6 real-life examples of Machine Learning deployments for non-profits

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are two terms we hear a lot, are often treated as interchangable, and sometimes mis-represented, but for all that, they are technology innovations which have the potential to radically improve the quality of life of individuals the world over.

At TechsmartNFP 2019 I gave a talk which shared a number of real-life examples to show how non-profits have been able to put AI and/or ML to good use already, from some basic everyday communications applications, to some implementations which appear to belong in the latest sci-fi blockbuster.

Featured here I wanted to give 6 real-world applications which non-profits and their beneficiaries are benefiting from right now, which are accessible and adaptable to many a charity or health-related network today.

The final section of the article then describes how AI-based Chatbots can be deployed to help deal with the overhead of routine administrative tasks, so hopefully there’s something here for everyone!

Troll Patrol

With digital communications tools readily available to everyone, online trolls can disrupt organisations and target particular individuals. To tackle this issue, Amnesty International pioneered a machine learning and crowdsourcing tool that can spot online abuse automatically and enable organisations to remove it.

The Troll Patrol can identify racist, sexist, or homophobic tweets, among other objectionable content and eliminate the abuse. In an era of polarized rhetoric and hate speech across all channels, but especially on Social Media, this is highly relevant for non-profits.

Crisis Text Line

Crisi Text Line still implements a human-to-human volunteer model, but the tech non-profit has the largest open source database of youth crisis behaviour in the US, and has been able to use AI to dramatically shorten response time for high-risk texters from 120 seconds to 39.

Crisis Text Line leveraged machine learning to identify the term “ibuprofen” as 16 times more likely to predict the need for emergency aid than the word “suicide.” Now using AI, messages containing the word “ibuprofen” are prioritized in the queue.

Protecting Endangered Animals

PAWS, is an application developed by a team of researchers dedicated to combating poaching. The application is using modeling and machine learning to give park rangers the information they need to predict poachers’ actions and stop them.

Digital Health Assistant

Reason Digital is teaming up with Parkinson’s UK, the Stroke Association, Muscular Dystrophy UK and the MS Society to develop the Digital Health Assistant project, which is set to transform the way medical advice and information is delivered to almost half-a-million people in the UK.

The Digital Health Assistant (DHA) will use machine learning to develop an understanding of the person being supported and continues to adapt to their needs over time based on interactions. This allows DHA to provide emailed content and support specific to the individual’s needs, making it more effective than current alternatives.


Text4baby, a free nonprofit service from Wellpass in cooperation with CTIA Wireless Foundation, uses a chatbot to provide critical health and safety information for pregnant women and mothers with infants in the US.

This chatbot covers an impressive array of critical topics including nutrition, immunization, breastfeeding, and car seat safety, and is available in English or Spanish. Those who use the app receive free text messages three times per week, timed to their baby’s due date or birth date, from pregnancy up until their baby’s first birthday.

Finance, Governance and Fraud Detection

Fraud and corruption are major challenges for any kind of organization as it is hard to monitor every financial transaction and business contract.The non-profit sector is facign ever-greater scrutiny of its behaviours and governance, with the damage caused by any negative publicity potentially disastrous for individuals and causes alike.

AI tools can help managers automatically detect actions that warrant additional investigation. Businesses long have used AI and ML to create early warning systems, spot abnormalities, and thereby minimize financial misconduct. These tools offer ways to combat fraud and detect unusual transactions.

Routine Administrative Tasks

AI-based Chatbots, which we’ve all encountered, automate conversations for commonly asked questions through text messaging or telephone. A chatbot is a type of software that produces intelligent, automated responses to common questions in order to hold a “conversation” with a user. It stands to follow then, that AI algorithms can enable efficient and effective communications with both internal and external audiences.

Chatbots can help with customer service and routine requests, such as how to contribute money, address a budget question, or learn about upcoming programs. They can manage first-line support queries and subsequently direct those queries to human personnel as needed. Chatbots can even schedule appointments.

