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At its core, philanthropy is about finding and addressing patterns.


Really, most things are. Philanthropy in particular centers around taking a deep dive into societal ills, finding populations affected by some sort of problem, and figuring out how to best address that problem. It’s easy to think of philanthropic efforts as throwing money at an issue, but in order for this to be effective, organizations have to figure out the best use for any capital they raise.


Even so, the analytics used by nonprofits can’t cover the possibility of every need. Therefore, organizations that are well-suited to respond to the needs of others are at a premium in the philanthropic sphere. The good news is that new technology can help discover the best uses of nonprofit time and effort.


However, this isn’t just an effort that can be undertaken by a single organization. Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way that other industries conduct operations and high-level strategy. For nonprofits, AI can help quantify feedback to determine where help is needed the most. This all falls under the umbrella of a larger “feedback movement” in which organizations reevaluate where their efforts are focused and whether they’re adequately serving their communities.


There’s a lot of rhetoric about the costs and benefits of artificial intelligence, but even the most technology-shy organizations can make use of the data it provides. The mission of optimizing for areas of the most need is already an established goal of the nonprofit community, and AI is another tool in the sector’s arsenal.


So what does using this data look like? In order for this new technology to work to its fullest, it must be shared. Collaboration between nonprofits gives AI access to as much data as possible and allows it to determine the underlying patterns of need in underserved communities. Examining new methods for collecting and sharing information between nonprofits will be the first step toward building more responsive organizations.


A big part of these initiatives has to be community feedback—self-reporting is not adequate to gain accurate insight. Nonprofits can encourage honest feedback by establishing open and anonymous communications channels where others can report on the quality and scope of their work.


Once data is collected and analyzed, it can reveal some surprising things about nonprofits. Outside of determining the broad strokes of satisfaction, a well-constructed survey can provide valuable insight into areas that might not be relevant to members of a community. That said, there are many ways that artificial intelligence can be maligned that should not be ignored. Used blindly and without face-to-face collaboration, organizations might experience a disconnect between themselves and their communities. AI has also drawn controversy for introducing bias into data, another factor that anybody using it should critically evaluate.


Even so, AI is a tool that can be leveraged for good. When the dream of any nonprofit is to make a meaningful impact, any method of learning the desires of a particular group of people is invaluable. It’s not a replacement for feedback, but it can make voices heard and foster better ways to give back.