Article | May 18, 2021
Nonprofit Storytelling in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
In Colin Angle's words, "It's going to be interesting to see how society deals with artificial intelligence, but it will definitely be cool."
A couple of years ago, if you mentioned the term "Artificial Intelligence" in a nonprofit board meeting, there's a good chance people would have rolled their eyes. Today, 73% of nonprofits believe that AI innovation aligns with their beliefs, and 75% believe that AI makes their life easier. Although the nonprofit sector is still catching up with the private sector when it comes to AI implementation, most believe it is a powerful tool.
Low code and cost-effective AI solutions are starting to be used by nonprofits in a variety of different ways. From resolving the food and water crisis to streamlining donor communications, AI is a crucial value add revolutionizing how the nonprofit sector operates today.
Building a culture of impactful storytelling using AI
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the US. But with only 20% of nonprofits' funding being unrestricted, about two-thirds of them struggle to raise their budget over $500,000. Most organizations at some point get stagnant and gradually diminish in a type of ‘dead-end alley’, even though they have seen huge fundraising successes before.
As the nonprofit sector becomes more competitive, it becomes increasingly difficult for nonprofits to attract supporters to their causes. But in the world we live in today, charity organizations have their sway - the fine art of storytelling.
The brain releases oxytocin (a hormone that acts as a chemical messenger in the brain) when it gets indulged in storytelling. Besides its various other functions, oxytocin also controls aspects of human behavior. That is why when stories unfold interestingly, they move us to tears, engage us and even inspire us to take action. Humans are social creatures who tend to affiliate themselves with strangers. Stories are an effective medium to transmit information and values from one person or community to another.
The best action plan for nonprofits to bring good storytelling to life could be to play along with this concept and identify themes for ongoing and meaningful narrations.
In the age of big data, organizations need to perform due diligence by collecting hard data to support their point. Churning a good story that can tug at the heartstrings by itself is not enough.
Most organizations track different metrics to illustrate their effectiveness to stakeholders. Today, 87% of nonprofit professionals believe data is crucial for their organization. Data tells the donors that a campaign's purpose is not hypothetical but based on research. Additionally, data helps organizations narrate the same story in various ways to appeal to a larger audience group. You can use multiple data sets and present different angles of the single story or splinter it into pieces depending upon whom you want to narrate it to.
Story or data by itself is not alone to capture audience attention.
Building a context is only part of the game; data is the winning hand.
Here's an example:
Story only: Mental illness is a leading cause of disability in Canada. Our nonprofit is joining hands to support people in distress and help them cope with mental health issues.
Data + Story: By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 deal with some form of mental illness. We need more hands joining our cause to help people cope with mental health problems.
Using AI in different ways to churn your stories
The actual cause, the mission of the nonprofit, and the direction of the campaign's story is a very human activity. Often, AI helps with the heavy lifting of executing a nonprofit story.
Artificial Intelligence and humans are perfect co-creators.
Stories by identifying content gaps: Nonprofits often struggle with content gaps across various communication channels because of which the right message does not reach the right audience group. Given the lack of resources (shoe-string budgets, lean teams), most organizations omit the hard work of getting to know their audience and their interests, and other nitty-gritties that would move the needle on their real goals - raising funds.
Top-tier organizations today rely on intelligent machine learning and data analytics tools like Hopeful to make data-driven decisions. Hopeful Inc. is the first Social Fundtech and Storytelling AI company that helps nonprofits tell compelling stories by harnessing the power of data. It provides a single dashboard to manage nonprofit social campaigns and track effectiveness in real-time and offers a groundbreaking technology - Storytelling AI. This innovation empowers organizations with hard data and creative ideas such as best times to post, trending hashtags, and even content drafts to help them craft compelling stories.
Stories inspired by fieldwork: Rainforest Connection uses Google's TensorFlow to detect illegal logging in vulnerable forest areas by analyzing audio-sensor data. The data helps scientists compare timely changes to the most endangered ecosystems. The organization uses this data for land management, implementing policy changes, and allocating resources to protect these species. Besides, all this data is used in different ways to tell people about their mission, their ongoing action plan, and how they need help from the public to realize their purpose.
Creating stories by predictive analytics: The Whitney Museum of American Art built a predictive model and informed a large part of donors on their mailing list about their fundraising campaign. Within the first six months of modelling, they received a $10k donation from a donor they would not have mailed otherwise.
Predictive analytics helps non-traditional fundraisers to boost their fundraising efforts by identifying whom to target and how to allocate resources to maximize fundraising results. From donor information to marketing touch point records, NPOs collect a lot of data that can be used for predictive analytics and converted into actionable insights. The breadth of information like the donor demographics, their age and occupation, their interest in philanthropy and their association with other nonprofits can all be used for predictions to create more effective storytelling.
I guess most of you will agree that we have not yet seen Artificial Intelligence how we have envisaged it. The future is so much bigger than the present, and nonprofit storytelling is just one minuscule example of how much potential AI holds for this sector.
To build a culture of storytelling, nonprofit leaders must leap to inspire and propel the practice of storytelling from the top down throughout the organization. The ability to weave ideas and data, insights into a strong narrative will enable organizations to improve their storytelling efforts. In the course, impactful storytelling will seep into day-to-day nonprofit communications.
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