In addition, AI can automate repetitive tasks, reducing the risk of human inputting errors, accelerating accurate data collection and ensuring an organization’s donor outreach is seamless and timely.

Schedule and reschedule meetings, send out briefings, set reminders – AI is primed to handle these types of routine obligations and applications already exist to manage these tasks. A message to schedule, postpone, or cancel a meeting is sent to an office bot, via SMS or other software-enabled tool, and the bot first scans a person’s calendar before scheduling the meeting. Then, it automatically sends alerts to involved parties.

AI completes the task, saving time, labour and flaws of human involvement. Afterward, it can automatically send meeting minutes to all involved parties, arrange introductions among individuals, and even book travel. That’s pretty handy and supremely efficient


This gives a few simple examples which show that non-profits have been able to harness AI/ML to deliver better services, or deliver them more widely, or more consistently, and are intended to encourage others to follow suit. This entails identifying appropriate use cases for your non-profit, exploring possibilities, experimenting, learning, tuning and trying again. It takes elements of bravery, degrees of effort and a willingness to fail then start over, but the opportunities do make that a worthwhile investment.


The drive for non-profits to really engage with AI

Despite the potentially off-putting hype and noise around Artificial Intelligence and “the rise of the machines” the reality is that AI and machine learning are technologies which have arrived and are on the verge of being mainstream.

Projects to evaluate, implement and deploy these technologies are now both appropriate and affordable, and whilst they must of course be treated with caution, they now represent arguably the biggest opportunity for non-profits who are striving to stay relevant and to radically enhance the services and benefits they offer to their supporters, members and beneficiaries alike.

What does this mean in practice?

The deployment of AI and ML technology can mean many things but the real benefit they bring to non-profits is in the ability they offer to mine and manipulate data at scale. Data is the lifeblood of non-profits; whether that’s to be able to understand more about donors and supporters and thereby to create deeper, more valuable relationships, or whether it’s used to analyse vast quantities of data in ever-decreasing timeframes, to identify and provide back critical information to beneficiaries or service users.

In the latest example of this, delivering a ground-breaking innovation, Muscular Dystrophy UK, Reason Digital, Parkinsons’ UK, the Stroke Association, and the MS Society have joined in an unprecedented partnership to harness the power of AI for good, creating the UK’s first AI health assistant. The Digital Health Assistant (DHA) is set to transform the way medical advice and information is delivered to millions of people in the UK.

The DHA will use machine learning to develop an understanding of the person being supported and continues to adapt to their needs over time based on interactions. This allows DHA to provide emailed content and support specific to an individual’s needs, making it vastly more effective than current alternatives.

This real-world implementation of AI for good, by a coalition of charities, spells out the opportunity for every non-profit to innovate and to harness the latest technologies in support of their cause. The technology is now science-fact and our challenge is to be brave enough to embrace it, to put it to use, and to derive a series of benefits for the whole of society.


This article was first published by Synergy in print format

What does digital transformation mean in reality for non-profits

Lunchtime at TechsmartNFP 2019 saw a panel discussion around one of the sector catchphrases of 2019: digital transformation. The premise being, it may be all the rage but what does it mean in reality for non-profits.

It was a lively session, addressing important topics, and some key elements were captured below for a wider audience to benefit from.

To discuss this hot topic, we put together a panel comprising gigital technology experts

  • Gordon Glenister, Global Head of Influencer Marketing, Branded Content Marketing Association
  • Marc Goblot, Founder/Digital tech Consultant and Architect, Ina Ciel Digital Ltd
  • Panel Chair Sarah Hathaway, Chief Operating Officer, Institute of Student Employers

Evolution or revolution?

To kick off the debate, Marc and Gordon filled delegates in on their own work backgrounds and what they are doing now, with Marc spending many years in the creative industries as a lead technologist before joining Accenture and then founding Ina Ciel, a specialised digital experience technology consultancy. Gordon has been a business professional for more than 30 years, helping organisations understand that membership communities are a key part of their marketing strategies.

