Smart technology, which refers to AI and other digital technologies that replace human decision-makers, is on the rise. While smart technology has obvious implications in sectors like the automotive industry, personal electronics, home automation, and more, the technology will shape and shift the way nonprofits and philanthropy operate, too.

In their new book, “The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in An Automated World,” authors Allison Fine and Beth Kanter delve into the significant power-shifting effects of the impending rise of smart technology’s use in the nonprofit sector. They also address the ethical implications of the technology and provide guidance on how to approach becoming smart-enabled social impact organizations. Following the release of their new book, I chatted with the authors about the potential as well as the pitfalls of smart tech for philanthropy.

Chloe Heskett: What is smart tech and how is it different from other technology foundations have been using?

Allison Fine & Beth Kanter: Smart tech is an umbrella term we created for advanced technologies that include Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its subsets and cousins, such as machine learning, natural language processing, smart forms, chatbots, robots, and more. What’s different about these technologies is that they make decisions for and instead of people. This is the kind of technology that only, say, NASA, had access to until just a few years ago. Now everyday people and organizations can buy commercial products with smart tech embedded in it.

CH: Can you share some of the ways that foundations or their donors might (or perhaps already do) employ smart tech?

AF & BK: Digital platforms matching donors with causes are not new. What is new is the ability of platforms to match donors and causes based on the specific interests of donors and keep them informed about the impact their gift is making in real time. There are many smart tech tools that can do this, including Salesforce’s Philanthropy Cloud. Nick Bailey, the Salesforce General Manager of Philanthropy Cloud, said, “It [the algorithm] can help employees find and connect with the causes they’re passionate about. It allows us to do personalized philanthropy at scale.”

Deluxe, a 105-year-old company that actually created the checkbook, became a Philanthropy Cloud client in 2020 — just in time for the pandemic and protests over racial injustice to erupt. The company implemented eight different campaigns raising a total of $260,000 from employees.

Another approach to smart tech for philanthropy is the advent of “robo advisors,” chat bots available to donors at any level providing advice on charitable giving to their menus of other financial investment and savings options.

Read the full article about “The Smart Nonprofit” by Chloe Heskett at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.