I’m proud to serve on the board of two incredible nonprofit organizations - Spur Local (formerly The Catalogue for Philanthropy) based in Washington, DC and Giving Compass, based in Seattle. I've dedicated my career to connecting with purpose-driven causes and making that journey easy for others, so the fact that both align with this mission makes it all the more rewarding. In recent board meetings I was struck by how much conversation and openness there was to discussions of AI and how it can help nonprofits in their work.
Questions abounded. Could small teams use these to supplement content production? Could these tools help with first drafts of complex cultural documents? Could they even be a source of learning about peer practices or best practices in general?
Amidst all the hype and apprehension around AI, I find these sorts of conversations and questions exciting and heartening. But I also recognize, as we do broadly within Humanitas when building products and innovations, that these are not the sorts of questions many organizations are in a position (financially, technologically, or otherwise) to easily answer or even ask. In this piece, I'll share some important notes and practical tips on how nonprofits might leverage AI for various tasks, from content creation to technology implementation, ultimately driving greater impact.
We have to start with the costs and limitations of these tools. They are not always free and they are very good and very bad at certain tasks. Some of that can be handled through more effective prompt engineering, but some of it is fundamental to the nature of a given solution. Broadly speaking, these tools are good at:
They are not good at:
In terms of cost, many of these AI tools are in fact free to use. ChatGPT, perhaps the most popular, is free to use through OpenAI. You will need a $20 per month subscription to access the latest model, GPT 4.0. What’s the difference? Having spent 10’s of hours interacting with both GPT 3.5 (previous model) and 4.0 (current model) to do everything from coding a mobile application to helping prep me for board meetings, I would describe the difference thusly: GPT 3.5 is like the world’s smartest, most confident, and sharpest 12 year old with access to more information than any single human being that ever lived. GPT 4.0 seems similar to talking with a very smart first year college student or high school senior with that same endless well of information and data along with quick processing (though it is visibly slower when utilizing it). There are other tools like Google Bard, Grammarly, that provide similar functionality but I would say all fall along this range. Yet consider - GPT 4.0 followed just months after ChatGPT. At that rate of growth, these are undeniably tools that are going to be a part of our lives moving forward. So how do we use them effectively for impact if you’re a nonprofit?
Creating content for various channels such as social media, newsletters, and reports, is one of the most time-consuming tasks small organizations face. AI tools like ChatGPT can learn an organization's writing style, tone, and messaging if you share excerpts from reports, samples of website language, social posts, your own writings, etc. Pro tips - keep asking the AI to summarize the tone until it lands in a good place. Also don’t share anything confidential. This last point is easier for nonprofits who operate under the public spotlight, but still something to keep in mind. Recent developments have also given you the capability with GPT to not elect to share data for learning purposes (thus making it accessible to anyone in a way). With all that said, especially powered with knowledge of your writing and tone over time (leverage the chat windows for specific conversations!) AI can save staff valuable time by creating first drafts of documents or promotional materials. These drafts can dramatically streamline the writing process, allowing teams to concentrate on fine-tuning the content and strategies for disseminating it while applying the human touch.
Juggling multiple projects and programs is a reality for small nonprofits, each with its own set of requirements and documentation.Preparing process documents and culture/HR documents are necessary for many projects but can be immensely time consuming even while vital for organization’s work. The truth is a lot of the time these things are created today with templates. Think of AI the same. It can help prepare and manage drafts of these styles of documents, making production of first drafts that are much like pre-filled templates based on its understanding of your organization from a given chat/exchange. Nonprofit teams can then play the vital role of editing, which will not diminish in value given that no one understands your organization more than you and your team. All of this can free up staff to dedicate more time to strategic planning, stakeholder engagement, and other mission-critical tasks.
AI can be a powerful tool for answering questions and providing information about your organization. If your organization is online and transparent and shares your data freely (and have done so since prior to the cutoff date for the current model in 2021) you will be part of ChatGPT or other AI’s answers when someone in your community, for example, asks where they might donate. By integrating AI into the processes through which you manage your digital channels, you can over time more easily ensure that supporters, beneficiaries, and the broader community have access to accurate, up-to-date information. You will also over time help to make sure these tools have a more inclusive view of the world, something that’s core to our mission at Humanitas.
Even before the advent of AI, technology was defined by exponential growth. It moves and evolves quickly and small nonprofits often struggle to stay up-to-date with the latest tools and trends. AI can help by recommending tools that align with an organization's needs. Additionally, for organizations looking to innovate and in need of engineering and product resources, there are some very practical things tools like GPT could support. Specifically:
My number one tip for any nonprofit organization or staff member in thinking about how to get started with leveraging AI for their organization is this - just ask. You can't ask a hammer what it can do for you. You can't ask your oven or a power drill. But you can ask AI what it can do for you. It is the first tool in the history of the human species that can effectively talk back and answer this question. For anyone just looking to try out any of the tips above or just get started on your own journey, this is the simplest way to get started.
AI has the potential to revolutionize the way nonprofits operate, communicate with stakeholders, and fundraise. By leveraging AI tools like ChatGPT, your organization can not only save time and resources but also enhance your digital presence and help you better inform and serve communities. In a world where nonprofits must constantly adapt and innovate, AI is an invaluable asset for driving social change. As a board member and a passionate advocate for social impact tech this is why I’m cautious (as one should be with a tool so powerful) but not afraid of AI. In the right hands it can be a tremendous force for good.