Marc says: “Digital transformation is embedding digital technology into everything you do and how you work, but it’s really about how it’s going to help you deliver more value, operate more efficiently and deliver what members/customers/constituents want and need from you.”

“An organisation’s strategy is extremely important but digital transformation means different things to different people. You have to really think about your audience and their personas – how are you going to communicate with them?,” says Gordon.

Question: What can technology enable?

Marc: Technology can automate, centralise and manage your data, derive value for you, enable you to scale your activities, connect everything you do together so data flows smoothly both internally and externally.

It allows you to deliver your messages and creates channels for you to do that, so that you can reach the people you want to reach. However, to get out to where they are, you have to be aware of the channels you need to use to achieve this.

Gordon: Technology should allow organisations to be completely member-focused. However, organisations don’t always have people and resources for a large CRM change. AI is important but focus on the CRM that you need, that is fit for purpose and imagine what that might look like or what you might look like over the next few years.

Question: What does transition look like?

Gordon: It’s a step change – gradually involve all your stakeholders and staff – don’t hit them with everything at once. Think about a new website but involve your constituents/customers – what do they want out of it? Remember, audience first.

Marc: Many organisations are working in their traditional silos. Think about what needs to be done – everyone should be aligned to the common goals of the organisation. Develop teams based around capabilities and an end to end journey – align yourself to that rather than functional silos.

Question: Many organisations are operating with very small teams – they don’t have dedicated technology people/data scientists – what are their options?

Marc: Build more collaboration – partner with someone who can provide the capabilities that you need – develop the links you need outside your organisation.

Gordon: Until you start to collaborate, you won’t know what is out there – it’s a question of finding the resources you require – think about what you need.

Take-away quotes:

Gordon: “Digital transformation is not just something that might be nice for you to have, it is essential.”

Marc: “I have seen how non-profits have developed since the 1990s and what I believe now is that it is very important for you to take the lessons learned in other sectors to help on your own digital transformation journey.”

Sarah: “Staff should feel that they have been part of the transformation and it’s not something that has just been done to them.”

AI: A new hope?

We need to figure out how to bring people together from all over the world to solve problems and create the right solutions globally, says Kriti Sharma, founder of AI for Good UK, whose vision for the future is that AI is utilised equally and fairly to make decisions that are ethical, just and for the benefit of all humanity.

AI is a big responsibility for people who work in the sector – we need to evolve in terms of ethics as a profession.

“The technology industry has a diversity problem at the moment and needs to figure out how to be more inclusive globally – it’s all about bringing people together and building the right teams with the right people, with right skills, working for social justice,” she told delegates at TechSmart 2019.

“There is a growing sentiment in the industry which recognises that mistakes have been made which now we need to fix. Human biases have been injected into the digital world by data that has been fed into the machines. However, the good news is that we can fix it!”

AI should level the playing field, says Kriti, “we have to make sure it is applied to solve the right problems, that it is developed for the common good and benefit of humanity, not just to provide a company’s advertisements with more clicks.”

Digital technology in action

Recent projects that AI for Good UK has been involved with, where a digital solution has been employed to help vulnerable people, include rAInbow, an AI chatbot that helps victims of domestic abuse in South Africa find help and support, especially when traditional agencies are not available out of normal working hours. In 10 months there have been more than 300,000 consultations.

“For many women, this is a very lonely journey with no support and a complete lack of belief in any system that might help them. There is often a lot of stigma and shame associated with domestic violence. We wanted to create a digital tool to give them the help when they needed it, where women could speak freely and privately,” says Kriti.

She has also been collaborating with younger people around the world and recently spearheaded the launch of the Sage Future Makers Lab, a forum that hopes to equip young people with skills to enter a career in artificial intelligence.

“I have worked with some AI technologists recently, aged 12-17, and the way that they have been using technology has given me hope – they want to be creative and empathic in their use of technology. They are interested in projects that assist people or tackle climate change. My impression generally is that they are lacking role models.”

