By Craig Baum • June 17, 2019


    TECHNOLOGY AFFINITY GROUP (TAG)Chantal Forster is the Executive Director of Technology Affinity Group (TAG), a membership organization of foundations that promotes the strategic use of technology to further philanthropic goals.

    Chantal Forster, Executive Director of TAG
    As a leader on technology in the nonprofit sector, we were honored at the chance to speak with Chantal when we were given the opportunity. Per usual, we turned our connection with an industry thought leader into yours by capturing our conversation for Gravyty’s AI Ideas column.

    Gravyty: Chantal, thank you so much for joining us today. As Executive Director of TAG, you are tuned into the pulse of technology in the nonprofit sector. We are hoping to hear your vision on the progress of technology in our industry, where the future is headed, and the role of technologies like artificial intelligence.

    Chantal: Thank you for having me today. Technology solutions for nonprofits are extremely important because they give social change organizations the opportunity to scale the way they’ve hoped and envisioned. However, we haven’t yet reached that vision, at large. We certainly can get there, but it will take some work and shared commitment.

    One fruitful change we might make is for technology vendors and social change organizations, alike, to invest in each other as strategic -- not transactional -- partners. With the right strategic partnerships, I think that tech can help organizations grow exponentially.

    Gravyty: What challenges do you see getting in the way of this vision?

    Chantal: We have to start by ensuring the right people are in the room when talking tech to support a foundation’s mission. For example, if the room consists only of the technology team, they may not have the first-hand knowledge of how a solution impacts change-makers on the ground. Conversely, if technology decisions are made by Programming teams without strategic technical input, solutions may not scale, integrate with data needed to measure impact, or otherwise fall short of vision. My dream for strategy-driven nonprofit tech is to create trust and transparency that allows conversation and collaboration between those on the tech side and those on the programmatic side. Ultimately, we all want the same thing – to create the largest lift for our organizations as possible.

    TAG 2019 Annual Conference

    Gravyty: Do you see any of these conversations happening around ways that AI can benefit organizations?

    Chantal: AI is one of those buzzwords where it’s easy to get enchanted by the promise of new technology. It’s easy to get caught up in the glamor of AI, but mission-driven technology strategy is about a people-first approach rather than a tool-first approach. Not only that, but elements of AI are already part of the nonprofit sector supporting predictive needs analysis, auto-classification, and more. I’d love to see solution providers help to demystify this buzz by pragmatically outlining how AI can be leveraged today in a people-first fashion while also acknowledging that it’s been used for decades.

    There are many ways AI can continue to be used for social change organizations. Imagine if we could better understand both the needs of non-profits as well as the investment strategies for a swathe of foundations and deliver a best-fit prediction instead of requiring a lengthy application from busy nonprofits. Imagine if we could better predict the needs of communities and fund work right when nonprofit partners need it.

    Right now, philanthropy generally relies upon static reports to measure success. I’d be curious to see how technology leveraging AI could better predict outcomes such as grantee perception or satisfaction with a funder. Or how AI could help funders know when an organization may need additional funding to realize their goals. The currently static nature of most success measures in the social sector is an area in which I’d love to see a breakthrough.

    Gravyty: Do you think the benefits of AI extend to Advancement and Fundraising?

    Chantal: Of course and one very important application is to uncover bias in fundraising or grantmaking. But let’s take that a step further – what do we do when we uncover bias? How can our organizations learn and adapt our approaches informed by this information? And how can we do so in partnership with the changemakers we seek to support without requiring more manual reporting? The predictive use of AI in the social sector needs to be thoughtful but I believe it can help reduce the burden on nonprofits for data gathering and manual reporting. Exploring this at scale, as a sector, is a task that awaits us.

    Gravyty: Chantal, thank you so much for your time. It was great to hear your thoughts on AI and how we as organizations can leverage it and use it better going forward.


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