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The State of AI in Advancement

By August 26, 2019

By: Kevin Leahy, Director of Marketing, Gravyty

Less than a year ago, leaders in the advancement industry recognized that artificial intelligence (AI) technology was beginning to revolutionize the way fundraising worked. This group was committed to shaping AI’s role in the advancement industry so that transformative innovation would happen in a transparent fashion, that AI would result in a positive impact on philanthropic efforts and social good, and that widespread adoption would be accessible to all nonprofit organizations. The 16-member group called itself the AI in Advancement Advisory Council (AAAC) and Gravyty, the first and leading AI company focused solely on social good, is proud to be the catalyst that brought this group together. This positive impact is the mission of the AAAC.

“Gravyty is doing much more than bringing AI to advancement. They are creating the necessary dialogue between universities to help draft a language that will ensure that this type of technology is applied in an equitable manner.”
–Phil Komarny, Vice President, Innovation at Salesforce

AI in Advancement Advisory Council (AAAC)

In an effort to evaluate, use, and share learnings on the outcomes for applying AI in the advancement space, the AAAC’s first formal “product” was recently released: the State of AI in Advancement Report. The report includes an historic overview of AI and its special connection to philanthropy, findings from a survey of more than 200 industry professionals, an analysis on how AI is changing the advancement workforce – including where pathways need to be created for reskilling workers – and a pledge that the AAAC recommends all nonprofit advancement organizations take to ensure the ethical, effective, and fair use of AI within advancement.

“We’ve entered an amazing chapter of innovation and progress with artificial intelligence,” said AAAC member Reed Sheard, Vice President for College Advancement and Chief Information Officer, Westmont College. “In order to truly harness this technology in a way that helps us build successful organizations, it will be critical to utilize AI in a manner that always seeks to benefit society. It is important to ask both ‘What can we do?’ as well as ‘What should we do?’ The early results we’ve seen represent a new opportunity and I am excited about what the future holds.”

The result of the study is the first benchmark on the adoption rate, uses, opinions, of AI in the industry, and it comes at a time when AI is beginning to transform what’s possible in philanthropy.

State of AI in Advancement Report

What Did The AAAC Find?

Chief among the findings of the first State of AI in Advancement Report is that there is a fundamental understanding that AI technology will improve fundraising efforts for organizations, as 89 percent of those surveyed by the AAAC agreed with this concept. However, only 28 percent report that their organization has deployed, is implementing, or is experimenting with AI. This gap suggests that many organizations are waiting to see how AI works for peers before adopting for themselves, essentially becoming “fast followers.”


However, as the AAAC explained in its report, in the context of AI, being a “fast follower” may be a harmful strategy. To explain that reasoning, the AAAC pointed to research that Vikram Mahidhar and Thomas H. Davenport published in Harvard Business Review on the topic:

“By the time a late adopter has done all the necessary preparation, earlier adopters will have taken considerable market share — they’ll be able to operate at substantially lower costs with better performance. In short, the winners may take all and late adopters may never catch up.”

In order to accelerate the ethical adoption of AI for advancement, the AAAC believes the best solution to the “fast follower” strategy is through education. In fact, the group has committed to closing the gap between the awareness of AI and how it can be used in the industry by constantly monitoring and reporting on outcomes that AI produces for advancement.

AI and the Advancement Workforce

Any new technology, including AI, poses a risk to the workers in an industry. Understanding the distinction to uplevel, rather than displace the workforce, the AAAC’s report also analyzed the jobs and roles that will change in advancement because of AI and identified where pathways need to be created to ensure professionals have reskilling opportunities.

For example, the AAAC recognized that those with job functions that include fundraising, advancement services, prospect development, communications, donor relations, and stewardship all have a high risk for AI to influence their position. You can have a look for yourself where the AAAC recommends developing career reskilling pathways for these workers in the full State of AI in Advancement Report.

The Pledge for AI in Advancement

The AAAC concluded its first State of AI in Advancement Report by calling all organizations to consider a code of honor in the form of a pledge when adopting AI for advancement to ensure that the technology has a positive impact on philanthropic efforts, across the board. AAAC member, Kim Rich spoke about why this pledge is so significant to the overall report.

“As artificial intelligence revolutionizes what’s possible in advancement, it’s incredibly important that we remember why we’ve committed our careers to organizations and missions that propel society forward,” said AAAC member Kim D. Rich, Executive Director Advancement Services, The Medical University of South Carolina. “The AAAC has included an AI Pledge in our study to address these ethical concerns and we encourage all organizations to consider this pledge as they determine how they will use AI in their work.”

Each member of the AAAC signed The Pledge for AI in Advancement, committing to promoting human values, full transparency, workforce training, shared benefits, open dialogue, and a structure for elevating trust as AI is applied in advancement. The full pledge is available in AAAC’s report.

For more on what Westmont College is doing with AI for advancement, read this blog by Dr. Reed Sheard and Adam Martel.

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About the Author
Kevin LeahyKevin Leahy is the director of marketing at Gravyty, the first and leading AI company focused solely on social good. A creative problem-solver, Kevin is energized by transforming what’s possible for organizations attempting to change the world across higher education, the nonprofit sector, and healthcare. In his career, he’s helped high-growth technology companies recognize and execute on market opportunities. You can find Kevin on LinkedIn.