofits in 1997. Starting out as an intern at the San Francisco chapter of the Anti-Defamation League he went on to be a Development Associate at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and then at... Read More