Philanthropy and AI

Amy McGoldrick

What impact will the rise of AI have on the direction and management of philanthropic foundations? AI has the potential to reduce the workload of grantees and enable the sector to do more by saving time. However, like any emerging technology, there are risks. 

Alliance hosted this event on philanthropy and AI in partnership with Lightful. Moderated by Felix Oldenburg (Founder/CEO, and CEO,, the panel included:

  • Karen Gill, Vice President of Operations, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation
  • Catherine Miller, Director, European & AI Society Fund
  • Jonathan Waddingham, Managing Director, Lightful Learning

A few highlights from the event:

Karen said:[McGovern Foundation] works to leverage AI and data solutions to create a thriving, equitable and sustainable future for all. Annually we spend about $75 million supporting organisations that are deploying AI, machine learning and similar data solutions for social impact across a range of our strategy pillars. ..In addition to our direct grantmaking, we provide technical capacity building support with our teams of technologists, and engage with civil society to advance ethical, human-centred technology frameworks and policies… Based on what we’ve seen and learned, here are some opportunities that we’ve come up with:

  • Use generative AI to build conversational mechanisms for grant applications and reporting
  • Advance equitable practices in grantmaking by democratising access
  • Restructure grant diligence processes and manage risk, using AI to streamline due diligence practices
  • Risk criteria established by the funder could identify higher risk organisations and allow them to establish mitigation strategies for high-potential, high-impact investments so that they’re easier to make

Catherine: The phenomenal thing about AI is that it’s a general purpose technology; it can be applied to so many different aspects. Every time we use map navigation, or have a film recommended to us, or spam is removed from our email – all of these are ways in which AI is already integrated into our lives. But the thing that gets people really excited about the impact on society is the potential of AI to really tackle some of society’s greatest challenges – accelerating medical research, for example, or the United Nations monitoring climate change. That’s the stuff that people have been dreaming about, and have gotten really excited about.

But there’s a flip side. And that flip side used to be quite hard to explain, and then ChatGPT came along and started to do the job for me. It’s a phenomenal technical achievement; this ability to mimic human speech in an uncanny way. But it was launched into society without any real consideration for the impacts it would have for the other people on the end of it. This is really exemplary for the way that AI is designed and deployed in general. It’s brought out with a lot of hype by its proponents without thinking about the people at the end and how they will be affected by it. When you do that in a society that we already know is riven by social injustice, what happens is that those issues can be exacerbated and amplified by the impacts of the technology.

Catherine’s presentation slides can be found here.

Jonathan: I’ve spent 18 years working at the intersection of nonprofits and technology, and have lived and worked through the rise and impact of revolutionary changes like social media, superfast broadband and the rise of smartphones. Whilst none of these technological changes were driven by the nonprofit sector, or designed for [them], they all made huge differences to our sector. I think this moment we’re leaving in is a change of comparable size, but it’s happening much faster. To illustrate this, let’s cast our mind back to the rise of mobile. Back in 2010, my team was working on a redesign of peer-to-peer fundraising pages at JustGiving and I remember us discussing whether we needed to support a new subset of people accessing their site with their mobile phones. At the time it was only 4% of people, so we did the bare minimum. Three years later in 2013, mobile visits were at 40% and no one was even asking if we needed to support mobile views. Technology had shifted, and mobile was then ubiquitous.

The sorts of changes that previously took years are now happening in months. For example, it took Instagram 30 months to reach 100 million users by 2013, and TikTok took nine months to reach the same milestone in 2020. ChatGPT reached 100 million users in just two months.

You can watch the full recording of the event here:


On this topic, we have two surveys to announce:

Take this 5 minute survey and enter a draw to win membership to Alliance, including a print and digital subscription to Alliance magazine and a host of other added benefits.

Deadline for entries: 17:00 BST, 26 May 2023

Lightful wants to help philanthropists make their investments count so we help their beneficiaries use digital tools to build trust, tell stories and increase fundraising. We’re researching the needs of the nonprofit sector to better understand how AI can support them to achieve their goals so that we can develop the right tools and programmes.

By completing this survey you are helping us get a fuller picture of what philanthropists and their beneficiaries need.


Philea and Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo have also asked for those working in data science at their European foundations to take this 15-20 minute survey on “Data work in philanthropic foundations here”. The deadline is 14 May.


Our next event takes place next week on Who’s telling the climate story? And who’s funding it? You can click here to register, or subscribe to our mailing list to receive an invite to all future events.

Amy McGoldrick is the Head of Marketing, Advertising and Events


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