3 Big Ways Artificial Intelligence Impacts Nonprofits | npENGAGE

3 Big Ways Artificial Intelligence Impacts Nonprofits

By on Nov 15, 2018


machine learning for nonprofits

The Oxford English Dictionary defines artificial intelligence as the “theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

According to the Brookings Institute, nonprofit organizations are showing a surging interest in tapping into the capabilities of not only artificial intelligence (AI), but also machine learning (ML) and data analytics. For a host of reasons, the time is now for nonprofits to leverage the potential and promise of AI-driven software.  Contributing to this growing acceptance is more than two decades of astonishingly deep and comprehensive data sets collected by nonprofits.

With this wealth of data, Peter Drucker’s maxim, “What gets measured, gets managed,” has never been more apropos for nonprofits as 2020 nears.

Learn more about how artificial intelligence is advancing social good in this free webinar: The Future of Data, Analytics and AI

If nonprofit demand is poised to ignite a revolution in the adoption and use of AI in back-office applications, the uprising will begin with the following three “skirmishes” – immediate and current impacts of AI on nonprofit administration:

  1. Routine Administrative Tasks

AI-based Chatbots, which we’ve all encountered, automate conversations for commonly asked questions through text messaging or telephone. A chatbot is a type of software that produces intelligent, automated responses to common questions in order to hold a “conversation” with a user. It stands to follow then, that AI algorithms can enable efficient and effective communications with both internal and external audiences.

Chatbots can help with customer service and routine requests, 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. Chatbots can even schedule appointments.

In addition, AI can automate repetitive tasks, reducing the risk of human inputting errors, accelerating accurate data collection and ensuring an organization’s donor outreach is seamless and timely.

Schedule and reschedule meetings, send out briefings, set reminders – AI is primed to handle these types of routine obligations and applications already exist to manage these tasks. A message to schedule, postpone, or cancel a meeting is sent to an office bot, via SMS or other software-enabled tool, and the bot first scans a person’s calendar before scheduling the meeting. Then, it automatically sends alerts to involved parties. AI completes the task, saving time, labor and flaws of human involvement.

Afterward, it can automatically send meeting minutes to all involved parties, arrange introductions among individuals, and even book travel. That’s pretty handy and supremely efficient.

  1. Human Resources

AI-driven solutions can help organizations advertise, screen, and hire prospective staff members.

Once managers have decided what qualities a candidate should possess for consideration, AI can match applicants with recruiters. Bots have already been designed to pre-screen resumes, check for a candidate’s relevant experience and skills and identify applicants who are best suited for roles and organizations.

These duties, traditionally performed by humans, take concentrated amounts of time and effort. In the past, candidates have also been selected – or rejected – based on human subjectivity. But consider: AI can assess a candidate even more effectively than a human counterpart – and a bot is not saddled with emotional “noise.”

Bots have also provided recruiters with sets of interview questions based upon the recruited role. AI-software has even been used to on-board new hires with a chatbot answering “newbie” questions. These tasks can be transferred to the nonprofit realm, cutting costs, accelerating processes, streamlining workflows and lowering costs

  1. Fundraising

Those aforementioned data sets aggregated from donors and supporters include previous individual donation amounts and patterns, event attendance records and wealth amount. If it can be measured, can it be managed?

The cognitive insight intrinsic to AI parses the data for fundraisers. 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. AI nurtures donor journeys by personalizing that path with tailored, personal messages based on actual, real-time donor behavior.

It’s no surprise that AI can perform the repetitive and routine tasks that each gift officer attends to daily. Such routine duties include running reports, analyzing data to select the most important donors, conducting background research, and suggesting purposeful, personalized messages at the right time that encourage donors to contribute to an organization.

The upshot? More and better qualified leads coming in to the organization that should increase donations.

It can also predict the who and when of the next big donor based on earlier engagements. A caveat to this delicate management of the tool must be mentioned: AI systems should be designed so that their goals, behaviors, decisions and recommendations emulate human values and mores.

AI bots can scan datasets of donors and identify top contributors each day. This swift, automatic identification lends itself to extended, tailored communication that ultimately can double or triple the amount of daily outreach.


AI: Value > Cost

In conjunction with machine learning and data analytics, AI-driven solutions can help generate revenue, control costs, manage administrative operations, and automate routine tasks within a nonprofit. The value of this automation and operational efficiency exceeds the cost of acquisition.

Ultimately, AI will help organizations improve their decision-making process by deriving precise and actionable insights from copious amounts of aggregated data. It will boost constituent engagement through customized and intelligent processes and services and allow an organization to grow on a greater scale, through the automation of labor-intensive tasks that have long been performed manually.  A prime example of an AI-driven approach to nonprofit analytics is Blackbaud’s Intelligence for Good.

Once AI has been embraced and integrated into the software to help nonprofits, Drucker’s maxim will need to be updated: “What AI measures, AI manages” – with a little human input and to an organization’s gain.


Keith Craig is Content Marketing Manager for Better Buys. He has more than a decade of experience using, researching and writing about business software and hardware. He can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Comments (34)

  • Jeff says:

    Alexa: What is Robert Hernandez’s major gift liklihood score and suggested ask amount?

  • Karen says:

    I’m not as big of fan of AI as I once was. By automating tasks, we lose how personal we are with people and loose the relationship opportunities. Having and auto bot help me with customer service is not personal.

