Responsible AI Use: How and Why to Start Developing Policies

Artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay. The technology presents as much benefit to nonprofits as it does risk. Read more about why it’s important and how to use this new tool responsibly.


The responsible use of artificial intelligence has been a concern across the nonprofit sector for a while now. This tech isn’t going anywhere—it’s on every organization to use it responsibly.

Leaders in the space have already worked to develop ethical frameworks that help to define responsible use for nonprofits clearly. The Responsible AI Framework from the Fundraising.AI collaborative is one example. The conversation on AI regulation has reached the federal level, too, as demonstrated by President Biden’s recent Executive Order.

Let’s take a closer look at how to develop responsible policies and how they can positively impact your nonprofit.

Understanding AI’s Risks and Concerns

First, some context. What risks and concerns does responsible AI usage address? These are some of the most commonly cited risks:

  • Data privacy and security, relating to how end users, software vendors, and third-party data suppliers gather and use data to train AI algorithms
  • Perpetuated biases and discrimination via feedback loops that produce generalized, stereotyped, or simply inaccurate predictions and responses about people
  • Unintended consequences of blindly using AI outputs without human oversight and judgment, like sharing incorrect, misleading, or harmful messages

With a rapidly changing regulatory landscape, keeping up with requirements and best practices can itself become a challenge. To learn more about these risks and the ethical frontiers of AI, explore the DonorSearch guide to responsible AI usage.

How to Start Implementing Responsible AI Practices

You’ll need a solid baseline understanding of AI and an operating data management system to develop responsible use policies for your nonprofit and chart out your organization’s future. But how? Use these tips to get started:

  1. Develop an initial set of concrete policies. You can refine them over time, but you need to start somewhere. What are the specific tools you use? Who will have access to them? How will you audit the quality of their outputs? How will you keep your underlying data clean, accurate, and helpful?
  2. Thoroughly vet all AI vendors. Your policies should also detail how you’ll choose vendors for AI software and third-party data suppliers (like prospect research databases). Establish a clear set of criteria about vendors’ security protocols, certifications, testimonials, data provenance, and more to use when searching for new tools.
  3. Train your staff and board. Everyone on your team who will directly use AI technology needs a thorough understanding of how to use it correctly per your policies. But even those who won’t use it still need to be familiar with your tools, what you use them for, and your policies so that they can effectively speak about it with stakeholders.
  4. Inform donors and collect consent. This will likely be the biggest donor-facing change, and it’s also among the most important. Notify donors that you’ll be using the data you collect from your interactions (names, addresses, donation history, etc.) to train an AI algorithm that will help you improve your operations. Use a blanket announcement, an opt-out period for existing donors, and a new disclosure and opt-out checkbox on your online forms. You will need a place to store the data needed to train your model and keep track of consent.
  5. Create (and stick to) a model and data hygiene routine. The quality of your data directly impacts the usefulness, accuracy, and ethical standing of your AI tech’s outputs. Develop a routine for auditing and cleaning up your database, establish clear entry protocols (like for dates), and ensure that any data vendors have robust hygiene practices, too. Model behavior can easily drift over time, and it’s important to have a plan that ensures your model will continue to provide the results you’re looking for.

How Responsible AI Use Policies Help Nonprofits: 4 Key Benefits

What are the benefits that your nonprofit will see after successfully implementing these responsible use best practices and establishing concrete policies?

  • Your policies will demonstrate respect and responsibility. Showing the new steps you’re taking to use your AI tech positions your organization as active and responsible. Be upfront about your new tools and actively collect consent to show respect and appreciation for donors’ involvement in your work.
  • You’ll protect your organization and your community. Creating guardrails in your policies protects your organization from legal and reputational harm. It also protects your community from data security concerns and the potential negative impacts of using unsupervised AI outputs.
  • Policies will show that you’re tech-savvy and adaptable. Show that your organization is at the forefront of innovation. This can increase trust and overall excitement among your community to see the increased impact your approach will generate.
  • Responsible use sets you up for long-term success. For nonprofits, AI has a lot of potential—improved fundraising, streamlined logistics, smarter communication, and more. By approaching AI use responsibly, you can ensure that your use of AI stays focused on the right problems for your organization. Be prepared to grow and adapt alongside both the technology and its regulations.

Responsible and transparent use of AI will help you foster an engaged base of support that’s confident in your organization’s abilities. These benefits can strengthen your overall image and reputation with donors, making it easier to forge new connections, reach new donors, and secure grant funding.

If you’re ready to unlock your organization’s potential with new AI tools, you’ll need to build a stable foundation. From this investment of your time and resources, you can see significant returns, all helping you push your mission further than ever.

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Note: This is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on, for legal advice. We recommend consulting with a lawyer and referencing local law to determine how to properly protect your organization.

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