Nonprofits encouraged to embrace AI

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“OK, Alexa. How can my nonprofit organization improve its fundraising efforts?”

The answer might be found in artificial intelligence (AI) — such as Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa – which gives organizations the opportunity to tap into the homes of millions of potential supporters via cloud-based voice services.

Some early adopters have already starting using voice-activated technology. For instance, in 2017, several nonprofits began using Alexa Skills Kits (ASKs), collections of self-service APIs (application programming interfaces) to enable more personalized experiences for its constituents. An entire eco-system around ASKs is emerging to assist organizations that wish to develop an Alexa Skill – from specialized Skills developers, including online freelancers from websites such as Upwork, to tutorials and hundreds of how-tos with myriad tips.

Want to know how to store asparagus? The NRDC’s Alexa Skill supplies answers to help fight food waste.

Curious about the sound a bald eagle makes? The Audubon Society released an Alexa Skill providing bird calls.

The Mayo Clinic released an Amazon Skill to provide first aid assistance.

“Get ready! The era of nonprofits embracing the Internet of Things has begun,” Nonprofit Tech for Good reports, encouraging nonprofits to embrace AI.

Using Skills, these organizations hope to provide information and education to the public as part of their mission, while encouraging people to donate to the organization at that very moment when they are engaged.

Charitable giving is on the decline, reports the Blackbaud Institute in the 2017 Vital Signs that compared 2010 to 2015 charitable giving data. Findings include a 7% decline in the total number of donor households making charitable gifts (from 23 million to 21.4 million). The report also found that the incidence of donor households adding new organizations to their giving portfolios declined 14%, from 10.3 million to 8.8 million.

Blackbaud warned, “Increased competition caused by the nonprofit sector growing faster than the expansion of individual giving has affected signs of donor market maturation, and without changes in strategy, decline of the available donor market is inevitable.”

To counter the decline in donations, many experts encourage nonprofits to embrace AI as part of their fundraising strategy.  

Nonprofit Tech for Good, for one, states that voice-based technology can reinvigorate a fundraising effort: “It’s just a matter of time until v-commerce leads to v-fundraising, i.e. voice-fundraising.”

The Charities Aid Foundation is optimistic about the role of AI in v-commerce fundraising, as well. In an article published on the CAF website, Rhodri Davies, programme leader at Giving Thought, an in-house think tank at CAF, says that artificial intelligence “could help make philanthropy advice a ‘mass-market commodity’ widely available to the public, rather than the preserve of the rich.” paints a great picture of how AI can facilitate charitable giving: “Imagine that the ability to give to a good cause, at the very moment you’re moved to do so, is as simple as saying to the air around you ‘Alexa, give £100 to the Red Cross hurricane relief fund’ or ‘OK Google, give £5 a month to Comic Relief.’ These devices already have your credit or debit card details … The ability to use your Echo to make a donation, in a way that is as simple and straightforward as purchasing goods online, is not yet built-in. But, the option of adding a third-party skill that turns the Echo (or Google Home, etc.) into a giving machine for worthy causes certainly is possible today.”

In a recent webinar hosted by Nonprofit Tech for Good, the group encouraged nonprofits to embrace AI and acknowledged the movement toward AI as the next step in fundraising and donor relations, predicting, “By the year 2020, over 50 billion things – cars, appliances, roads – will be connected to the Internet of Things ... Mass adoption of giving through the Internet of Things will likely take 5-10 years.”

AI promises to be an important strategy for nonprofit organizations. It can help engage with more people where they are and in a more meaningful way. Furthermore, v-commerce and voice-fundraising will make it virtually effortless (pun intended) for people to support a cause at the very moment when and where they are moved to give.