AI and Philanthropy: Tools and Transformations


By now you may have heard from Bill Gates or Thomas Friedman that Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to fundamentally transform our world. Or you heard the CEO of Google’s parent company Sundar Pinchai claim that AI is “more profound” than fire or electricity in the history of human invention. Or maybe you listened to the fascinating conversation between The New York Times’ Ezra Klein and VOX’s Kelsey Piper, or heard Kara Swisher’s interview with the CEO of OpenAI, Sam Altman. Reading and listening to these well-informed views, you get a sense that tomorrow will be quite different from today.

Humanity has a new epistemic beast of burden that gets stronger by the day, in the form of a machine that will free our minds from drudgery. Soon, with the help of AI, we will be able to accomplish great things (hopefully avoiding its dangers), allowing our minds to operate at ever more sublime levels, supported by a “co-pilot,” as Microsoft refers to its AI app.

Think of our ancestors’ ability to domesticate animals to carry loads and plough fields, allowing the emergence of cities, the roots of civilization. We are apparently on the cusp of a new era of possibility for human civilization. This time it is not our bodies but our minds that are being freed from toil.

You can sense the immediate utility of an AI like Chat-GPT in enabling the work of philanthropy. Ask it to draft a fundraising letter for a specific amount to benefit a particular nonprofit and it will generate a workable draft in a matter of moments. It may include too much negative information about challenges, but the speed of providing something serviceable is a godsend for every writer who has stared at a blank sheet of paper, or its digital equivalent.

It can be equally helpful to donors seeking to explore a range of strategies to advance their philanthropy. You can ask it to formulate a grantmaking strategy for a family foundation interested in women’s and girls’ causes, and you will get an adequate five-point summary – not unlike what you might expect from an initial conversation with a philanthropic advisor.

Chat-GPT can also help you with research in ways that give you more direct answers than the myriad of links that are generated by a search engine. You can ask it to define philanthropy, to synthesize the key critiques of philanthropy, or to express it in a variety of styles. You can even search for the best graduate program in philanthropy, and you will get an answer that I find quite pleasing.

It is natural that so much attention is focusing on the power of AI as a tool, one that is disrupting the creation of content (drafting news stories and college essays), the evaluation of cognitive competency (passing AP and Bar exams), and the advancement of science (successfully predicting how proteins fold). Indeed, this is what our new Data for Good Certificate seeks to enable – to help professionals harness data to improve the outcomes of their work.

As a tool, or a rapidly expanding set of tools, AI continues to grow in power, promising profound transformation. Much more than accelerating and improving the current ways we do things and organize ourselves, AI has the potential to upend the status quo and create what has not even been imagined yet.

Some predict an era of such material abundance that philanthropy will recede in importance. Others, like Sam Altman, envision a utopian future where we are free to truly devote ourselves completely to philanthropy. Actually, philanthropy may be much more integral to generating the kind of AI that synthesizes vast amounts of human knowledge at breakneck speed to benefit the public. The community of science and the public knowledge it generates are based on an ethic of generous sharing that has produced much of the data that AI is now using as its raw material.

Thomas Friedman calls the advent of AI a Promethean moment, akin to the invention of the printing press or the scientific revolution. Students of philanthropy will recall that the Promethean myth is the first literate articulation of philanthropy, with Prometheus being punished by the gods of Olympus for providing humans a fateful gift – knowledge. The question to ask is what will happen to the ecosystem of scientific knowledge that is in part at least based on the generous exchange of knowledge among us. What will happen as this deeply communal process becomes increasingly mediated by machines?

We are entering an era of hard-to-fathom syntheses and manipulations of the available store of human knowledge that will generate new capabilities reliant on the ability of machines to process knowledge in ways that are beyond unaided human capacity. Beyond programming AI’s to “love humanity,” will their human minders also be selected based on their philanthropic instincts or commitments?

Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt (the former CEO of Google) and the dean of MIT’s new Computing School write: “AI begs for an ethic of its own—one that reflects not only the technology’s nature, but also the challenges posed by it.”

The global community of science relies on an ethic of sharing and a commitment to the public good. Regrettably, there have been many examples of authorities harnessing science for purposes that scientists themselves were reluctant to engage. This may be a reason why many are revisiting accounts of the advent of nuclear weapons: to understand how powerful new technologies emerge, but also how they have, so far, been able to be managed without unleashing their full destructive power. There is a robust tradition that developed an ethic to accompany the advent of nuclear weapons. It could inform emerging efforts to engage the ethics of digital technologies. In any case, the moral imagination that is part of philanthropic traditions at their best is now being called on to comprehend and manage the transformational changes we face.

