• Big Data & Technology
  • Ryan Ayers
  • AUG 23, 2019

How Nonprofit Organizations Can Harness the Power of Artificial Intelligence

Nonprofit leaders can improve organizational outcomes by stepping out of the comfort zone of fundraising and taking a closer look at today's artificial intelligence technology.

Not-for-profit organizations aren’t known for quickly embracing innovation. However, when it comes to data – they’re getting there.

Like their for-profit peers, a growing number of nonprofit executives recognize that big data can help organizations achieve mission-critical objectives. Now, a growing number of nonprofit leaders are taking advantage of data analysis to learn more about potential donors and promote important societal causes.

Nonprofits Are Still Big Business

Every year, a growing number of consumers contribute time and money to nonprofit causes. The Charitable Giving Report reveals that global giving has increased for six years in a row, expanding 4.1% between 2017 and 2018. Online, charitable giving has expanded 12.1% during the same period.

Nonprofits have an enormous economic impact on communities. The National Council of Nonprofit’s reports that in the state of Ohio alone nonprofit organizations generate over $103,000 every year.

The same organizations also employ nearly half a million workers. That’s over 10% of the entire workforce in the state of Ohio. This economic impetus is only possible due to the financial gifts provided by generous donors.

Nonprofits depend on donations for sustained operations. With these generous offerings, nonprofit groups improve social welfare, support social causes and sponsor positive and engaging activities for community youth.

It’s easy to spread the word about a nonprofit cause. However, it’s not as easy to compel a consumer to donate or volunteer to support a cause. Technology can help nonprofit leaders discover strategies that will enable groups to connect with individuals who genuinely care and want to offer their support.

Using Data to Find Opportunities to Help

Nonprofit organizations tackle some of the world’s most complex and challenging problems. Now, data analysis enables nonprofit leaders to discover new opportunities to make a difference.

Using artificial intelligence, researchers can sift through mountains of data. Scientists can even use AI to analyze audio files to discover trends that reveal opportunities to help those in need. Artificial intelligence makes it possible for computer scientists to analyze unstructured data and uncover societal problems that may have previously gone unnoticed.

Nonprofit organizations now use artificial intelligence to search through many different kinds of information sources. Now, nonprofit leaders are searching for ways to use artificial intelligence to analyze constituent feedback and find ways to help in real-time. For instance, data scientists can sort through police chatbot transcripts to pinpoint high priority emergencies during natural disasters.

Despite these fantastic achievements, nonprofits – like their commercial peers – are just beginning to discover the benefits of data analysis. For now, nonprofit leaders have embarked on an ongoing journey of using technology, learning from their successes and mistakes and revising their strategies as they make discoveries.

Everyone's Affected by Tech – Including Nonprofits

Collectively, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are known as the big five tech companies. Together, these leading firms affect the lives of millions of people around the world. The companies generate billions of dollars in income, and each one is in a race to make the next big breakthrough.

Facebook reports that 1 billion subscribers use three of their top products. Google handles nearly 90% of the world search engine traffic, and YouTube claims 1.5 billion active monthly users.

Nonprofit organizations also rely heavily on these top tech firms. However, they aren’t quite as aggressive in their pursuit of technological innovation. Only 11% of respondents in a NetChange survey report feel that their organization’s technology initiatives are effective. Resultantly, these organizations stand to benefit immensely by embracing technology.

This change in sentiment must start at the top. For nonprofits to embrace technology, top execs must lead the way. Also, nonprofit leaders can't expect to make the shift to a technology-driven environment alone.

It will take a cultural shift for nonprofit organizations to embrace technology fully and realize its true benefits. Organizational leaders must make an effort to promote technological savvy among staff members, rather than to relegate tech knowledge solely to IT departments or vendors. Also, for nonprofit organizations to transition into the technology mainstream, leaders will have to work with key stakeholders, such as researchers and constituents.

Some nonprofit leaders already recognize the potential of embracing technology. It can help organizations do more faster with far fewer staff members and costs.

Historically, nonprofit organizations have relied on “guilting” donors into supporting various causes. However, more than half of the consumers that nonprofits convince to support a cause in this fashion only make a one-time donation.

Imagine how much more nonprofits could do if they can increase donor retention to anywhere from 70% to 90%. The latest technical innovations can empower nonprofit organizations to mine social media to find out who truly cares about specific causes. In effect, nonprofit leaders can use technology to build a larger body of long-term, sustainable donors and volunteers – and do much more to benefit society.

The Harvard Innovation Lab

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The Harvard Innovation Lab


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