AI for Charities - Is AI a Threat for Your Charity?

Charity AI will bring huge opportunities, but also real risks. A practical step-by-step guide on AI for charities to enable you to identify and respond to these.

AI For Charities - Is AI A Threat To Your Charity?

AI in charities will bring huge opportunities but may create a threat of potentially some very good charity services becoming obsolescent.  The charities most at risk from AI will be those who ignore it and being really good at what you do may be the right answer to the wrong question.  This charity AI toolkit explains why, provides examples of how AI is already changing what charities do and gives you the questions to ask yourself to find out if AI is currently a risk, or the opportunity it should be.  In times of change, there are always winners and losers.  Our aim is to make sure that charities aren't the losers.

AI for Charities - How Will AI Impact My Charity?

Saying that our charity services are excellent and AI can't replicate these is a great answer but to the wrong question.  The question is, what do your beneficiaries want?  And that's often about a range of factors.

  • Cost, even if only the bus fare.
  • Travel time and hassle to get to you.
  • Or the ability to get to your offices at all.
  • Time to arrange an appointment.
  • Breadth of services available.
    • Not only the ones you deliver but the ones you don't.
    • How well do you meet your beneficiaries needs?
  • Opening hours.
  • Do phone calls and e mails go unanswered?

Also consider.

  • How many beneficiaries you have and who and how many you are not able to help?
  • And how much your services cost

How well do you meet the needs of all your potential beneficiaries?  Might AI enable your charity to achieve more?

Charity AI is free/low cost, is available to beneficiaries immediately, 24/7, has huge data banks to draw on and may be able to better meet your beneficiaries' needs either by providing services they want and you don't provide and possibly in a completely different way.

Charity AI Examples

Charity AI Is Already Here.  Here are 2 examples of how AI is already impacting Charity Excellence.

  • Our main information hub is hugely popular and is the largest in the sector, because we promote the whole sector, not just our own resources.  It took me 5 years to build, and, in just 4 months, the AI bunnies pretty much made it redundant.
  • They can now answer 20,000 nonprofit questions, with about a 90% success rate, 24/7, and are currently answering 4,500+ queries a month but can manage 120 a minute and cost almost nothing.  If you chat to it, the in-system bunny can also write funding bids and create and run ChatGPT prompts for you.

The more people chat to them, the better they get and that's without taking into account the rapid advance in AI capabilities.

What Might Be Coming?  Where might AI potentially have most impact?  Nobody knows but my current best guesses of where services may come under risk are help lines, resources behind paywalls and, slightly longer term, the arrival of AI bots that can act as mentors and adapt to your individual needs - think, face-to-face training provision.

Another area is grants directories.  Our assessment of our 3 Finder directories is these are unlikely to be replaced in the near term, because human curation is important.  However, AI powered grant searches are already being used and it will no doubt impact on other platforms.  I think we'll see much better functionality and probably falling prices longer term.  Integrating grant writing into these seems likely, as it'll be very attractive to customers.  Creating a very simple AI driven single entry for bid submission would be pretty simple and massively reduce the bid writing admin burden but I think it very unlikely we'll see this, except maybe as one-off systems by big grant makers, like the Lottery.

Charity Jobs.  It will have a major impact on other areas, such as content writing, but in a very hard pressed sector, I think that's more about removing digital debt and freeing staff up to do more interesting work.  For more on this, read our AI Insight Briefing on the future of charity jobs.

AI for Charities - Is It a Risk to My Charity?

To find out if your charity is AI ready, or at risk from AI, here are my suggested risk indicators you may wish to think about:

  • We Haven't Changed.  We deliver much the same services we did 5 years ago and/or in the same way.
    • AI aside, the world has changed hugely in recent years and, if you haven't, you're probably at best less efficient than you should be.
  • It's Not Relevant To Us. We don't think that this will significantly impact us or the way we work, or, at best, we don't know how it's likely to impact us.
    • If you're not assessing the rapid change taking place, you'll be less likely to spot relevant issues and less able to respond to these.
  • We Don't Do Techie Stuff.  Our board/management prefer to talk than act, and are 'traditional', particularly when it comes to 'geeky stuff'.
    • If your board think that moving to online meetings was 'digital transformation', you have a problem.
  • Duplication & Overlap. Other organisations deliver similar services and/or we use processes and/or information that's available elsewhere online.
    • If what you have and do isn't unique, the need you meet is open to being delivered in other and potentially very different ways.
  • We Get Paid.  In large part we rely on people paying us for the services we provide - either contractual payments or membership fees of some kind.
    • You may be unique and best in class, but those who have to part with their very limited cash may opt for a much cheaper 'nearly as good' service.
  • High Unit Cost.  We have a high staff to customer interaction ratio, making us expensive.
    • AI can be extremely cheap, making it particularly attractive in replacing high cost services in a sector desperately short of funding.
  • Physical Work.  A laptop can't serve meals to a homeless person but face-to-face interaction with a real human isn't essential for many roles.
    • It is almost always better to interact with a human, but there are probably less services than you think where it's genuinely essential.

AI for Charities - How Do I Prepare My Charity for AI?

AI is here now and, through 2024, we expect to see increasing numbers of major IT systems, such as CRMs, being rolled out by Microsoft, Google and others.  However, we won't feel the real impact until charities have adapted their internal processes and procedures to exploit the productivity opportunities it'll bring and that will take time.   That's also about changing culture, which can be a real challenge and usually takes a long time.  It starts at the top and then filters down to create an organisational culture where people are encouraged and comfortable with continually asking themselves and others, how might we do that better and are.

  • Comfortable with change (and failure).
  • Not afraid to experiment, and.
  • Open to learning new things.

In a sector that can be very conservative, and risk and change averse, that'll be a big job.  Maybe best start now? 

What Steps Should I take to Get My Charity AI Ready?

  • Take an objective, pragmatic approach to thinking about the opportunities for your charity and how the needs of your beneficiaries might be better met by using AI.
  • Assess the risks to your charity from AI, including wider AI issues such as misinformation and cyber threats, both to your charity and your beneficiaries individually.  ​
  • Consider your existing data and systems, such as CRMs, and the AI that will inevitably be built into many of these, to see what risks or opportunities this might create.​
  • Put simple, effective controls in place to protect your charity's data and people and to ensure appropriate governance.​
  • Invest in making your people aware and training them on what AI is, how to use it and the risks to enable them and your charity to make the most of AI.

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