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Ai Ethics For Nonprofits

A Guide to AI Ethics and Governance for Mission-Driven Organizations


Mission-driven organizations are starting to harness AI’s potential to improve efficiency and impact. For example, AI-driven analytics enable data-informed decision-making, while chatbots and virtual assistants streamline communications, and automation helps reduce administrative costs and burdens.

A report by reveals some interesting insights about AI in the nonprofit sector. The research shows that 73% of nonprofits believe AI innovation aligns with their values, while 75% believe AI makes their organization’s work easier. More importantly, it showed that 83% of nonprofits believe they need to establish an ethical framework before fully adopting AI.

However, mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits and those focused on social and environmental causes, face several unique challenges when it comes to AI ethics and governance.

In this article, we’ll explain what AI governance is, review some of the useful applications of AI for mission-driven organizations, highlight some of the challenges in using it, and provide some tips for implementing it responsibly.

What Is AI Governance and Why Does It Matter for Mission-Driven Organizations?

In simple terms, AI governance describes how people should navigate and use AI tools ethically and responsibly. AI is useful for mission-driven organizations, as it can perform tasks that would normally require a human to do them.

AI governance matters because AI tools process and store massive amounts of information. Sensitive donor information, which may be fed to an AI tool by members of a mission-driven organization, is an attraction for cybercriminals — which could result in a higher risk of a data breach. The lack of AI governance could also put organizations at risk of violating global privacy regulations, which are also evolving. Another concern is that AI tools could harbor bias or discrimination, which could result in unintentional consequences for stakeholders.

AI technology is bound to advance. As it does, AI governance will need to align accountability with ethics.

Benefits of AI for Mission-Driven Organizations

Here are some specific ways that organizations in the not-for-profit space can benefit from AI tools:

  • Data-driven analytics provide deeper insights into communities
  • AI yields data to inform decision-making and resource allocation
  • Virtual assistants and chatbots provide instant communication around the clock
  • Automation reduces administrative tasks, freeing staff up for other critical tasks
  • Automation creates efficiency in fundraising
  • Data yields new insights to improve programs
  • Staff and volunteers can leverage AI to streamline outreach and expand ad campaigns
  • Marketers can use AI to create engaging social media posts and provide fresh ideas for content

There are many ways organizations can use AI to enhance their impact on the people they serve. But as helpful as it can be, AI does bring its own challenges and risks.

12 AI Challenges for Volunteer Boards

As AI advances, boards of charities, non-profits and other mission-driven organizations will need to take ethical, legal and regulatory issues into account when overseeing and governing their organizations.

Here are 12 AI challenges your board should be aware of now:

  1. Alignment With Mission and Values: AI initiatives must align with your organization’s core mission and values to support your goals without compromising principles.
  2. Risk of Data Bias: AI programs may rely on historical data, which can be wrought with biases. Algorithms may perpetuate inequalities, which can be detrimental for nonprofits — especially those that promote fairness and social justice.
  3. Lack of Transparency: It may be difficult to communicate to stakeholders how the leadership used and relied on AI models to arrive at certain conclusions, which could reduce trust.
  4. Data Privacy: Nonprofits must maintain the privacy of sensitive data, especially since many nonprofits serve vulnerable populations. It is also critical to ensure compliance with data protection laws in the nation and the world (HIPAA, GDPR, etc.).
  5. Resource Constraints: The cost of expertise, technology, and staff training to bolster AI ethics and governance practices could place a burden on the budget and other resources.
  6. Ethical Discernment: AI practices can be subjective and dependent on context, causing leaders and board member to disagree on them. Ethical dilemmas, such as how to allocate resources based on insights generated by AI, may cause discord among the board.
  7. Meeting Stakeholder Expectations: Not all stakeholders may be comfortable knowing a nonprofit uses AI, and leaders must communicate their AI strategies clearly and be able to explain why and how they use them.
  8. Regulatory Compliance: As of the summer of 2023, numerous bills have been introduced in Congress to safeguard against AI risks, and nonprofits must stay current with new laws to ensure compliance and prevent legal issues.
  9. Accountability: AI systems operate autonomously, making it challenging to determine accountability. Nonprofits must have clear ways to determine accountability and decision-making.
  10. Inclusivity: AI initiatives must be inclusive and allow for diverse perspectives. Remember that AI learns from existing data. If the data contains societal biases, AI outputs will also reflect such biases, making it difficult to engage with and represent the interests of marginalized or underrepresented communities.
  11. Building AI Ethics Governance Expertise: Mission-driven organizations may need to add goals for bridging educational gaps and fostering a culture of AI ethics awareness, which will require training and capacity-building.
  12. Striking the Balance Between Innovation and Caution: While leveraging AI will help boards transform and innovate, they must be careful about accepting excessive risks and adopting AI recklessly.

Tips for Adopting AI Responsibly

AI technologies wield a lot of power, and as such, AI and ethics governance are of the utmost importance. While best practices continue to evolve, we’ve put together the following tips for adopting AI responsibly:

  • Use AI for the right use cases: repetitive tasks, time-consuming tasks and solving pain points.
  • Require ongoing training for staff and board members on AI governance.
  • Establish robust policies that govern AI ethics to oversee where and how it’s used.
  • Collaborate with experts on AI governance.
  • Align AI governance principles with your mission.
  • Assess how AI will affect jobs, job descriptions and the need for upskilling.
  • Do threat modeling and assess worst-case scenarios.

With BoardEffect, you can facilitate training for board members, trustees, or others in the area of AI ethics and governance, and you maintain granular control over access. Establishing, reviewing, and updating AI policies and procedures can all be done within the security of the platform to adapt to changing regulations, technologies and organizational needs. Board members can approve documents by signing them within the BoardEffect platform to adapt to changing regulations, technologies, and organizational needs.

Robust governance frameworks promote responsible use of AI, mitigate risks, and reduce the potential for bias. Ultimately, nonprofits will benefit by being better able to fulfill their missions, build trust with stakeholders, and contribute to the overall good.

Your Board Management System Supports AI Ethics and Governance

The power of AI fundamentally changes how mission-driven organizations function. For that reason, nonprofit boards and leaders must be proactive in creating ethical policies that govern how their organization utilizes AI to ensure that they are in charge of the technology, and that it remains human-centered. AI will surely promote efficiency and productivity, and responsible AI ethics and governance will ensure proper accountability.

AI integrations are taking place in mission-driven organizations already, and it’s important for boards to keep on top of AI governance along the way. BoardEffect was designed explicitly for boards of mission-driven organizations. It is a secure board solution that features tools to enhance collaboration and communication.

BoardEffect gives your board and leaders controlled access to board materials, as your organization develops its ethics and governance stance for AI. BoardEffect’s customizable reporting allows you to gather information about AI ethics and governance effortlessly, and creates reports to inform your board. Request a demo today to learn how BoardEffect can support your mission-driven organization’s efforts.

Jill Holtz

Jill is a Content Strategy Manager at Diligent. Her strategy background and content expertise working across a variety of sectors, including education, non-profit and with local government partners, allows her to provide unique insights for organizations looking to achieve modern governance.

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