Closing the Innovation Gap Between Nonprofits & The Private Sector

By Brandolon Barnett
July 5, 2023

In the past, there's been a noticeable lag between the adoption of cutting-edge technology by for-profit companies and its eventual use by nonprofits and social impact organizations. Salesforce, where I spent 4 years as a Director of Product building products like Philanthropy Cloud, is actually a great example of this lagging phenomenon. While Salesforce was founded in 1999, would follow a full 9 years later in 2008 as the company began actively adapting its products specifically to resell to nonprofits. This piece explores how AI can play a role in helping the social impact sector finally keep pace with the speed of innovation in the private sector.

A Shortened Path to Innovation

The truth is, the rapid development of AI technologies like ChatGPT will significantly reduce the time to bring any technology solutions to market. Commercial applications of AI, such as real estate sales or CRM integrations, were deployed within months of release of the product. Yet products like Humanitas built to serve nonprofits and social impact organizations are now following suit just months later, rather than years. This shortened path to innovation allows nonprofits to quickly leverage the latest advancements in technology to streamline operations, enhance fundraising, and drive greater impact.

Testing and Iterating Concepts More Quickly

In the fast-paced world of technology, getting a product to market or in your own hands to leverage, is just one step. The ability to test and iterate on concepts quickly is crucial to continued relevant innovation. AI empowers nonprofits to do just that by providing them with tools that can rapidly analyze data, identify trends, generate insights, and even code to adapt platform-style solutions like Salesforce to meet their needs without the need for expensive consultants which are out of reach for many small social impact organizations. With AI, nonprofits might quickly prototype new ideas, new changes to their CRM, refine strategies, and make data-driven decisions that enhance their effectiveness. This agility enables social impact organizations to stay ahead of the curve and continually adapt to an ever-changing landscape while driving even more impact.

Learning from Others: Quicker Understanding of Successful Strategies

Also crucial to innovation is not reinventing the wheel. AI's ability to rapidly analyze vast amounts of data could allow nonprofits to quickly understand and adopt successful strategies implemented by other organizations (i.e. prompting “to your knowledge has another nonprofit measured X through their CRM and if so how?”). By drawing on the experiences and learnings of both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, AI can identify and share best practices, emerging trends, and innovative approaches that can be tailored to suit a nonprofit's unique needs. This faster transfer of knowledge, available at a fraction of the cost of high-priced consultants, can enable nonprofits to stay competitive and continually refine their strategies, making them more effective and impactful by helping them avoid reinventing the wheel.


We'll talk more in another post about the inherent value I see in making sure the most powerful tools of all kinds, including AI, get into the hands of the kinds of people who dedicate their lives to having an impact. Yet as a passionate advocate for the good that can emerge from the intersection of social impact and technology, I'm definitely excited for the potential to narrow the innovation gap between private-sector organizations and nonprofits through AI driven innovation.

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