2023 PepsiCo Foundation and Doritos® SOLID BLACK® Black Changemakers.

The PepsiCo Foundation and Doritos® SOLID BLACK® Black Changemakers Program

The PepsiCo Foundation and Doritos SOLID BLACK recently announced that 16 Black nonprofit leaders have been selected for the 2023 Black Changemakers program, a program developed to uplift Black community leaders and amplify their voices to showcase the positive impact they are making. The nonprofit leaders selected for this year’s program, who each receive a $50,000 grant for their nonprofit, represent organizations focused on education, youth development and mentorship, food insecurity, job training, financial literacy, and more.

The Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy and The Fund Raising School have been chosen to provide leadership development training for the program to help further propel positive impact in the Black Changemakers’ communities. In addition, the 2023 Black Changemakers receive software, technical assistance and one-on-one coaching from Network for Good.

Faculty from the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy and The Fund Raising School designed a research-based leadership development curriculum and are leading training sessions to help the Black Changemakers guide their organizations thoughtfully into the future. Participants are learning essential leadership skills including developing vision, serving as a change agent leader, coaching, serving as an in-group leader, innovation, strategic planning, program development, and storytelling, all of which lead to compelling fundraising opportunities.

UNCF Philanthropy Institute

In partnership with UNCF’s (United Negro College Fund) Teaching and Learning Center, the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy and The Fund Raising School hosted more than 50 senior development leaders from 27 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as UNCF staff members, for the UNCF Teaching and Learning Center Philanthropy Institute, an executive leadership program held in Indianapolis in summer 2022. Institute participants primarily are vice presidents for development or chief development officers at their respective institutions.

The institute provided the leaders with research-based knowledge and practical instruction on how they can enhance their fundraising efforts and on heightened leadership and communication skills to have a positive impact across their advancement offices. The curriculum, offered over two and a half days, focused on leadership on fundraising, board engagement, engaging women and donors of color, and examining what it means to be African American in the field of fundraising. 

Following the Institute, the Mays Institute and The Fund Raising School developed and are leading a series of virtual course sessions on specific aspects of fundraising and philanthropy such as major gifts, planned giving, and capital campaigns. The sessions are being offered between fall 2022 and fall 2023.

“The Global Philanthropy Tracker provides a holistic picture of the global community that is rarely depicted publicly. Private capital investment represents the role of financial markets, ODA is from the government, remittances are from family, and philanthropy is about helping strangers,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the school. “These are the resource-based bonds we form across borders to address problems and support people beyond our own countries. The 2023 GPT’s findings reflect the enduring commitment to helping others that is a foundational element of all cultures around the world.”

Reliability of philanthropy during turbulent times

The 47 countries in the 2023 GPT represent 22% of all economies worldwide, including 61% of the global population and 85% of the global GDP in 2020. Among the insights:

  • The 47 countries included in the latest GPT contributed $70 billion (USD) in philanthropic giving in 2020 (the latest year for which data is available for most of the countries).
  • Global cross-border philanthropic giving is roughly equivalent to the 73rd largest economy in the world, by 2020 GDP.
  • The $70 billion in philanthropy represents 8% of total cross-border financial resource flows, which include official development assistance, private capital investment, and remittances and philanthropic giving.
  • Philanthropy showed resilience during the crises of 2020, such as COVID-19, with only a 0.5% decline in overall giving since 2018. The three other cross-border resource flows detailed in the report varied in terms of how the pandemic impacted them.
    • Remittances saw a large increase (19%) in 2020 as migrants sent more money back home to support their families during the pandemic.
    • Private capital investment experienced a severe decline (100%) as the global economy was hit hard by the pandemic.
    • Official development assistance remained at similar levels in 2018 and 2020, decreasing by just 1%.
  • About 60% of the 47 countries had updated data on philanthropic outflows that are directly comparable to their data from 2018. Among this subgroup of countries, philanthropic outflows went up modestly by around 4%, although the change varied greatly by country.
  • Education and health were the most frequently cited causes receiving philanthropic support, based on a subgroup of countries with available data.
  • Africa was the region cited most frequently as a top recipient of philanthropic support, according to countries that reported data on recipient countries or regions.

“Global philanthropy proved its resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic by adjusting to the new normal of economic shocks and uncertainty,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Remittances saw a large increase (19%) in 2020 as migrants sent more money back home to support their families during the pandemic. We have also witnessed the role that both philanthropy and remittances can play in addressing urgent needs and challenges in communities. NGOs, policymakers and other leaders can apply the insights gained from global giving during this crisis to support local and regional actors working for social change.”

Opportunities to develop and adopt mechanisms supporting global philanthropy

The 2023 GPT identifies three ideas for the international community to reimagine the role of philanthropy in sustainable development. By leveraging the lessons learned, leaders can respond appropriately to current and future challenges. The GPT report identifies opportunities for developing global standards for data tracking and promotion of data transparency; strengthening the role of local philanthropic organizations and enabling innovation in cross-border philanthropy.

Additional resources from the Global Philanthropy Tracker, including an infographic, the full report, individual country reports, and an executive summary available in multiple languages are available on the Global Indices website.