AI: The key issues

  • AI has to reflect diversity
  • AI should be held accountable
  • Reward AI for showing transparency
  • Self-regulation is not the answer
  • People are the key not just the technology

The biggest challenge will be user trust: building ethics by design will be crucial for success

Re-imagining technology to put people first

Where the heart is

Salesforce.org is the social heart of salesforce.com, empowering tens of thousands of non-profits and educational institutions through technology, grants and volunteering programmes, Richard Young told delegates at TechSmart 2019.

“Our goal is to enable each and every one of our customers, partners, grantees and community members to create more impact in the world.”

“More than 80% of people you deal with say that experience is the most important thing and it’s important these days to break away from a traditional marketing approach such as newsletters – you have to change and move forward.”

The average person is carrying three connecting devices with them and has yet more devices at home, says Richard, “you have to look at your different audiences and you have to change your marketing efforts to match the device they are using at the time – whether at home or outside. Find out where your people are and connect with them wherever they are.”

Many non-profits face significant organisational changes as they are often using multiple systems and have siloed people and data, which need to be broken down. “You must have a co-ordinated system to increase engagement with your constituents,” says Richard.

Salesforce.org: Our path to impact

  • Technology for social change
  • Investment in the EMEA region through grants
  • Community of citizen philanthropists (three million volunteer hours)
  • Impact

“Use digital technology to optimise donations and volunteering, and personalise very interaction; make meaningful connections at every stage of the constituent’s journey by staying relevant with intelligent personalisation at scale,” says Richard.

Leverage Einstein AI to drive better interactions

  • Einstein-Powered Experiences: Orchestrate every interaction with the power of AI
    Intelligent and Actionable Insights: Listen, interpret, and respond to constituent intent
    Right Content, Right Channel: Personalise based on attributes, preferences, and location
    Constituent Rights and Trust: Create authentic communications based on consent

It is important to engage at every touchpoint through the constituent’s journey, says Richard, “by personalising journeys from awareness to advocacy; using data dynamically to tailor your message; integrating email, mobile, ads, social, web and apps; and breaking down silos to connect and engage with people right across your organisation.”

Intelligent marketing helps build relationships and will blaze your trail to success


Fundraising AI: Where man and machine merge

‘Every day we’re empowering our non-profit clients to use their website as a tool to drive impact and raise funds for causes they dedicate their time to’, is the mission statement of joyful.org, provider of charity and non-profit websites, fundraising and marketing tools in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Tom Latchford, joyful.org’s founder, shared his vision and belief with delegates at TechSmart 2019, that by merging man and machine, non-profits can expand their reach and maximise their impact.

Tom used some real time examples to demonstrate how harnessing digital technology can significantly improve an organisation’s fundraising potential in the marketplace, such as accessing Google Ad Grants.

The Google Ad Grants programme provides non-profits with the chance to advertise on Google Ads at no cost to the non-profit. This programme gives qualified organisations $10,000 per month in Google Ads spend to be used to promote their missions and initiatives on Google.com.

“This is a unique opportunity – non-profits appear against advertisements that other companies may not want to advertise against and Google Ad Grants offers tools that can make organisations massively more successful at recruiting donors and fundraising,” says Tom.

“At joyful.org, we build more than just websites, we help non-profits take back control of their digital presence and raise millions for hundreds of charities through our versatile platform, which is all about getting charities results, seeing results in real time and scaling your success.”

“Our mission is to spread joy and inspiration, to heal suffering around the world, as well as helping to distribute the world’s wealth around to all who need it.

Joyful.org is mobilising the world’s wealth to bring joy and help the suffering

People, process and technology: leaving the legacy behind

Escape from the legacy association software cycle!

Non-profit organisations and NGOs are under served by legacy vendors and they should have the right to buy effective software that runs both in non-profits and for profits, says Paul Lundy, President and Co-Founder of Fonteva, which provides an association management solution built on the Salesforce platform.

