Trustees’ Week Day 5 - How can charities benefit from Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionise the way charities operate, from fundraising and donor engagement to program delivery and impact assessment. As technology advances and become more widely available, charities should not be afraid to explore how AI can make everyday tasks easier.

Although you should always review what an AI website produces, it can be a good starting point for a lot of the work your charity does and has the potential to save your charity time and money. So, of course, we asked ChatGPT how charities can use AI and it came up with a helpful list (which we used as a starting point):

1. Fundraising and Donor Engagement
As the cost of living crisis results in a reduction in the number of donors, you can use AI as a way to make your fundraising more effective.

Charities can use AI to analyse a large amount of data more quickly and efficiently, for example to identify potential donors, target fundraising efforts, and predict donation patterns. AI could look at whether more people clicked on a link in an e-mail, on a social media post or through a search engine, it could look at the times of day in which the fundraising campaign was most effective, it could even analyse the geographic response to a campaign.

You could use an AI tool to create a first draft of a website or e-mail campaign. You may be surprised by the catchy headline and clear structure which it will produce for you. However, you will need to make amendments so that the campaign has more emotion, matches your charity’s voice and relates more specifically to the work your charity does. AI tools can also generate copyright free images which you can use as part of your fundraising campaigns.

Equally, you could use AI to write funding bids for you. The more information you give the AI tool, the more accurate the text it can produce for you. There are resources available which can guide you as to what prompts you should give the AI tool to get the best results.

You could incorporate a chatbot on your charity’s website which answers frequently asked questions and directs potential donors to the relevant part of your website. The chatbot could answer questions which the charity’s staff may otherwise have to respond to, freeing up their time to focus on other work. A well designed chatbot can handle donor inquiries and provide a seamless giving experience.

2. Writing presentations or updates on the charity’s activities
As with fundraising campaigns, you can use AI to help you prepare a first draft of a presentation or article about your charity’s activities or sector. Although you likely already have a lot of knowledge on the topic, AI may be able to help you structure your piece, provide inciteful points of view or generate ideas on points which you had not previously considered.

3. Service Delivery
AI can analyse historic data to predict which projects or areas require more resources to optimise resource allocation and maximise impact. It can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a program, helping you make data driven decisions. For example, if your charity had a drop-in session in various centres in a town, AI could analyse how many people attended each session and at what time to help you plan how many members of staff you should have in each centre next time you run the sessions.

AI can also be used to personalise your beneficiaries’ experience. For example, Parkinson’s UK used AI to track topics and themes being discussed online by people with Parkinson’s and released fitness sessions in response to the concerns raised among people with Parkinson’s about keeping fit.

If you work with beneficiaries who do not speak English very well, you could use an AI translation tool to enable those beneficiaries to fully engage with the charity in the language they better understand.

Is investing in AI a good use of the charity’s resources?

Investing in AI can be a good use of a charity’s resources if it aligns with the charity’s mission and objects and if the benefits outweigh the costs. It’s important for the trustees to make informed decisions and consider the specific context and needs of the charity.

Charities must conduct a cost-benefit analysis to assess whether the potential benefits of implementing AI (such as improved service delivery, increased fundraising, or cost savings) outweigh the initial and ongoing costs of AI implementation. Trustees should regularly review their decision to implement AI (or not) to ensure that it is still in the best interest of the charity and that it is producing the desired results.

You may choose to use AI in small pilot projects to safely test the impact of the technology in your specific context. However, AI projects can be costly and complex, so your charity should be prepared to allocate resources for training, infrastructure, and ongoing maintenance to the project.

You may want to collaborate with other charities or organisations in the same sector so that you can work together to develop an AI tool which works for all parties. This may be a more cost-effective and sustainable option, especially for smaller charities with limited funds.

What are the risks of using AI?

Charities must ensure that AI implementation is done in an ethical and responsible manner, respecting privacy, security, and fairness. There are many potential risks when using AI and you should take steps to try to limit these from the outset. Potential risks include:

  • Leaks of confidential data – this can be especially damaging if you work with vulnerable individuals. You should ensure you have robust cybersecurity measures in place to protect your data.
  • Unintended bias – AI algorithms can perpetuate or even amplify existing biases in data, which could result in unfair treatment of certain groups.
  • Misinformation – AI requires high-quality data. If the data being inputted is inaccurate then it can lead to incorrect results.
  • Reliability – AI systems may not always be fully reliable. Some have been known to fabricate results in order to answer the question being asked of it.
  • Environmental impacts – AI requires an enormous amount of energy to train and run AI models so any environmental charities may be criticised by third parties for using it.

Given the potential risks, formulating AI standards for your charity is a key step in making sure your use of the technology is intentional and mitigates risk.

Many people believe AI is the future as it can optimise and enhance your charity’s data capabilities and infrastructure. If this is something which your charity is interested in exploring, the website Charity Governance has an ‘AI Governance & Ethics Framework’ which you can use as a starting point. However, be wary of relying too much on AI, most people can tell when something has been written by a robot.

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