Adding AI to your nonprofit marketing toolkit responsibly

Explore AI in your tools with a focus on ethics and security.
Sep 14, 2023
8 minute read
Artificial Intelligence • Marketing • Policy

If you are working in marketing for a nonprofit, there are many challenges you may be facing in 2023: the healing but still volatile economy, political issues, struggles with fundraising, and just trying to cut through the clutter to build awareness. With all that taking up your brain space, it’s hard to focus on figuring out this other big new transformative force in marketing that’s entered the chat: AI.

To borrow a metaphor from a Ghostbuster, if the amount of think pieces, videos, webinars, and general content on the internet about AI were represented by a dragon fruit shaved ice, it would be a dragon fruit shaved ice twice the size of Australia, and we’d be well on our way to a tasty resolution to the climate crisis. It can be overwhelming to try and find the answers to the questions — how can this technology help me move my organization’s mission forward? How can we save money, reach more people, and do even better with it?

First, if you are a complete novice, here are some quick AI resources to set the table — we’ll pick up a bit past a basic primer in all things artificially intelligent.

AI is not a single platform you must learn to use. AI is a feature increasingly being added to the platforms you already use. Figuring it out will be similar to how we all learned how to use the internet in the first place. The key is to understand the capabilities of the tools and how they can best help you with your goals.

In nonprofits, there are often small teams that have to wear a lot of hats. AI is a way to help take off some of those hats and get help you haven’t had before. (Your neck will thank you!)

Why is AI relevant for nonprofits?

You may not realize it, but you probably already use AI daily.

If you use Gmail’s autocomplete functionality to speed up your replies, you use AI.

If you use Grammarly to improve the quality of your writing, you use AI.

If you use LinkedIn to hire or get hired, you use AI.

Meta is baking generative AI features directly into its highly lucrative self-service ads platform. Advertisers can effortlessly create multiple versions based on a piece of ad copy for different audiences, conjure up visual assets for ads, and automatically crop images for various formats.

Right now, many exciting point solution style platforms have taken large language models (LLMs) and added a user interface designed around a specific goal. But Meta and others can easily swallow these companies whole by baking the same applications into the core platforms we already know and use daily as professionals. Convenience wins out nine times out of ten — especially when marketers already feel the strain of juggling too many platforms.

Like with any technology, the degree to which it is user-friendly is a significant factor in how widely it is adopted. It’s not about paying for fancy silver bullet technology that promises to solve all your problems. It’s about fully understanding the role technology can and should play in your day-to-day working life according to your specific needs.

As AI solutions start popping up and getting embedded in every tool you use, the question becomes how to take advantage of it. A significant way to do that for nonprofits is to unlock the benefits it can bring for automation and creativity.

People often have to be a generalist out of necessity at a nonprofit, but many AI tools will have particularly helpful applications to day-to-day generalist activities. Try to automate away as much as you can so you can focus on whatever you are uniquely great at. Yes, your job will change — allowing you to focus on your passion for your mission and why you are there in the first place!

Perhaps you need to:

  • Analyze a large amount of data about your programs, audience survey responses, or details about your donors or forecast trends.
  • Draft content regularly, like emails or social posts.
  • Get help with admin activities like data entry or creating reports.

Activities like these are already possible with AI-powered tools. They can help you reclaim time and be more efficient and productive.

AI can also help you to be more creative and strategic. This still requires imagination, direction, intuition, and a strong creative team to separate the wheat from the chaff. But, the optimistic view is that AI could unlock more creativity across your organization rather than snuff it out. For example, if you have a rough concept for a new recruitment campaign, you could ask ChatGPT to suggest ways to make it bigger, better, and more scalable and see if there is a way for you to build on its suggestions. Your AI support system can be a great collaboration partner.

Avoiding the pitfalls

Whenever there are opportunities to leverage productivity tools enhanced by AI to gain more efficiency, higher quality work output, or better meet goals, nonprofits should look for every opportunity to do so responsibly.

