Voices from Accenture Public Service


Artificial intelligence (AI) may still be in its early stages, but it’s already transforming how nonprofits operate and engage. The term-AI-may conjure malevolent memories from “War Games,” but it’s currently used in many practical ways to help nonprofits achieve their missions.  

In today’s world, some people take AI-powered services like Siri or Alexa for granted when it comes to searching the web for information or conducting a task like looking up and calling a contact. AI uses data provided to it to recognize patterns, progressively learning in similar ways to the developing mind of a child. To do this effectively, AI needs to analyze large sets of data (something nonprofits have), monitored for biases and quality. In my last blog, I mentioned Mozilla’s Common Voice project which is using AI to analyze and verify speech patterns to develop an understanding of natural language.  

In Accenture’s 2018 Technology Vision, four out of five executives (81 percent) said they believe within the next two years, AI will work next to humans in their organizations, as a co-worker, collaborator and trusted advisor. Here is what that might look like in the nonprofit sector: 

Omni-channel virtual assistants

Nonprofits can provide a seamless 24/7 virtual assistant service to help beneficiaries, or even prospective donors, access services and find information. Amazon added a video call drop-in feature to its Echo Show smart speaker that allows preselected users to make video calls to each other. This could be particularly useful for long-distance caregivers to check in with their loved ones.   


A chatbot is trained to conduct textual or auditory conversations with a human via a messaging platform. This is ‘who’ you’re talking to when using Duolingo’s chat to practice languages. Chatbots can deliver a branded, personalized experience around the clock, and can assist nonprofits with handling donations and member registrations, or any other predictable, repetitive task. Jewelry brand Lokai and nonprofit Charity: Water brought more awareness to the water crisis with their storytelling chatbot Yeshi which walks users through an Ethiopian girl’s experience on her daily search for water, using Facebook Messenger. The chatbot also accepts donations.   

Human-machine collaboration

AI allows us to do more with data, faster than is humanly possible. Humans can also work together with AI to solve societal problems by combining data analysis with predictive modeling and human creativity. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center for Technology and Society partnered with U.C. Berkeley’s D-Lab to create the Online Hate Index, which uses AI, machine learning, and social science to label hate speech on social media. This will help inform technology companies and news media when hateful speech gets published on their platforms.  

AI can help more nonprofits reach their donors in the right places at the right times, deliver personalized services, and deliver real-time data that can help them proactively help beneficiaries. Technology funding exists for nonprofits, which can also consider private sector partnerships, and with many successful examples to use, building the case for unrestricted funding for digital transformation is more feasible than ever.   

Let me know what you think by sharing your comments, thoughts and suggestions here. To learn more about getting nonprofit right in today’s digital ager, visit us here, and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

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