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We had a front-row seat to the Generative AI (ChatGPT) conversations that echoed through the halls of the recent PEAK2023 conference in Baltimore earlier this month. Private foundations are taking advantage of technology to ease their workload, but where is the line when it comes to having bots do everything for us? We are currently seeing Generative AI being used by nonprofits to help write grant applications and separately by foundations to evaluate applications for funding. It’s not entirely inconceivable that AI could be used by different parties during the development, review and approval of a single application, begging the question…who ultimately is in control? And equally pressing, can AI accurately assess the nuances that determine if a grant application is worth funding better than a person can? Is there more bias in AI using collective data than a human relying on the first-hand knowledge they gather from applicants?

We wanted to dig deeper into this topic, so we conducted a pulse survey at our PEAK booth and on social media asking respondents if they are currently using Generative AI in their philanthropic giving. The respondents could choose one of four possible answers as shown below. While our sample size was small, the results indicate that fewer people are jumping on the Generative AI bandwagon—at least for now.

use-of-ai-in-philanthropic-givingMany of the organizations that participated in the survey are waiting to get a better understanding of the impact that Generative AI might have in philanthropy. One foundation we spoke with said that they are keeping their eyes open to what is happening in the sector, but they want to make sure the integrity of their giving program isn’t compromised by hopping on untested technology trends.

We also heard from a number of sector leaders who are excited about the possibilities of working with artificial intelligence to connect, raise awareness, create more equity and solve problems throughout the philanthropic landscape.

Consultant, author and thought leader, Alice Korngold says “Case studies in my new book,  A Better World, Inc.: Corporate Governance for an Inclusive, Sustainable, and Prosperous Future  (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023), show how companies and NGOs/nonprofits with mutual interests are collaborating for a variety of purposes, including to build more inclusive workforce. For example, some companies recognize that employing refugees and asylum seekers is a business opportunity. These companies are working with nonprofits that help advance people who are displaced by economic, political, and climate crises. Generative AI can be a valuable tool for organizations in both sectors to find each other to promote the employment and success of people who are often marginalized.”

Some people in the sector think that technology can help to create a more equitable giving platform. “Using scoring and technology can help alleviate bias,” said Antoinette Mosley, Founder and CEO of
I Follow the Leader, a leadership consulting firm specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion. “But leaning only on tech to eliminate bias can actually create barriers to equitable giving. One of the key values of Trust-Based Philanthropy is to center relationships and prioritize healthy, open and honest communication to help navigate the complexity of our work and our world with greater confidence and effectiveness. The reality is that we can only have relationships with organizations that we invite to the table. So, how do we invite more people to the table? Perhaps this is where we circle back to using technology.”

We also spoke with Kendall Warsaw, former foundation executive and industry and technology consultant, to get her take on Generative AI. “The bottom line for me is that GAI could be amazing for the industry, but I’m not a fan of jumping on the bandwagon without having it solve a problem,” said Kendall. “That problem might be improving processes or increasing efficiency, but just to say it is ‘neat’ can distract from the mission. As a former grantmaker, I think it is important to see the sustainability of a program, which includes an organization’s ability to attract individual donors. Using GAI to tell an amazing story based on data and experience that increases the number of donors and amount of donations would be a huge win in my book. I may or may not make a decision to give a substantial grant based on a story generated by AI, but seeing the impact that story has in strengthening the donor base would most likely lead to a favorable decision. As foundations become more and more savvy with technology and programs, AI could help foundations using Program-Related Investments to improve the impact of these programs. Understanding the impact and the success factors could allow foundations to collaborate with recipients and share best practices, resulting in more investments of less money leading to greater impact.”

Here at Foundation Source, as we continue to enhance our foundation management platform, we will keep collecting feedback on how and where Generative AI and other leading-edge capabilities might play an additive role in philanthropic giving.

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