Meeting nonprofit challenges with AI: Research identifies key opportunities

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Community Hub.

For dedicated nonprofit professionals, burnout is a particularly painful challenge. Afterall, we get into this sector because we have a drive to do good. Without that drive, how can we succeed? And burnout is just one of many challenges nonprofits are facing today. Many factors impact nonprofits today—including staffing shortages, reduced funding, and decreased productivity.


While these critical organizations are trying to meet some of the world's biggest challenges, like social justice, housing crises, access to food and education, and environmental protection, they are faced with constraints that limit their ability to address increasing needs in their communities.


AI offers nonprofits a unique opportunity to address these challenges head on with organizational changes combined with technology solutions to change the way they work and make the most of their resources.


In September 2023, Microsoft conducted a Work Trend Index fielded from August 10-31, 2023, to gather data on the state of the nonprofit industry. The study surveyed 402 respondents and revealed several challenges and opportunities for the industry.


Disruptions to productivity – and how to help


According to the study, nonprofits expressed these shared pain points: 

  • Employee burnout: 48% of respondents reported feeling burned out on their job.  
  • Lack of innovation: 59% of respondents were concerned about the lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas on their team.  
  • Declining productivity: 16% said they were less productive than they were one year ago. 


When nonprofits have constrained time, funds, and staffing, efficient use of staff time becomes even more critical to mission success. Many nonprofits responded with specific examples of interruptions to their workflow and productivity. They identified some common productivity disruptors:

  • 15% of respondents said having inefficient meetings was most disruptive to their day. 
  • 10% said not knowing how to get started on a project or task. 
  • 8% said planning, taking notes, entering data, and scheduling. 


Nonprofit staff are also keenly aware of what would boost their productivity. When asked what would add the most value to their productivity:

  • 35% said being as efficient as possible with the resources they have. 
  • 26% said prioritizing time as smartly as possible during the day. 
  • 30% said being able to learn a new skill twice as fast. 
  • 20% said getting work done without compromising well-being. 
  • 20% said cutting time spent on answering emails and chats.


Meeting challenges with AI


The study also explored the potential of AI in the nonprofit industry and found that nonprofit staff are more than aware of how AI can help with their capacity challenges. And they are ready to adopt AI for specific tasks:

  • Managing information and data: 80% said it could help with finding the right information. 
  • Supporting writing and editing: 69% said AI could help with editing their work and 66% said it could help with creating the first version of their work. 
  • Summarization: 72% said it could help with summarizing their meetings and action items. 
  • Reducing busywork and supporting time management: 69% said it could help with planning their day and 65% said it could help with responding to their emails. 


When asked which of these areas of assistance by AI would add the most value to their work, nonprofits said: 

  • 69% helping employees with necessary but repetitive tasks. 
  • 30% eliminating employee time on low-value activities. 
  • 29% increasing employee productivity.


AI sentiment: Optimism and caution


Nonprofits are not only aware of how AI could support their capacity – they are also ready to adopt AI. The sentiment towards AI was overall positive and receptive to the capabilities of AI: 

  • 63% of respondents believe that AI tools can be trusted in the workplace. 
  • 69% would be comfortable with AI taking on more administrative aspects of their work. 
  • 64% would be comfortable using AI for more creative aspects of their work. 


Nonprofits are eager to find solutions to boost their productivity, and they are well aware that AI can help with daily tasks—so why is there hesitation to accelerate AI adoption? Many nonprofits still harbor concerns about AI’s trustworthiness and capabilities: 

  • 59% of respondents said they don’t trust the decisions AI would make for them about their work. 
  • 58% are doubtful that AI can help in their day-to-day work. 
  • 63% are worried about the security risks AI poses in the workplace.  


Yet these concerns can be mitigated with organizational alignment, responsible AI frameworks and tools, and secure data practices. The hesitancy cited by respondents can be addressed by clear and consistent frameworks and adoption strategies.


How can you get your nonprofit team ready for AI?


AI team readiness was also cited as a key hindrance in AI adoption: 60% were concerned that there is a big learning curve with using AI.  

The learning curve, however, is more approachable than ever. Many AI productivity tools are seamlessly built into familiar technology and apps like Microsoft 365. Taking the first steps can be as simple as playing with free generative AI tools. For learning about prompts, navigating features, making the most of AI-assisted productivity – there are numerous free skills development opportunities. Beyond productivity into use cases for data, analytics, security, and more – learning paths at every level and for every role are available at


A new way to work


The data suggests that nonprofits can benefit from addressing employee wellbeing, supporting innovation, and leveraging AI to enhance productivity and support employees in their day-to-day work.


In the words of Adam Grant, “The best antidote to burnout is not teaching coping skills to handle stress. It’s redesigning work to reduce stress. To prevent exhaustion, we need to remove overwhelming demands and reject the norm of self-sacrifice. Healthy workplaces value well-being as much as performance.”


AI offers nonprofits more than another technology tool: It offers them a new way to work, enhancing productivity and creativity for teams that are understaffed and overwhelmed. The opportunity of AI has come at just the right time to solve key nonprofit crises.


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