    • Shawn says:

      Actually, Karen AI can allow you to be so much more personal and allow you to empower your supporters to be more personal.

      AI and automation, in general, can help you in providing you insights on what your donors and supporters want to see. The automation can make sure you do not miss reaching out when you should (birthdays anniversaries) and prevent you from reaching out to them too often.

      It can also allow your supporters to learn things about their own social networks and empower them to reach out with a message that resonates. So rather than being very impersonal and blasting all your contacts on LinkedIn or Facebook, you can reach out directly to the few friends in your network who cares.

      The idea is not to turn over the managing of your donors to a bot, but to provide a development director tools to empower them to be more effective. The best AI results from human / machine interaction.

  • cammi Derr says:

    I remember AI being a big topic just prior to graduating back in the 90’s. It was thought of more as a robot-type system and only geniuses would understand it, but as with any technology, it has turned into something much better! Now if we can only get the fundraisers on-board. Many of the don’t trust data and it’s difficult to get them to even accept wealth screening results, but I am slowly getting them to come around.

    I love the thought of AI in fundraising. It sure would take some work off my plate!

  • R.S. says:

    I love the idea of AI taking over routine tasks, data screening or analytical reporting.

    On the other hand, I am horrified when chatbots are used for otherwise human interactions. It’s obvious they’re chatbots, and it makes the org. using them look cold or too busy to be personable. It does work as a (reverse) candidate-screening process, because as soon as my job interview goes through a chatbot, I know that it’s not the type of environment I want to work in.

  • Gavin Mann says:

    I do like the idea of AI automating certain processes to save time and money, but we must never lose the personal touch when it comes to fundraising.

  • KaLeigh says:

    I agree with many statements here. AI is credibly helpful for “time-fill” tasks, but there always needs to be a personal touch to connect with donors!

  • Karen Stuhlfeier says:

    It’s a balance of AI and personal interaction that’s important.

  • Angie Stumpo says:

    I think AI is great for data analysis, but not for other functions of fundraising since it is so personal.

  • Stephanie Boyce says:

    Really interesting

  • Gillian Armstrong says:

    I would love to hire AI to do the most repetitive tasks at my job, however, I don’t think it’s done the best at sorting through job applicants.

  • Brett Chapman says:

    I agree with other posts, that there must be a balance between AI and personal relationship building. AI is great at helping to inform the decision making process.

  • Lisa Saneda says:

    Automating processes is always great for those tasks that take a lot of man hours. I welcome that. Chatbots, although good in theory, still leave me cold as they do most donors.

  • Sunshine Watson says:


  • Karina says:

    I like the idea of AI automating reports and analyzing data but not for handling donors. They need the human touch.

  • Stacie D says:

    AI has a role to play across the board in my mind – while I agree that donors do need a personal touch, I don’t think that the level of personal interaction is created equally. There is certainly space to set up repetitive tasks – such as sending out template thank you letters or invitations – that can pull info in real time much faster than I am able to do. If I send the same message over and over again, and simply just update a few pieces of key information, why not put the AI capabilities to use so that I can do more important things that assist with completing our mission?

  • Linda McMillan says:

    We are a high touch organization so that personal touch is extremely important for our organization.

  • Mary Sommer says:

    Interesting to see how far AI has developed. I agree that the personal contact will always be necessary.

  • Shelly Gammieri says:

    Fascinating! But, I’m not sure I’m ready for this…

  • Sage says:

    That’s a delicate balance between AI and personal relationships.

  • Carlene says:

    Interesting stuff!

  • Claudia says:

    The nature of development relies on personal relationship building, I fear this idea being applied too broadly would take away from that.

  • Matt says:

    Claudia: If anything, the AI applied well would allow for people to focus on the person-to-person component of fundraising. That’s something that AI will never truly be able to replicate (in this lifetime, at least!)

    I totally agree on the repetitive tasks being automated, as well as helping to indicate the largest area of focus / opportunity.

  • Alicia Barevich says:

    Wow. It’s fascinating how fast AI is developing!

  • Sandra Ross says:

    Interesting, but nothing really replaces the personal touch and involvement. Often we see trends and other informative information by doing some of the tasks that AI could potentially do. Helps us know our constituents even better.

  • George Buss says:

    Automated reporting is a great idea. Automated human interaction does not. The idea of AI screening my or my applicant’s resumes before I have the chance to see them assumes that cultural fit, personality, skill and experience can all be broken into readable elements followed quickly by the college classes that teach how to write a resume that gets past an AI HR. I welcome cleaner crisper analysis, but I still want to be able to press 0 to get to a live human with logic AND emotions.

  • Gwen says:

    I think there are both pros and cons for using AI. It is important to not let that take the place of developing relationships. In addition, it is important that it does not take the place of people actually learning and knowing how to do some of these routine tasks.

  • Amy Dana says:

    The biggest issue I’ve seen concerning AI is setting things up on the front end. It feels like so many non-profits are short-handed that investing so much time on the front end is impossible, even if it ultimately will save time later.

  • Matthew Morrow says:

    I could see AI in some of these scenarios. I wonder how many times I have come across interacting with it without knowing.

  • Linda Mikelson says:

    I think personal interaction shouldn’t been forgotten.

  • Sarah says:

    Very interesting, I think one of the big challenges is effectively using AI in situations where it most benefits the organization, but not to have it replace human interaction.

  • Brittany Ivey says:

    So interesting! Thank you!

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