Karen McCleave, Former Asst. Crown Attorney: Smart Technologies Accelerate Nonprofit Marketing Success

The Smart Nonprofit sounds like a book that every philanthropic organization would want to read. Indeed, for leading-edge nonprofits in Canada and throughout North America, the central theme of the book is very familiar: Smart technology is transforming the nonprofit world, eliminating repetitive tasks, identifying new donor opportunities and streamlining operations.

The book is the work of Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. In their research, they’ve discovered that “at many nonprofits, smart tech is becoming integrated into internal workflows, fundraising, communications, finance operations, and service delivery efforts. Smart tech is currently best used for rote tasks in nonprofit organizations, such as reconciling expense reports and answering the same questions online using a chatbot (e.g. ‘Is my contribution tax-deductible?’) — freeing up staff to focus on other activities.”

They continue: “We call this benefit the ‘dividend of time,’ which can be used to, say, reduce staff burnout, get to know clients on a deeper, more human level, and focus on deeper societal changes that need to be made, such as addressing the root causes of homelessness in addition to serving homeless people.”

One example of the power of high-tech nonprofit solutions is Greenpeace. The legendary nonprofit exponentially expanded its donor base with advanced software called Dataro, which used artificial intelligence technologies to review the organization’s history of fundraising and identify patterns of giving.

Based on that data set, Dataro provided a predictive function, suggesting which donors were likely to respond to particular kinds of appeals. The software was also able to flag long-time donors who seemed at risk of losing interest in the organization, and identified ways to re-engage them. According to Greenpeace, scores of donors were “recaptured” by this approach.

Karen McCleave has helped a variety of nonprofits and is familiar with a range of marketing efforts. “Information is power,” says McCleave, “and in the age of database marketing, the more you know about the people who believe in your mission, the more likely you are to energize this group, forge a meaningful connection and magnify their levels of support.”

In its review of the book, IT World Canada agreed with McCleave’s premise: “Having lots of data that are consistent and accurate is hugely beneficial. AI can only be as precise as the information it digs through. As it’s clear that nonprofits would greatly benefit from AI’s ability to predict donor trends, nonprofits should consider where information gaps exist in their donor, engagement, and communication data and look into AI platforms that meet their budget and needs.”

Data collection need not be intrusive, adds McCleave. It is vital that collection, storage and use of information be done ethically and responsibly, to respect the privacy and security of individuals.

The authors of The Smart Nonprofit call for a human-centered perspective on technology to ease these concerns. “Nonprofit leaders need to make a pledge to ‘do no harm’ using smart tech and not to wait for something bad to happen before looking for warning signs,” they urge. Nonprofit leaders must “take a human-centered approach to adopting new technology by finding the sweet spot between people and smart tech, while ensuring that people are always in charge of the technology.”