Trying new technology can feel like exploring a new place. Nonprofits are at a crossroads with artificial intelligence (AI). AI seems exciting but it is also risky. Nonprofits need to think carefully as they move forward.

AI is not just about new tools for nonprofits. It changes how they can think about operations and processes. For nonprofits who want to use AI in a helpful, safe way, here are five important steps on the AI journey.


Step 1: Talk About AI

The first step in a big change is very important. It sets the tone for the rest of the journey.

Educate folks about what is really possible and what is not right now. There are many exciting examples and many reasons for a cautious approach.

Talk about what AI means for your organization.

What is possible?

What are our concerns?

What are examples of ethical, human-centered use of AI?

Staff and leaders are curious about AI. Letting them ask questions helps them understand it.


Step 2: Build Trust & Craft Rules

Trust is the foundation of nonprofits. Donors, volunteers and people in need trust nonprofit organizations. As AI changes how nonprofits work, it must match their values.

Nonprofits should decide their “AI Rules.” These rules guide how they use AI. The rules ensure AI fits the nonprofit’s ethics and goals. This helps build trust in how the nonprofit uses it.

An additional step of transparency would be to share these rules and the reasons behind them with your communities. This also builds trust and helps them learn more about your organization.


Step 3: Find Ways to Use AI

AI can help nonprofits in many ways. The hard part is picking the best uses. As your staff and leaders continue to learn about what is possible with AI, consider points of pain AI could impact. New experiments are being shared all of the time. Beyond saving time creating or managing content, AI could improve the reach, impact or quality of your services.

Graphic of four female faces divided into four parts showing different racial identities

Step 4: Test AI Projects

Big changes happen gradually. Nonprofits can try small AI projects first. This lets us learn without losing focus on our main work. These small tests can show how AI helps in real life and expose challenges. Creating a learning loop – actively learning by experimenting + sharing the learning – helps build internal experience and exposes what works best for your nonprofit. Using AI is a journey, not a destination. Nonprofits that continue experimenting with new uses for AI will benefit the most.


Step 5: Help Staff Adapt

Change is always part of new technology. Nonprofits need to help their staff understand why AI helps them. Education, training and support is essential to help ease worries and to get people excited about AI.

AI can transform nonprofits in great ways. It takes skill and care to guide it well. When nonprofit leaders understand AI deeply, it can be properly aligned to support their mission and values. The question we ask is “how do we want to proceed while staying human-centered and true to our values?”.


Generative AI (ChatGPT 3.5) was used in the creation of drafts of this article. A human was centered at every stage of the content’s creation, refinement, and distribution.

  Category: Artificial Intelligence, Nonprofit Technology

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