Speaking at the recent TechSmart 2019 event, Paul told delegates that they were in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution but probably using technology which is lagging behind: “If your technology doesn’t allow you to grow you are probably with a legacy provider.

“Most people just want all their data in a single place so that they can access it to make good business decisions. Legacy systems have narrow functionality and are usually costly to upgrade. What tends to happen is that when you try to connect everything up you get data silos.

An organisation’s needs and requirements will inevitably change but the actual members’ needs remain largely the same – training and certification, professional development, networking, job search and industry news.

“What has changed is their expectation and that has been shaped by what’s happening in the rest of their lives – they literally want the equivalent of the Amazon Prime buying experience.

“There is challenge in meeting these expectations and rapid technological advances are making it difficult to keep up with these, especially if your own technology is limited and not enabling.”

At Fonteva, they believe in the development of technology on a global scale: “Our technology allows you to transact in any country in any language,” says Paul.

However, he warned, It is not only about the technology, it’s about the people and processes too; if the team does not buy into your strategy and future plans then technology will not work for you. “Your processes may be out of date and it may be hard to justify them, but it can be even harder to change them.

“The cards are stacked against you unless you are smart and engage across the whole organisation not just the technology department, and driven by leadership but it is vital that you choose the correct and enabling technology to begin with.”

Keys to successful digital transformation

  • Align and involve leaders
  • Empower your people
  • Focus your initiatives on top priorities
  • Create ambassadors within the organisation
  • Stay flexible and agile
  • Keep people engaged

Shifting demographics, data silos, increasingly high member expectations, rapid technology advancement – no shortage of challenges here to engage with your members and staff

Rising to the challenge of Industry 4.0

Preparing for tomorrow, today

The pace, scale and impact of Industry 4 is like nothing we have ever seen before – the first human tissue has been 3D printed in Tel-Aviv, quantum computing is a reality, routine tasks are already being performed by algorithms – and the technology associated with Industry 4 will transform how we live.

In this era of turmoil and unprecedented change, organisations must equip themselves with digital capability which maximises their ability to rapidly adapt and respond to external factors. And the pace of change means non-profit organisations must prepare for this now, Paul Johnson, Director, CTI digital told delegates at TechSmart 2019.

“The question is are you able to evolve quickly enough to keep up with this rapid pace of change?”

Additionally, says Paul, expectation inflation is something that everyone can resonate with these days and it’s so much harder for smaller brands to replicate the Uber, Deliveroo or Amazon experience, when they so often are operating with ageing and siloed technologies.

“Non-profit organisations and and NGOs must equip themselves with the technology that will allow them to adapt to change – all too often we are seeing them operate with a patchwork of systems that are costly and out of date. As digital consultants we frequently see experience, content and data existing in multiple silos, leading to disjointed customer experiences.”

You have to get the basics right, says Paul, no more clumsy integrations, no more fragmented user experiences but most of all, you have to meet your users’ needs and expectations – it’s time to join the dots. “We are talking about global inter-connected cloud systems equipped with APIs that overcome data challenges like analytics blind spots and fragmented user experiences.

“You will need a platform that delivers quality, speed and price, using data during the fact (not after) to make better decisions, so that your people can start focusing time on working to exceed user expectations. And you can use these platforms to create new real world partnerships with other institutions and businesses.”

“It’s time to rethink how you consider technology, harness the potential of readily available tools, and focus on making processes quicker to complete and menial tasks easier to manage. Then you can free up more time for complex tasks and make better thought out decisions.”

Key take-aways

  • Got to remain relevant and of value
  • Focus on making routine tasks easier
  • Use the tools that are available
  • Imagine things that are remarkable

“There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril.” Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum


Non-profits using their data for optimised decision-making

Analytics: Key to finding your missing link

From enabling Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to help more sick children, to assisting colleges to identify and support students who may be struggling and therefore reduce attrition, Einstein Analytics has allowed these organisations to use utilise their data to improve and enhance their decision-making processes.