Generative AI specifically is an area where we see great potential to fine-tune and elevate your work, but there can also be risks — are you treading uncertain legal ground in terms of plagiarism or IPs used to train the AI tools? The landscape around this question changes daily as new lawsuits emerge and the AI space evolves. Responsible ways to use the tools include:

  • Producing suggestions for content and assisting with the versioning of content by audience, with all work reviewed, edited, and finalized by a human.
  • To create a jumping-off point for code/script to use in technical applications, which will then be further reviewed/augmented by a human developer.
  • Versioning copy/content according to different target audiences or other versioning parameters with human involvement in finalizing the output.
  • To assist with CRM/sales activities or data review and synthesis.
  • To help summarize unstructured notes.

When working with AI tools, it’s key to:

  • Prioritize data security.
  • Avoid ethical conflicts.
  • Avoid legal conflict.
  • Stay curious — look for ways to use the tools to increase efficiency and impact.

Nonprofit benefits

Here’s an excellent example of how generative AI can be applied to social impact.

Khan Academy is piloting an advanced chatbot tutor using OpenAI’s GPT-4 that has the potential to dramatically accelerate its mission to provide equal access to high-quality, individualized education.

This part of Sal Khan‘s announcement post was interesting and resonant:

“AI is nascent technology, but we already find ourselves at a critical juncture. Will we amplify its benefits equally across society? Or will we allow a new, deeper digital divide to take root that leaves out even more students?”

If you look at the video demo, you’ll see that the AI, named Khanmigo, can share knowledge, conduct tutoring sessions, and quiz students on a vast array of subjects with total patience and without giving them the answers.

Teachers can also use it to speed up time-consuming tasks like writing lesson plans so they can spend more time nurturing students.

Khan Academy took responsible steps. They implemented safeguards for data privacy, not passing personally identifiable information to the AI model and emphasizing in the interface that students should not share personal data in their messages.

Data privacy measures are sorely lacking from OpenAI‘s standard ChatGPT interface. The company has come under scrutiny due to a bug that temporarily exposed AI chat histories to other users and the general lack of transparency around data usage for training purposes.

Burying your head in the sand is not an effective strategy — but neither is impulsively embracing bleeding-edge technology without considering the ramifications. Getting it right and building deliberately, like Khan Academy is attempting to do, is the right way to approach this moment.

Conclusion

Should your organization adopt AI or continue to rely on humans? This is the wrong question and hinges on a false choice.

Instead, you should approach AI with a hybrid mentality. Continue to rely on talented people who are great at their work, but alongside them, build an AI model that acts as a knowledge base and amounts to your secret recipe as an organization.

The most important thing you can do is remain open and flexible to new solutions while being mindful of the technology stack you as an organization already have. Don’t get swept away in the rush for the newest, latest, and greatest. Learn how to prompt effectively, but don’t put too much trust in the results. Pilot novel uses of AI that ease pain points, but don’t overinvest based on the fear of missing out.

It’s impossible to predict where the digital marketing landscape will be in the next few years, but more likely than not, we’ll be using the same tools we already have, just with supercharged capabilities.

Luke Dringoli

Luke Dringoli

He/Him

VP of Technology, Media Cause

Luke is a respected nonprofit, digital marketing, and technology thought leader who, as VP of Technology at Media Cause, aids nonprofits like Tech Impact, Saga Education, and Direct Relief in enhancing their impact with tailored tech solutions. He has also shared his expertise at Georgetown University, the Nonprofit Technology Conference, INBOUND, and Collaborative. He is a board member of the Madelyn James Pediatric Cancer Foundation and a resident of the Nutmeg State.

Read the bio
Ryan Fuquea

Ryan Fuquea

He / Him

SVP, Client Success, Media Cause

Ryan Fuquea is the SVP, Client Success at Media Cause, a mission-driven digital agency that helps nonprofits grow and accelerate their impact. The Client Success team at Media Cause consists of talented project management and account leads, working to ensure quality delivery of work and foster strong collaborative relationships with our clients. In his role, Ryan establishes processes, develops tools and training resources, and supports growth for a team of 20+ project and account management professionals.

Read the bio

Stay up to date

Keep up with what's happening in the nonprofit technology community.

Write for NTEN

We're always looking for articles from our members and the broader nonprofit tech community.

Learn more
nten logo
NTEN™
P.O. Box 86308
Portland, OR 97286-0308
+1 503-272-8800

© 2024 NTEN