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Review: 'The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in an Automated World'

April 03, 2022

Book_cover_the_smart_nonprofit_fine_kanterTechnology is collecting information from us all the time to guide us in our decision making—much more than ever conceived of 30 or 40 years ago. A Netflix algorithm makes recommendations on past viewing history; Amazon’s algorithm decides how products are ranked in search results; Facebook’s algorithm determines what you see in your feed, to good and not-so-good results. If we’re not careful, algorithms can be used to decide who gets hired, who gets a loan, and who can receive vital, life-saving services. That part of it is about making sure human beings are not part of a data point metric but considered unique individuals with various needs. In The Smart Nonprofit: Staying Human-Centered in an Automated World,  Beth Kanter and Alison Fine, two experts in the use of technology for social good, explore the many ways in which nonprofits have been adopting “smart tech,” which they define as “an umbrella term for advanced digital technologies that make decisions for people.” Smart tech includes artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, smart forms, chatbots, and robots.

Kanter and Fine discuss the many ways in which smart tech is quickly becoming a part of nonprofit operations and how it’s used to automate tasks and save time. One of the most significant points they make is the importance of saving time in the nonprofit world—this world filled with people who are working to do good but may not have copious resources, staff, money, or time. The authors refer to this as the “dividend of time,” which translates to freeing staff to focus on other activities instead of rote tasks. Enabling staff to focus on “the things that only people can do” could lead to the very things the nonprofit is working to accomplish internally and externally, like reducing staff burnout, connecting with clients on a deeper level, solving problems, building better relationships within the sector, creating solutions, and overall better outcomes—a win-win when you find yourself in the nonprofit trenches and wishing for the day to be a little longer to offer just a bit more to the communities you serve....

Read the full review by Lauren Brathwaite, content editor at Philanthropy News Digest.

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