How to Prepare for the Changes AI Will Bring to Your Nonprofit - Heller Consulting

How to Prepare for the Changes AI Will Bring to Your Nonprofit

Late last fall, I attended a workshop about generative artificial intelligence (AI) at the Association of Change Management Professionals regional conference in Toronto. I’ll admit, I walked into the conference thinking things like, “AI is a younger person’s game,” and “I have plenty of time to think about AI and its implications.” I was not alone; several of the people at my table felt the same way.

At the end of the two days, though, I left convinced that change leaders need to be at the forefront of this new era of AI because of the enormous degree of change it is bringing into all areas of life. I set about actively monitoring the progress through my change management and nonprofit communities.

By the time I attended Microsoft Global Nonprofit Leaders Summit earlier this year, just four months later, it was clear that AI is developing at an incredibly rapid pace, and that we will all need help with this change. The Summit only intensified my belief that change management, and change leadership, has never been more critical in a new era of technology.

That new era is now. It’s not a matter of if organizations will start using AI, but when and how they will use it. In fact, many attendees at the Summit mentioned that there are people in their organizations who are already using AI tools – whether the leaders in the organization know it or not.

In short, AI isn’t something that you can take a “wait and see” attitude about. Generative AI tools are here, and they’re evolving too rapidly to ignore them.

While this might seem overwhelming, keep in mind change management can help your nonprofit adopt AI in a responsible and ethical way. It can provide structure to help you be intentional around how your organization uses AI.

Let’s look at some key points about managing change around AI adoption in nonprofits.

How can change management help AI adoption in nonprofits?

Change management can help to prepare an organization for any new initiative – often a process and/or technology change. Change management applies to AI adoption for nonprofits just as it does to starting a new service for constituents, introducing a new brand, and launching of a new CRM system. As a framework and a set of resources that helps to ease the path toward transitions, it helps to:

  • Ensure employees and volunteers are engaged in the change and are able to contribute to the vision for the future
  • Build buy-in among people impacted by the change
  • Provide information to help people understand and adapt to a new paradigm
  • Support them through the transition
  • Reinforce behaviors that are required for them to be successful

By developing a change management plan for AI, your organization can minimize staff anxiety around AI adoption, decrease resistance to AI across your organization, minimize risks and address other implications of AI adoption, and prepare your organization to maximize the benefits of AI tools.

Two ways to get started with change management for AI at your nonprofit

Getting started with change management for AI is similar to kicking off change management for any other initiative. While there are multiple aspects of a strong change management plan, here are two steps you can take to get going now:

1. Establish an AI change leadership team.

Assemble a group of stakeholders that, ideally, includes a representative from each department across your organization. This group will be responsible for generating and organizing ideas and working on a plan for your nonprofit’s adoption of AI. Some things they should address include:

  • Developing guidelines for the use of AI in your organization – Everyone across the organization should use AI in a way that’s consistent with your organization’s technology, security, and privacy policies.At the Summit, leader after leader said that if you don’t already have an AI policy or guidelines in place for the appropriate use of AI in place, you are already behind. Set the expectation that the guidelines will evolve along with the evolution of the technology – we’ve never experienced technology change at this pace, so it is important to help understand that this won’t be a one-and-done type of change.
  • Building an organizational culture that values data – Because data feeds AI, the organization must understand the importance of complete, accurate, and updated data for AI to work properly. It’s also important to assess what data your organization has available to work with, how clean your data is now, and what steps you need to take before you can use your data to build a reliable, responsible AI model.
  • Preparing for changes to employees’ jobs – AI has the potential to greatly improve staff productivity. At the same time, AI requires human interaction to ensure that the results are correct. This AI change leadership group can collaborate with your human resources and other department leaders to begin conversations now about how they might need to update job descriptions and expectations to align with any changes that AI adoption will bring.

2. Kick off an AI pilot project.

Ask your AI change leadership team to launch an initial project using an AI tool. This project should be completed with a change management framework in mind – for example:

  • Get employees involved by asking for their ideas on how the tool might help to improve productivity. Also, ask them about their concerns to help identify potential risks and address any anxieties.
  • Put clear goals and measures in place to help assess the project’s success.
  • Launch pilots. Using the ideas generated by the employees, pick a few pilot projects and users, and measure the impact of using these tools. For example, use an AI tool to summarize meetings and action items and establish the amount of time that is saved, and quantify that time in dollars.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. The whole point of the project is to generate and implement ideas, learn lessons, and use takeaways from the pilots to help your organization develop a strong AI plan.

Get ready for AI at your nonprofit.

While you might not be ready to charge ahead with AI for your nonprofit, it is time to start preparing for AI as part of your organization’s overall technology strategy.

Here at Heller Consulting, we offer an AI Preparedness Assessment for Nonprofits to help guide you through responsible AI adoption. We’re ready to help you assess challenges associated with AI, uncover opportunities for strategic use of AI, and develop an AI strategy and roadmap.

Contact us today to learn more about developing a clear plan for navigating the changing technology landscape and embracing AI.

About the Author

Catherine Moore
Catherine has served the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, defining and guiding the strategic pathway for technology, digital transformation, marketing, and fundraising at the Canadian Cancer Society and others. She is skilled at understanding and addressing the human concerns... Read More