As nonprofits find more uses for AI, they are discovering new ways to interact with their audiences, generate content, automate time-consuming processes, and use data to drive decision-making. Some people have described this transformation by saying that AI is helping nonprofits to unlock their true potential to change the world faster than we ever thought possible. However, even that might be an understatement because in many ways AI is enabling nonprofits to do things that we never could have imagined that they would be able to do at all!
And yet, as AI becomes more prevalent across nonprofit organizations, there are numerous ethical challenges and concerns to be aware of as well. Our team has put together a resource that takes a look at how AI can benefit nonprofits with a balanced discussion of what should be considered when implementing AI to ensure that the highest ethical standards are maintained while doing so. Then, we will provide some helpful real-world tips for how your organization can use AI to its advantage. Let’s get started:
Live chat was once the hallmark of corporate customer service, allowing one customer service representative to have multiple conversations with prospects or customers simultaneously. In many ways, nonprofits adopted this same type of approach of having one staff member interacting with multiple people at once to serve their needs more efficiently. However, the problem with this approach was that staff still had to be available when people needed help, which meant either not offering 24/7 support or staffing help channels with a large team of employees or volunteers to be ready at all times.
However, these days on-site chatbots have made huge steps towards answering questions, providing information, and offering support resources in a timely manner to simulate peer-to-peer conversations no matter the time of day. AI chatbots on an organization’s website provide the real-time interaction that site visitors are looking for regardless of an organization’s budget or its staff’s availability. This has been an especially important shift for nonprofits that are serving a multi-lingual audience because it ensures that people speaking a multitude of languages can get the information they are seeking when they need it from a series of preprogrammed answers that the organization provides, not simply when someone fluent in their native tongue is available to provide it.
Of course, AI, no matter how well engineered it is, does not completely eliminate the need for real people. There will never be a perfect substitute for talking to someone who can truly listen to you and respond using not only their knowledge but also their lived experience. As a result, some types of organizations, like those serving victims of domestic abuse or people dealing with mental health struggles, will find that their opportunities to utilize AI chatbots are likely more limited than their nonprofit counterparts serving other audiences, like low-income students for instance.
Try This: Use chatbots to better serve visitors to your website. Preprogram responses to answer their routine questions and address their most common needs so that they can get the help they need day or night. If the platform your website is built on does not offer on-site chatbot functionality, look to see if there’s a standalone chatbot option that the platform will integrate with to prompt visitors to engage with your organization.
Nonprofit leadership can also use ChatGPT to ask better questions and take the pulse of what is known about answers to those questions. Instead of following the traditional model of seeing problems and proposing solutions, today’s nonprofits can use AI tools to get to the bottom of what the real question is that they should be asking to solve the problems they are seeing. AI can help them to define the stimulus that is causing either positive or negative responses in the community that their organization should address. In that way, AI becomes a tool that leadership can use to develop innovative responses and prioritize initiatives based on how clear the AI response is to their questions.
Try This: Ask ChatGPT and Bard about your mission, and even your organization specifically. Then, see what kind of response is returned. What it pulls from your organization’s website, or partner organizations is obviously clear, well-indexed, and easy to understand. So, look for the gaps. What doesn’t ChatGPT seem to know? This is where you should focus your efforts! Create more content around the questions/answers, programs, and resources that don’t get mentioned or aren’t explained well.
But don’t stop there! Look for any information that is old or outdated, and then determine where on your website that may be pulling from to feed into ChatGPT or Bard. We all know that websites are a weak spot for nonprofits because with so many pages for so many different functions, it is difficult to update them all dependably as soon as new information becomes available or new messaging is rolled out. There simply is not enough staff availability to routinely check all areas of the website to ensure it is reflecting timely information across every page. Remember, AI chat platforms are going to pull whatever information is available from what it deems the most relevant content sources for someone’s prompt. Ensure that you are controlling that messaging for your organization and the cause it serves.
Faster Content Generation
AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard make it easier to create content to regularly communicate with volunteers, donors, and followers via email and on social media posts. The result is better nurtured relationships that can encourage additional giving of time and resources as well as establish loyalty.
However, AI tools should be used with discretion. Remember, faster does not necessarily mean better. For this reason, many organizations prefer not to use AI-generated content on important, high-level communications like conveying the organization’s strategic vision, establishing thought leadership, liaising with the board, approaching major donors, or creating grant proposals.
Additionally, ethical concerns must be carefully evaluated, especially as they relate to both conscious and subconscious biases. Since AI-generated content simply aggregates existing content, it can pull in existing biases, further perpetuating them. As a result, all content developed using AI should be looked at through a DEI lens to ensure that it is inclusive and promotes equity.
Try This: Use ChatGPT or Bard to understand how your mission is perceived. Enter queries and conversation prompts that integrate your primary keywords to figure out how much the general public understands about the cause or community you serve. Remember, AI offers a unique opportunity to get straightforward information regarding the perceptions around your organization, what it does, and how successful they are at doing it. Use that impartial feedback to shape future content creation and external communications.
Automating Internal Processes
All anyone can talk about right now is how AI chatbots like Chat GPT and Bard are going to change the world. However, the biggest wins in AI for nonprofits are in the automation options built into the technology that they already use for processes related to fundraising, event registration, volunteer scheduling, collecting donations, budgeting, expense reimbursements, and payroll. If you are not already using automation in these areas, it’s time to get started!
Using the automation capabilities already available in your existing software (and new ones that are surely going to become available in the future) will continue to make a huge difference in nonprofit management, especially as the cost of labor continues to rise. As AI evolves it is going to further streamline internal processes, improving operational efficiency, and expanding capabilities. As a result, organizations these days can handle functions that they may have needed to outsource previously or hire someone into a dedicated role to run. And, in some cases, trusting software to automate ongoing functions is already beginning to assist with compliance and regulatory matters.
However, that does not mean you can trust AI to do it all for you. AI still needs oversight like any other tool because technology is great, but it isn’t perfect – there is still the potential for error. This is why technology should supplement people, not replace them.
Try This: Leverage your employees for ideas on where AI is needed to improve internal processes. Find out what their pain points are and look for automation to ease those tensions. You may find out that while you do some things extraordinarily well, like event registration for attendees, your employees are muddling through tedious and cumbersome processes around things like expense reimbursements program utilization tracking. Your employees are your most valuable resource – take the time to really listen to where they are asking for improvements.
Automating daily operations facilitates more robust data collection and analysis so that leadership can use it to make strategic decisions related to donor preferences, resource allocation, community engagement, and program effectiveness. This further facilitates trend analysis and program evaluation so that the organization can balance being good stewards of their resources with supporting the community that they serve.
But remember, numbers don’t tell the whole story – people do, which is why the best nonprofit leaders balance people and data to make sound decisions. Do not simply lean on the numbers without also considering the people that wake up every day to keep the organization running and the community that they serve.
Try This: Set up automated reporting to stay on top of your most valuable financial metrics. Share these reports with the board and other key stakeholders to better align the organization. Rely on them to identify wins and identify areas for improvement.
When you need strong nonprofit leadership that can keep up with the times, please reach out to us! We offer nonprofit executive search as well as board advisory services to keep your organization running optimally. Contact us today to find out more about how we can come alongside your organization!
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