I left the recent Microsoft Nonprofit Leaders Summit energized by the potential of AI as well as a clearer understanding of things we should be considering as this new technology becomes available. Here are my key takeaways from the amazing keynotes, panel discussions, breakouts, and thoughtful conversations with attendees:
AI technology has the potential to lead to a large gap in performance between nonprofits with these capabilities and those without. In order to take advantage of AI, early investment will be critical. That investment is not only in AI tools and services themselves, but also the security, data governance, and expertise to effectively utilize AI.
This may imply that larger, well-funded nonprofits will lead the way. But many of these organizations are more complex, with more data, larger governance issues, and overall slower to implement change. Perhaps smaller organizations with a strong foundation in technology and data management can accelerate their growth above their larger peers. AI may provide them with the opportunity to develop unique insights and efficiencies, ultimately allowing them to raise more money and deliver programs more effectively.
AI is big! But right now, it can best be applied when we have a specific challenge that can be addressed. Identifying these use cases and applying AI, one at a time, provides a manageable yet meaningful approach to adopting AI.
And I have a small example. I recently met with a client who described their growing global workforce and the challenges with managing team members across different time zones. On Wednesday, Microsoft shared how Copilot has a feature that allows you to query holistically across Teams Messages, Outlook Emails, and Sharepoint Documents. Beyond simple search, this feature allows you to quickly see the questions your staff member has outstanding or summarize what work they have completed.
Tackling one use case at a time with AI will ultimately add up to major change. As a starting point, using AI to save yourself and your staff time can solve immediate challenges while also building up comfort levels with AI tools.
While nonprofits leaders are considering where and how to deploy the use of AI, their staff have already started. We heard story after story of how nonprofit staff members have already begun using not only ChatGPT, but also countess other AI tools to help them with everything from note taking, to photo creation, to translation. Having a vision for how AI fits into your mission and values, along with the guidelines and policies to reinforce this will be critical. The time to craft a framework is now.
We have become accustomed to technology being rolled out in a deliberative way, with a lot of testing before launch, perhaps with a dedicated Beta round, and then only brought to market once all (or most) of the bugs have been worked out. By the time the average user gets their hand on a new tool, how it works and how it should be used is already well understood and documented.
We will not have this benefit with AI.
AI is being brought to the market as an in-process technology. The philosophy seems to be that this tool is so powerful and can already deliver such impactful results, that getting the tool into the hands of users is the most important thing to move AI forward.
That means we will all be the beta testers for AI.
Let’s get ready to work with a tool that never gives the same answer twice, that has to be reminded what capabilities and data it has access to, that benefits from a little encouragement, and reminds us that a please and thank you doesn’t hurt.
Our team at Heller Consulting is ready to come alongside you as you create a framework for AI at your nonprofit. Read more about our AI preparedness assessment.