Apr 09 2019

How Nonprofits Can Effectively Use AI Tools

Artificial intelligence can help nonprofit organizations in a variety of ways. Here’s how to get started.

Artificial intelligence is transforming a wide range of industries, from retail to mortgage lending. AI has the potential to significantly enhance the operations of nonprofit organizations as well, experts say. 

AI-based tools can help automate routine administrative tasks and help nonprofits improve their finance and human resources operations, fundraising, external communications and more.

To make the most out of the adoption of AI-based services, nonprofit IT leaders should prepare their organizations for the changes that will come with AI, have a clear idea of the problems they want to solve via AI and use their data effectively to power AI tools. 

AI can enable nonprofits to manage a broad range of activities, Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, and Theron Kelso, a senior consultant at Wipfli, write on the Brookings TechTank blog

“In conjunction with machine learning and data analytics, it is a way to control costs, handle internal operations, and automate routine tasks within the organization,” they say. “Adoption of these tools can help groups with limited resources streamline internal operations and external communications and thereby improve the manner in which they function.”


How AI Can Help Nonprofits

Nonprofits can use AI solutions in a wide range of contexts. Like private sector businesses, nonprofits can turn to AI to automate some tasks and procedures, saving employees time and likely saving the organization money as well.

AI-based chatbots can help nonprofits automate customer service, at least for the most commonly asked queries, such as “how to contribute money, address a budget question, or learn about upcoming programs. They can manage first-line support queries and subsequently direct those queries to human personnel as needed,” NPEngage reports

AI tools can also automate functions like data collection, scheduling meetings and sending out reminders. 

AI tools can sift through massive amounts of data relatively quickly, and much more quickly than human workers. This can be especially helpful in nonprofit finance operations. 

“Fraud and corruption are major challenges for any kind of organization as it is hard to monitor every financial transaction and business contract,” West and Kelso say. “AI tools can help managers automatically detect actions that warrant additional investigation.” Nonprofits can use AI to “create early warning systems, spot abnormalities, and thereby minimize financial misconduct. These tools offer ways to combat fraud and detect unusual transactions,” they add. 

Another area where AI can help is in human resources. AI software can help nonprofits “advertise, screen and hire promising staff members” based on the criteria that hiring managers set for relevant experience and skills, West and Kelso add. 

And AI can aid in nonprofit fundraising by performing sophisticated data analytics on data sets aggregated from donors and supporters, including “previous individual donation amounts and patterns, event attendance records and wealth amount,” according to NPEngage. 

The publication reports:

Management of that data comes by means of optimizing donor acquisition efforts, proposing logical and subsequent engagement steps and levels, and bulk generating “personalized” messages. Management also can include fostering stronger relationships with an organization’s constituents, while disclosing opportunities to generate more revenue. 

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Find out why your nonprofit should invest in data analytics.

Tips for Nonprofits as They Launch an AI Strategy

To successfully adopt AI tools, nonprofit IT leaders will need to take several steps to get their organizations ready. 

Andrea Schiller, a senior product marketing manager on the Salesforce.org team focused on nonprofit fundraising and AI, writes at NonprofitPro that “change management will be an important step in ensuring that leaders in your organization are on board to start thinking about machine learning and AI.” 

Best practices around change management include developing a strategy, engaging with a manager in the organization who will sponsor and support the AI initiative, collecting input from end users, defining the scope and impact of the tools, prioritizing which tools to deploy first, configuring and testing the tools, communicating about AI and training employees, deploying the solution, and following up and offering technical support to users

Schiller also says nonprofit IT pros need to define their goals in using AI. “Collecting data is core to upleveling insights, but so is understanding what problems you want the data to solve through AI,” she says. 

Some common use cases Salesforce sees are in the fundraising, marketing and program teams, such as “understanding a donor’s propensity to give or which one-time donors will become recurring donors” and “seeing at what stage program beneficiaries are likely to drop out.”

All of this comes down to using data effectively, including data on donors, program beneficiaries and others. “Now is the time to start tracking and collecting data and ensuring that the data going into your system is clean and deduped,” Schiller says.

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