The Ethics and Opportunities of Artificial Intelligence in the Nonprofit Sector

[Image description: a robotic hand and a human hand reaching toward each other, index fingers extended, almost touching. In the background is a pattern of concentric circles made of various lines superimposed over one another in light blue over a black back drop. Image by geralt on Pixabay]

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).

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We need to talk about the relentless machine that is higher-education fundraising

[Image description: A bronze statue of a man sitting down with an open book on his right knee. The statue is on a pedestal with the inscription “John Harvard.” Image by pvdberg on Pixabay]

Every month or so, I get an appeal letter from my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis (Go Bears!), usually with a promise of some socks or a keychain if I contribute any amount. I love Wash U. It was some of the best and most formative years of my life. It was there that I discovered the power of activism. I was vegan, and the campus had little more than salads, so I started mobilizing the other plant-eaters. We marched on the administration. Many of us fainted on the way because we didn’t have much energy, and our fake-leather shoes disintegrated. It was the longest 50 yard of our lives. But at the end, we were triumphant, and we feasted upon soy nuggets and quinoa bowls with pride. I will always be grateful for what I learned at Wash U, the friends I made, the experiences I had, and the doors that being an alum has opened for me.

But I’m not donating. Wash U is one of the most well-endowed higher education institutions in the US, with over 15 billions in reserve.

In general, the sheer scope and scale of higher education fundraising departments would make the vast majority of nonprofits’ development work pale in comparison. At a large university, we could be talking about a team of hundreds of people raising hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

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Greek Myths if They Were Set in the Nonprofit Sector, Part 2

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Hi everyone, a couple of announcements. Starting next week, Nonprofit AF posts will be published on TUESDAYS. I know, many of you have told me how you appreciate these posts to help you start the week. But publishing on Mondays over the past decade meant that I lost many hours of my weekends to writing, editing, and weeping softly over a bowl of ice cream at midnight. As my kids grow up, I want to spend as much time as I can with them, so thank you for your understanding.

Also, a reminder that I will be moderating a conversation on Artificial Intelligence and what it means for our sector next week on March 14th. On the panel will be Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, the co-authors of The Smart Nonprofit, as well as Philip Deng, founder and owner of AI-supported grantwriting platform Grantable. It’s free, and automatic captions will be available. If you can’t make it, register so you can get access to the recording.

On to today’s post. A few months ago, we had Greek myths if there were set in the nonprofit sector, including the story of Sisyphus and how he was forced to write one-year grants forever, Cassandra and her prophecies about equity and diversity never being believed, how Echo became a consultant, etc. Here is part 2 in the series.

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“Doing the right thing” over “doing things right,” a critical principle for advancing equity and justice

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Hi everyone. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I try to call out crappy or nonsensical things in our sector. (Those of you still using double spaces after periods, I will hunt you down!) And every time I do, there’s usually some pushback, such as detailed in the recent #DAFGate. I don’t mind it, and in fact, I like it, because as a sector, we need to be a lot more assertive about our needs and to be able to argue and defend our points of view. (Plus, I failed at being a lawyer, so I like arguing with people to make up for it.)

However, there is always a line of pushback that is predictable and tiresome, and it’s summed up with “well, that’s the rules and we need to follow it.” For example, last week I posted about the nonsense of delusional funders requiring an accounting for what their specific grant pays for, forcing nonprofits to play a pointless and time-wasting game of Financial Sudoku. Like a funder or donor giving $5,000 and needing to know whether that money paid for pencils or insurance or whatever. It’s as if I hired a plumber to fix my leaking sink, paid them $500, and then demanded to know what they spent that $500 on (“And no more than $50 of the money I paid you to fix the sink had better gone to paying your rent, Eddie, because that’s overhead!”)

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10 condescending funding practices funders need to stop doing

[Image description: A closeup on a meerkat’s face, staring at the camera. This meerkat is puzzled by many grantmaking practices that seem to be the norm but that are actually patronizing and ineffective. Image by hansbenn at Pixabay]

Hi everyone, before we get started, I have exciting news: It took over a year and tons of dark chocolate, but I’ve compiled a bunch of Nonprofit AF ramblings into a book “Unicorns on Fire: A Collection of Nonprofit AF Blog Posts Finally Edited for Spelling and Grammar, Volume 1” which you can order on Barnes and Nobles. All revenues generated from sales from now until the end of June will be donated toward relief efforts for the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

This book makes a great present for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, as an ominous warning sign for funders or board members you don’t like, or as bathroom reading material for your household. Special thanks to editor Norea Hoeft for putting up with my shenanigans, Stacy Nguyen for designing the cover, Kishshana Palmer for penning the foreword, and all of you for inspiring me to write over the past 11 years.

Now, onto today’s topic. In this line of work, I have met lots of amazing funders. Shoutout to all the brilliant philanthropy professionals who are working hard and often without much fanfare to change the ridiculous systems that make fund seeking so painful and ineffective.

On the other hand, many foundations have a condescending belief that they know what’s best for nonprofits, and that they are like a mentor to these poor misguided organizations. A sort of “benevolent paternalism.” It leads to some terrible funding practices that we need to do away with. This is not a comprehensive list:

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