At TechSmart 2019, Sisu Berhane, Senior Partner Success Manager – EMEA at salesforce.org described for delegates the pathway to becoming data driven, whereby you can use your data to describe what is happening, why it is happening, calculating what will happen next, and finally deciding what should happen in the future.

“The baseline is actually having data and that’s ground zero. Where you start to become data driven is when you can describe what has happened using your data, then gain an insight and find answers, which subsequently takes you to the predictive and prescriptive stages – not many systems can do this and this is where AI comes in,” says Sisu.

The important thing to do first though, she told delegates, is to find out exactly where you are – and what you need to improve. “It is the equivalent of putting your own mask on first during an aircraft emergency before you can save anyone else.”

Key questions

  • Who does what and how much does that cost?
  • What should we start to do – what should we stop doing or keep doing?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • How can we optimise the working experience for our staff?
  • Do we have a profit and loss for everything we do at the unit level?

“There are three types of analytics: Traditional business analytics that are static and number crunching; visualisation, where data is optimised but only for a few people and information is still generated by data specialists but not directly accessible by the user; and an intelligent experience for every business process, aimed at end users performing day-to-day functions. It is user centric – not restricted to the tech team and tied into all the business processes,” says Sisu.

“If you don’t have intelligence linked to business process it’s of no use and the data you have is useless. Creating an intelligent experience requires a combination of business apps, analytics and AI, all of which have to be connected. AI must be embedded for optimal decision-making and the system must be simple for people to use, with a natural language interface.”

Benefits of Einstein Analytics

  • Native to CRM
  • Connected
  • Complete
  • Intelligent
  • Enterprise ready

“Becoming a data driven non-profit is not a linear journey; it will need constant refining and if actions are feeding foresight it should never end.”

“With Salesforce, we can raise more money at a lower cost, which means we can give more help to the children, families, and staff of Great Ormond Street Hospital.” Tim Johnson, Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity


Powering the vision at Twins Trust

Congratulations – it’s a rebrand!

A rebrand, Dynamics CRM implementation and a new website, all within nine months – this was the vision of Twins Trust, and was achieved with the commitment, partnership and hard work of both the organisation and Bluelight CRM, who shared their journey with delegates at TechSmart 2019.

A UK-wide charity, Twins Trust (formerly TAMBA) aims to improve the lives of twins and triplets and their families, offering support through a network of regional clubs and online resources throughout pregnancy, birth and beyond. The charity also has a clear strategy to align with national campaigns to reduce stillbirth and neonatal death – mothers of twins and triplets are at particularly high risk of miscarriage during pregnancy.

Head of Membership, Emma Collins, told delegates: “Our vision is happy, healthy babies and families who are supported. However, despite our best efforts, we weren’t reaching everybody that we would like to – we needed to widen our reach to families and to health professionals, as well as offer much more support to our clubs regionally. We found that we had ‘old technology’ which did not give us the support we needed.

“Our data was not perfect either; we were unable to get a single and full picture of all our members, and we could not personalise our communications. We learned very early on that data preparation is key; no matter how much time you think it’s going to take, double it and more. If the data is not right to begin with then nothing you do will be right.”

On 21 October this year, coinciding with the charity’s 40th anniversary, the new website and rebrand was launched successfully, and Twins Trust is seeing immediate benefits. “It has freed up staff time because our systems now take care of so much that used to be done manually and the way we use our data now has made everything so much easier,” says Emma.

Marios Chrysanthou, MD Bluelight CRM adds: “There are always going to be challenges and constraints but the key is to prepare as much as you can. There is no barrier to new technology but It’s not just about the technology; it’s about going on a journey together and planning is the key. At Bluelight we are committed to supporting people professionally and personally, and that’s why our relationships work so well.”

“It has been life-changing for us as a charity,” says Emma

Key take-aways

  • Bring people along for the journey and engage them – Internal communications are vital
  • Make sure that everybody understands the vision
  • Ensure that you and your external partners work well together and have an open and transparent relationship
  • Have measurable goals

Prepare for bumps in the road and work through it together!