AI offers many opportunities for charities and nonprofits, but integrating it requires navigating complex ethical considerations unique to the fundraising sector, necessitating some upskilling, a new report from the international fundraising think tank Rogare cautions.
The report – Artificial intelligence and fundraising ethics: A research agenda – has been put together by a multinational project team lead by American fundraising consultant Cherian Koshy who is also a member of Rogare’s Critical Fundraising Network. It examines ethical issues arising both from applying AI in fundraising, and using AI to resolve fundraising dilemmas. It starts from the assumption that generic concerns and guidance about the use of AI in any context can’t simply be transferred to and overlain on to fundraising – because its use in fundraising will throw up unique ethical challenges.
AI and the ethics of fundraising
Two overarching themes emerged from the project group’s work. The first is that AI does not currently have access to sufficiently-sophisticated knowledge of the ethics of fundraising to be able to make ethical decisions. But it can be used to guide fundraisers through the process of making ethical decisions, such as priming them about what questions to ask, as might be the case in gift acceptance/refusal dilemmas.
The second emergent theme is that because AI lacks sufficient knowledge of fundraising ethics, human oversight is needed to ensure any use of AI in fundraising practice is done ethically and in accordance with best practice and regulatory codes.
Cherian Koshy commented:
“Not only does this oversight require a high degree of ethical literacy on the part of human fundraisers, it also requires a high degree of data literacy.
“However, it is questionable whether both the ethics and data skills, knowledge and competencies exist to the required degree across the entirety of the fundraising workforce that will be tasked with oversight of the use of AI in fundraising.
“As AI enters and becomes widespread in fundraising practice, we must upskill the human overseers with this knowledge and these competencies. Skilled and knowledgeable human oversight of AI in fundraising is absolutely essential.”
Other issues considered in the report and addressed in the research agenda include:
- The need to balance transparency around AI with potential negative impacts on donations. Supporters increasingly expect clarity on whether they are interacting with a bot or human. But revealing the use of AI could decrease engagement or giving. More research is required to navigate this tension.
- Data ethics and potential biases are also examined. Relying on flawed data risks amplifying discrimination through automated decisions. Thorough analysis should scrutinise existing fundraising data sets and AI systems for embedded biases.
- Maintaining an inclusive sector is a priority. Cost barriers could concentrate AI capabilities among larger nonprofits. The project team advocates for “shared data infrastructure and open standards” to ensure equal access for smaller organisations.
- The report cautions against over-reliance on AI that could cause a “loss of fundraising expertise through deskilling”.
- Unique intellectual property issues require clarification as AI enters fundraising, such as who owns outputs like synthetic media. And determining accountability for potential harms from opaque AI systems presents challenges.
- As charities increasingly adopt AI, maintaining public trust will require transparency, assessing workforce impacts, and developing governance aligned with supporter expectations and sector values. With careful oversight, AI presents opportunities to advance nonprofit missions. But as this report emphasises, we must proactively address the ethical dimensions.
To address these issues, the Rogare report presents a 10-point research agenda tailored to the use of AI in fundraising. This calls for gathering stakeholder perspectives, auditing data and algorithms, developing ethical frameworks, and assessing oversight mechanisms. The report can be downloaded here.