From Sci-Fi to Real Life: AI's Impact on Nonprofit Jobs

June 18, 2023
5 minutes
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You may have noticed that there’s a lot of stuff being written about AI lately. Gone are the days when the technology was relegated to sci-fi, a mix of helpful and harmful humanoids. Amid all the chatter, it can be hard to know where the technology is going and what it means for jobs generally and you—yes, you, dear nonprofiteer!—specifically. So, let’s take a look at the cold, hard facts to determine what AI means for our warm, well-intentioned industry.

How will AI impact human jobs?

Despite the wonders of AI, it can’t predict the future—and neither can we. If you Google “AI and jobs,” you’ll find doom-and-gloom scenarios alongside rainbows-and-butterflies predictions. Most likely, the reality is somewhere in the middle.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) released their 2023 “The Future of Jobs” report this April, compiling responses from over 800 companies across industries. While AI is certainly part of the discussion, it’s just one of many factors that businesses think will impact jobs in the years ahead. Here are the key takeaways related to AI:

  • In the next five years, AI and machine learning specialists ranked as the fastest-growing jobs, with an anticipated average growth rate of 30% by 2027.
  • While the report estimates a net job decrease of 2%, most of that loss is due to factors other than AI. In fact, half of the organizations surveyed expect AI to drive job growth, while only a quarter of them believe it will lead to job losses.
  • AI and other digital technologies have the potential to automate up to 26 million clerical, record-keeping, and administrative jobs. As a result, 75% of companies surveyed plan to adopt AI systems for these tasks.
  • Despite advancements in AI, analytical and creative thinking skills continue to be highly valued as the top two most important skills for employees.

For another angle, we looked at Goldman Sachs’ “The Potentially Large Effects of Artificial Intelligence on Economic Growth,” published in March 2023. They agreed that AI could lead to “significant disruption” for workers, automating around 300 million jobs globally in the next 10 years. But it would also lead to many new jobs and, possibly, a “productivity boom” that would increase global GDP by 7%.

These findings are pretty much what we all suspected: Yes, AI will replace some jobs. But while that might sound scary, it’s really just another example of history repeating itself. Big technological advances have always made some jobs redundant. At the same time, they’ve created new ones.

The value of AI for nonprofits

Before we really get into the delicate dance that is nonprofit humans and for-profit robots, let’s step back to acknowledge the many ways in which AI can make our lives easier. When you separate it from existential dread and generalized anxiety, generative AI has many a benefit for nonprofit organizations, including:

  • Increased efficiency
  • More time to be creative
  • Improved decision-making
  • Money savings

Increased efficiency

If there’s anything AI can do well, it’s getting things done. It can summarize a two-hour meeting in two minutes.

More time to be creative

We have a lot of feelings about AI-created art and writing, but in its best light, AI can actually open up more time and energy for creative pursuits. By automating those boring, repetitive tasks, creative folks can focus on brainstorming and innovating.

Improved decision-making

Data-driven decision-making is where it’s at, and AI is really good at recognizing patterns and generating data-based insights. Can’t get your board members to agree? We bet your AI colleague can nudge them in the right direction.

Saving money

It’s a big one for nonprofits. AI automates tasks and optimizes processes, which helps reduce labor costs and get rid of those pesky inefficiencies. That means more moolah for your mission.

AI mantras for nonprofits

So, AI has a lot going for it, but what it doesn’t have is a human touch—and that’s what nonprofits are all about. As we move forward with this new technology, here are some crucial, comforting adages to keep in mind.

Some things will change, but you can change, too.

Certain roles will change or even be eliminated because of AI, and we know that’s scary. But think about how we used to print and mail every thank you note and event invitation in person, an incredibly time-consuming process. We also used to enter each donor's name and address into a ledger, file our documents in massive metal cabinets, and fill out grant applications by hand. Times and technologies change, and we adapt accordingly. Ultimately, AI will complement, not replace, most jobs. By staying on top of the latest innovations and continually upskilling and reskilling, you can change with your job and increase your own professional value while you’re at it.

Nonprofit work is built on relationships.

Pretty much every job in the nonprofit sphere is about cultivating relationships to better the world. A computer might be able to write a nice social media post for your latest campaign, but it can’t pick up the phone to welcome a new donor or select the perfect centerpiece for your gala or create an annual report that seamlessly blends storytelling and data. AI can’t get to the heart of your organization and understand what each client needs to thrive. So, if your nonprofit is an onion, with your mission at the center, AI might shave off that outer layer—but that leaves the tender center for you. (It’s a delicious caramelized onion.)

History repeats itself—for better or for worse.

If you’ve ever called someone a “Luddite,” you were referring to a member of the 19th-century group of English textile workers who were vehemently opposed to the introduction of machinery that threatened their jobs. In retrospect, they had valid concerns, and their options were limited to smashing machinery since unions didn’t exist. But as we all know, industrialization moved forward, and people still had jobs. These advances have always created new jobs while changing old ones.

You might be needed more than ever.

Historically, automation has driven increased income inequality. In fact, a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University estimated that 50-70% of the changes to the US wage structure since 1980 are due to income loss because of automation—and those roles were mostly held by blue-collar workers. For those experiencing displacement, nonprofits specializing in vocational training as well as social services will need to rise to the times with expanded programming.

You never know what’s next.

Many of the jobs created by new technologies are completely new themselves. In fact, a study from 2009 found that every year in the US, 0.56% of new jobs are in completely new occupations. For example, while personal computers were rarely considered outside of the occasional Star Trek episode, McKinsey estimates that they’ve enabled the creation of 15.8 million net new jobs in the United States since 1980—and that includes jobs they displaced (McKinsey).

One day, we might find ourselves commuting alongside crowds of beeping droids or sharing a hot coffee (hot oil?) with our humanoid BFF. But today is not that day, so let’s embrace the possibilities and let the future unspool before us—all while staying on top of the many twists and turns we encounter.

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