Philanthropy isn’t known for operating at startup speed. Societal, economic and environmental change can take years, and new challenges seem to pop up just when something else is resolved. That said, philanthropy is a massive trillion-dollar industry, and it’s not immune to the big technology trends sweeping the nation.
With this in mind, I examined the year ahead and considered the two industries that have shaped my life and career: philanthropy and technology. When you factor in the major events that will occur in 2020 (including the upcoming census and presidential election), three key trends — and therefore, three key predictions — for tech and philanthropy emerge. These trends will continue to shape how we approach philanthropy in 2020 and for years to come.
1. More organizations will converge as one to tackle big problems.
In the past decade, grant-makers (or those who hold philanthropy’s purse strings) have focused on leveraging technology to better measure, manage, understand and report on philanthropy’s true impact. The industry began to analyze itself and ask difficult questions about what kind of tangible change was being brought forth per grant and whether or not funders were doing enough to support the nonprofits that enacted change each day.
The answer was both simple in theory and complex in execution: Philanthropy would have to work harder to be more transparent and collaborative in order to see true change.
In other words, if funders and impact investors hoped to maintain and support their missions, they were going to need to combine funds and provide nonprofits with tools to work better as well as further collaborate with government and corporate giving programs to solve the world’s problems.
Organizations like the JPB Foundation in New York City are leading by example, employing a hub model that recognizes complex social issues cannot be solved by single players alone, but rather require a host of like-minded organizations working in concert toward a single goal. To achieve this, the JPB Foundation employs a collaborative model in which it funds a “hub organization” or “anchor” and then funds a network of surrounding organizations that work together to pool resources, deploy knowledge and create a more effective and supportive ecosystem.
I believe this idea of interconnectivity, as well as the associated software facilitating it, will become the industry standard in a few short years. We will see private, corporate and government grants coordinated and focused in order to effectively tackle poverty, climate change, famine, census counts and other humanitarian and environmental crises.
2. We will see greater adoption of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
In the next 12 months, I believe we will see additional use cases for, and increased adoption of, artificial intelligence and machine learning, by both philanthropic organizations and the business world at large. For years, it seemed that machine learning and AI-based tools were touted as a panacea to solve our biggest challenges, but despite the headlines, the results never matched the hype.
Now, we’re seeing the tide turn with the adoption of AI-based technology into our everyday lives (for example, Siri and Alexa), and philanthropic organizations are slowly starting to integrate similar tools to more efficiently facilitate and apply data-based insights to their missions.
The applications of AI in philanthropy are wide-ranging, but perhaps one of the most promising examples can be found in the work accomplished by journalistic nonprofits, which are adopting innovative AI-based technologies to discover insights into social media and the way we consume information. Notably, according to a report published by Fast Company, nonprofit news organization ProPublica developed “a new approach to investigative reporting that uses technology like machine learning and chatbots” to look into algorithms that affect our lives.
But AI is not without its pitfalls. Bias must be factored into any examination of artificial intelligence. After all, an intelligent system is only as good as the data it learns from, and we have seen a myriad of examples of AI gone awry. The challenge isn’t just to adopt AI and machine learning, but to do so in a conscientious, responsible and heavily judicious manner without bias and for the betterment of all, and this is the lens through which philanthropy must view AI.
3. Blockchain will become the ‘connective tissue’ for philanthropy.
Blockchain is still a nascent technology most often associated with volatile cryptocurrencies, but it promises boundless potential for safe banking worldwide. I believe this holds especially true in the philanthropic sector, where blockchain has quickly grown a reputation for its utility and effectiveness at delivering funds into the hands of change-makers.
Blockchain stands to drastically improve giving in developing countries where trusted banking is scarce or the national currency is subject to unpredictable levels of inflation. The technology has the potential to create a more transparent giving process without the hefty transaction fees you would see with a credit card. In many countries with turbulent economies and technological infrastructures, blockchain provides a way to track and distribute key resources such as medical supplies and other forms of aid.
Whether it’s donors receiving gifts in crypto, tracking malaria drugs with a blockchain marker or adopting a cryptocurrency system for refugees in unbanked nations, this technology represents a tangible opportunity to overcome real barriers to progress and innovation. As use cases proliferate and word of mouth around blockchain’s effectiveness continues to spread, so, too, will we see more philanthropic organizations investigate how they can best integrate this technology into their global and national missions.
Philanthropy is evolving into a collective network that’s beginning to leverage key technologies to bring lasting change. Innovative solutions to pressing problems will be discovered by the organizations that share their data publicly in an effort to learn from one another and that pool their funds in order to support missions for years to come. I look forward to seeing how technology will continue to shape the industry in 2020.