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AI and the future it can create for Not-for-Profits

Posted by  Christopher Brewer

With advances in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, the times – to paraphrase Bob Dylan – are a changin’.

While some might fear these changes, Unit4’s Chris Brewer believes it is an exciting future for the not-for-profit sector. At the Humentum Annual Conference, which will be held July 25-27 in Washington, D.C., Chris and Laura Winiarski of Panorama Consulting Solutions will co-present an exciting session entitled “The Finance Robots are Coming: The Future of Not-for-Profit Accounting.”

For more than 25 years, Chris has worked with some of the world’s largest Not-for-Profits and Non-Governmental Organizations to enhance their technological capacity. He has witnessed how the nature of not-for-profits has become one of competition. These organizations must now be able to tell donors, “I’m the best place to put your money because I am going to give you the biggest return,” Chris said.

He explained that “you have always been able to give correlation but not causation in social sciences.” Now, thank to technology this is changing and it will be big for the not-for-profits who embrace it.

“AI is so powerful. Machine learning is so important that for the first time they will be able to cross that chasm and create impact reporting that will qualify for every dollar spent I get this type of social impact – the outcome. They have never been able to do that before. … Big data and machine learning is going to be able to give them the opportunity to do that – and to find out where the money is poorly spent,” said Chris, noting that being able to see where investment is not yielding impact and being able to make decisions to abandon fruitless projects earlier has great value.

We had an opportunity to speak with Chris and to ask him about the upcoming Humentum Annual Conference and his co-presentation.

What do you enjoy most about the Humentum Annual Conference?

“I think what I enjoy most about the Humentum Conference is the opportunity to share ideas and to be challenged by such a diverse and disparate set of industry leaders. There is no other conference that brings together such a diverse group of people – in their job titles, the organizations they represent, and their need to try to solve for some of the world’s biggest problems. It’s impressive.”

What excites you the most about the topic of your presentation?

“What excites me the most about speaking about artificial intelligence is the opportunity to dissuade the fear around the inevitable march of technology. As a group, Not-for-Profits and international NGOs tend to be technology trailers. They could benefit the most from being early adopters. It has frustrated me my whole career that organizations whose goal is social impact have almost railed against the technology that would enable them to do that better.”

AI developments will affect all sectors. What makes non-profit accounting unique?

“What makes AI so important in the not-for-profit space is their form of accounting is not about measuring net revenue – the profit. It is about social impact. Measuring impact has always eluded the not-for-profit space. When you talk to organizations and solicit money from individuals and make requests for dollars, they say, ‘What am I going to get for that dollar.’ AI, in my opinion, is going to be able to put together disparate bits of information that they have in their database about their projects and programs and the constituents that they serve and be able to qualify and quantify that social impact for that spend for the first time in a way that is economically feasible for them to do so.”

What do you think is the most exciting thing about AI coming out and the day-to-day impact on not-for-profits?

“We are going to move away from repetitive, non-value-added activities to activities that add value to those constituents that you serve. Would somebody in Africa pay to have you produce your Excel spreadsheet and see if it balances or spend that $50 in labor delivering food parcels. I don’t need people to do account reconciliation anymore. We can automate that. …

“Those types of manual activities will go away and we can spend time saying to the CEOs and CFOs ‘I know the data you have given me to analyze and we could better spend the money using this vendor over that vendor.”

What does Laura Winiarski of Panorama Consulting Solutions bring to the table?

“Laura brings a customer advocacy perspective. … The advantage of Panorama, or Laura, in particular, is her ability to articulate the current business problem and the negative consequences into a future state and help organizations match technology providers to that.”

What would you like people to take away from your session?

“I hope it removes the fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the role of technology in their careers and the impact it will have on their organizations.”

To learn more about Unit4 at Humentum and to see how we can support your organization visit our Unit4 at Humentum 2018 website.

To book a private meeting upfront please register here.

Christopher Brewer

Chris has more than 25 years experience working with some of the world's largest Not-for-Profits and NGOs to enhance their technological capacity. As a Global Lead, Not-for-Profit, Chris focuses on helping leaders identify and address changing patterns in philanthropy and shifts in technology to ensure their organizations' ongoing success and increase social impact.