Putting AI to Work for Your Nonprofit: It’s Not a Question of ‘If’ but ‘When’

Tax | R. Matthew Frank | Dec 16, 2019

When asked recently if he knew how algorithms worked, a friend replied, “I don’t need to know how something works. I just need to know it works.”

Of course, algorithms “work” for us every single day. They’re in our pockets and purses in our smartphones. They are behind Netflix reflecting our viewing preferences, and Amazon delivering our purchases. And they are the building blocks, so to speak, of Artificial Intelligence, or AI.

From fictional portrayals, such as Skynet in the “Terminator” movies, to real-life threats of some workers losing their jobs to non-human replacements, AI has gotten something of a shaky reputation. But, rest assured; the quickest way to assuage any apprehension you may have about AI is not learning how it works, but how it can work for your nonprofit.

Let’s begin by thinking of AI not as some super-intelligence that might threaten human kind, but as a bundle of digital products and services that you can employ in the day-to-day operations of your nonprofit. In this case, let’s discuss AI’s impact on a foundation. First, it’s important to take a step back and look at why a foundation exists in the first place. According to GrantSpace:

“Broadly speaking, a foundation is a nonprofit corporation or a charitable trust that makes grants to organizations, institutions, or individuals for charitable purposes such as science, education, culture, and religion.” Put another way, a foundation’s goal is to support efforts that will have a positive impact on the world community. And as you know, achieving that goal involves a lot of moving parts.

So, what does AI do to those moving parts? Simply stated by the Brookings Institution: “Artificial intelligence provides a way to use automated software to perform a number of different tasks.” As any foundation manager knows, those “tasks” include fundraising, grant making and oversight, communication, human resources, and financial management. Let’s take a closer look at those tasks and see how AI increases the effective execution of each.


Donor contributions are the life’s blood of any nonprofit, including foundations. To improve your fundraising efforts, nurturing relationships with existing donors, as well as enlarging your donor base by identifying and cultivating the giving impulses of prospective donors is essential.

Learning everything you can about donors and their habits is the key and can guide your marketing efforts. Employing AI analytic software can produce donor data that not only identifies new partners but can offer added insights into existing ones. For example, tailoring messages targeted to major contributors not only improves your messaging effectiveness to this essential group, it also improves your relationship with those donors by showing that you understand what is important to them and where their passions lie. It affords you the opportunity to create a relationship management system that connects like-minded influential individuals, and in the process increases giving while elevating the legacy of your foundation.


Putting AI to work in grant making can help realize rather remarkable efficiencies. Digitizing the grant application process and utilizing AI means rather than hand screening hundreds, maybe thousands of applications, a program will sift through them and select those that meet a preset list of criteria. Just this one narrowing process not only saves labor, it saves time in responding to applicants and getting grants up and running.

Also, everything being electronic, including reporting by grantees on their progress and, hopefully, eventual success, does at least two things: One, it singles out potential future candidates for grants, and two, it provides information for donors who can now clearly see that the money they contribute is, literally, making a measurable difference. Which, in turn, motivates them to continue giving as well as increase the amount they contribute.


Since there are approximately 1.5 billion websites one could argue that the world certainly does not need another one. But a nonprofit’s website offers innumerable opportunities to strengthen bonds with donors and potential grantees. Profiling grantees, news about effective grant efforts, charts and graphs showing increases in overall giving, the list of possible site features is literally endless.


Despite the worry that AI might replace humans, this seems unlikely to happen any time soon. Non-profits still need sufficient—and efficient—staff to run successfully. And like granting, making the HR function primarily automated simplifies the process—sifting through resumes, for example—not to mention it better targets qualified candidates. Which again, not only improves the end result, but saves precious time.


Last, but certainly not least, given such things as the specific types of reporting for nonprofits, employing computer programs created especially for these unique financials does not eliminate jobs, but it does reduce the possibility of error. It also enhances transparency, something that will appeal to major donors in particular.

In addition to foundations and charitable organizations, we see nonprofit clients in fields such as advocacy groups, political committees, and healthcare all benefiting from the employment of AI. Using AI and machine learning for evidenced based decision making, we develop virtual simulation models that let clients see the value of different scenarios tailored specifically to them. Prager Metis truly believes in the potential AI and advanced analytics have to help achieve the goals of all of our clients; in fact, we have an affiliate company devoted to AI called Prager Metis Technology. So, even though we may not know “how” AI works, we know that AI works for you.


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