How Smart Tech Is Transforming Nonprofits

Essay by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter: “Covid-19 created cascades of shortages, disruptions, and problems that rolled downhill and landed in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods, it’s often nonprofit organizations that provide services to members of the community. While the pandemic accelerated the need for digital transformation throughout the economy, the nonprofit sector was not immune to the need for nearly overnight innovation. As experts on the use of technology for social good, we’ve observed the many ways that nonprofits have been adopting “smart tech” to further social change in the wake of the pandemic, which we chronicle in our upcoming book, The Smart Nonprofit.

We use “smart tech” as an umbrella term for advanced digital technologies that make decisions for people. It includes artificial intelligence (AI) and its subsets and cousins, such as machine learning, natural language processing, smart forms, chatbots, robots, and more.

The use of smart tech by social service agencies and other nonprofits exploded during the pandemic. For example, food banks deployed robots to pack meals; homeless services agencies used chatbots to give legal and mental health advice; and fundraising departments turned to AI-powered software to identify potential donors.Insight Center CollectionTaking on Digital TransformationMoving your company forward in the wake of the pandemic.

When the pandemic began and schools switched to remote learning, many students who relied on school lunches were not able to receive them. Here’s where nonprofits stepped in to use smart technologies for social good. For example, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University used machine learning to flip the system on its head; instead of using buses to deliver children to schools, new bus routes were created to bring meals to children in the Pittsburgh area in the most efficient way.

The use of chatbots to provide support and deliver services to vulnerable populations increased tremendously during the pandemic. For instance, the Rentervention chatbot was developed by the legal aid nonprofits in Illinois to help tenants navigate eviction and other housing issues they were experiencing due to Covid-19. It also directs renters to pro bono legal advice….(More)”.