Hi everyone, and happy Spring if you are in the Northern Hemisphere. Last week, I moderated a conversation on Artificial Intelligence and how it might affect our sector. On the panel were Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, co-authors of The Smart Nonprofit, and Philip Deng, creator of Grantable, an AI-supported grantwriting platform. Here is the full video if you’d like to see it. Below are a few points I took away from the conversation with these experts. Those of you who are more knowledgeable in this area, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section or correct anything I got wrong (By the way, ChatGPT came up with the title of this blog post).
1.It’s natural to feel some combination of fear and excitement about AI: Beth, Allison, and Philip brought up the fact that throughout history, people freaked out over new technology all the time. Philip mentioned how the sewing machine brought fear that tailors and seamstresses would be made obsolete. Allison and Beth’s book detailed the freaking out done by doctors when blood pressure cuffs were invented. I’m still freaking out over broccolini. It’s OK. While the benefits of some technology, such as social media, are still being debated, many of the technology we were worried about became very beneficial.
2.There are lots of cool things AI can help us do. Addressing climate change. Helping refugees. Many organizations have started incorporating AI into their work. For instance, using chat bots on websites to instantly answer commons questions 24/7. Another org uses AI as a way to train service providers. Another nonprofit uses AI to provide personalized appeal letters to donors. More and more people are using AI platforms such as Chat GPT to come up with first drafts of thank-you notes, outlines for presentations, press releases, etc.
3.No, AI is not going to take over our jobs. At least not all of them. People will still be needed to pilot a lot of things and to provide oversight and to ensure the work is human-centered. Beth and Allison call it “cobotting,” which is the collaboration between humans and technology to get stuff done. So, while it may lead to some job loss, and change the way some work is done, it may also open up new opportunities as well. No need to worry too much. However, as AI becomes more and more prevalent in our work, the folks who are familiar with and experienced in using AI will likely have an advantage over those who don’t.
4.AI can free up our time and allow us to focus on what matters: If we can use AI effectively and thoughtfully, it can take on a lot of tedious, time-consuming tasks. For instance, robots stocking shelves at a food pantry. Grantwriting, as another example. A lot of grantwriting is just translating the same information from one funder’s burdensome and self-indulgent application to another funder’s. I strongly believe all grant applications should go away, and every organization should just have one comprehensive proposal that they use for every funder, with no tailoring. Until that happens, we can save tons of time through AI-enabled grantwriting tools such as Grantable, which will allow us to focus on service delivery and other tasks.