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What Does ChatGPT Know About Philanthropy?

Date: May 16, 2023

Chloe Heskett

Senior Writer, Editor & Content Strategist, CEP

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AI is here, and it is changing the way many in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors (and other fields, too, of course) work, or even think about their roles; for some, this is an exciting prospect, for others a deeply threatening one. For most of us, though, it lies in a grey area somewhere in between, even as we know its direct impact on us is imminent. In this series, we set out to get a snapshot of where AI stands right now: what it can actually do, how an expert advises those in philanthropy to approach it, how it’s already being used in the sector, and the ethical considerations and implications of the tool. 

In this first post, we thought we’d just see what ChatGPT 4 can do — and what it knows about philanthropy. We posed some tough questions about the philanthropic sector right now (some serious and some not-so-serious — we don’t really believe, for example, that there is a definitively “most impactful foundation or donor”). We were surprised, impressed, and a little bit unnerved by its answers. There were also interesting quirks, like a penchant for summary conclusions (and “overall” statements) and much food for thought about where these answers come from and how accurate — and attributable — they may be. 

Without further ado, an interview on the philanthropic sector with ChatGPT, lightly edited for length only. (Note: italicized text indicates our own summary of or commentary on the AI’s responses.) 

What are the most significant challenges the philanthropic sector faces now? 

The philanthropic sector faces several significant challenges today, including:  

  1. Inequality and systemic issues: Despite the significant contributions of philanthropy, many of the social issues it aims to address are deeply rooted in systemic problems like poverty, racism, and inequality. These issues are often complex and difficult to solve, requiring sustained effort and collaboration across sectors.
  2. Changing donor expectations: Donors are increasingly looking for more transparency and impact from the organizations they support. This puts pressure on philanthropic organizations to demonstrate their effectiveness and impact, which can be challenging in fields where outcomes are difficult to measure or where progress is slow.
  3. Technological disruption: Technological advancements are disrupting the traditional philanthropic model, with new platforms and tools emerging that are changing the way philanthropy is done. For example, crowdfunding platforms and social media campaigns are allowing individuals to engage in philanthropy in new ways, while also creating new challenges around accountability and impact.
  4. Economic uncertainty: Economic uncertainty and downturns can have a significant impact on philanthropic giving, as donors may be less able or willing to give during difficult economic times. This can make it challenging for philanthropic organizations to plan and sustain their activities over the long term.
  5. Political polarization and changing policy environments: The political environment can have a significant impact on philanthropy, as changes in policy or regulation can impact the ability of philanthropic organizations to operate effectively. In addition, political polarization can create challenges for organizations working on sensitive issues or seeking to engage with diverse communities.

Overall, the philanthropic sector faces a range of significant challenges that require ongoing attention and innovation to address. Philanthropic organizations will need to adapt to these challenges and work collaboratively with other sectors to make progress on the complex issues they aim to address. How has MacKenzie Scott’s giving influenced philanthropy? MacKenzie Scott’s giving has had a significant impact on philanthropy, particularly in terms of encouraging other wealthy individuals to increase their charitable giving and focus on organizations that are doing meaningful work to address pressing social issues. Here are a few ways in which her giving has influenced philanthropy: 

  1. Inspiring other wealthy individuals to give more: MacKenzie Scott’s rapid and significant philanthropic giving has set a new standard for what is possible in terms of individual giving. Her giving has inspired other billionaires to increase their giving as well. Many have followed her lead, announcing large charitable donations in the wake of her gifts.
  2. Shifting the focus to smaller organizations: In her giving, MacKenzie Scott has prioritized smaller organizations that may not receive as much attention or funding from traditional philanthropic sources. This has helped draw attention to these organizations and has encouraged other philanthropists to consider supporting them as well.
  3. Emphasizing the importance of unrestricted funding: MacKenzie Scott’s giving has largely been in the form of unrestricted grants, which allows organizations to use the funding as they see fit, rather than being tied to specific programs or projects. This has highlighted the importance of flexible funding in enabling organizations to respond to emerging needs and to invest in their long-term sustainability.

Overall, MacKenzie Scott’s giving has been a powerful force for change in the philanthropic sector, encouraging more giving, shifting priorities, and promoting a more equitable approach to funding.  Read CEP’s research on the impact of MacKenzie Scott’s giving here.What foundation or donor has made most positive impact with their philanthropy? It’s difficult to identify a single foundation or donor that has made the most positive impact with their philanthropy, as there are many organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to addressing pressing social issues. However, here are a few examples of foundations and donors that have had a notable impact… As examples of foundations and donors with notable impact, ChatGPT 4 cites: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, calling it “one of the largest and most influential philanthropic organizations in the world”; Warren Buffet, making reference to the Giving Pledge; the Ford Foundation, noting a focus on social justice, human rights, and economic equality; and MacKenzie Scott, referring us to its earlier answer. How can philanthropy be more effective?  There are several ways that philanthropy can be more effective in addressing pressing social issues: 

  1. Focus on long-term solutions: Philanthropic organizations should aim to address the root causes of social issues, rather than just providing short-term relief. This means investing in initiatives and programs that have the potential to create lasting change and improve the lives of individuals and communities over the long term.
  2. Collaborate with other sectors: Philanthropy can be more effective when it works in collaboration with other sectors, such as government, academia, and the private sector. By partnering with other organizations, philanthropic organizations can leverage their resources and expertise to create more impactful solutions to complex social problems.
  3. Prioritize impact measurement and evaluation: To be more effective, philanthropy needs to measure and evaluate the impact of its investments. This means setting clear goals and benchmarks for success, collecting data on progress, and regularly assessing the effectiveness of initiatives and programs.
  4. Invest in innovation: Philanthropy can be a catalyst for innovation by investing in new and untested approaches to addressing social issues. By taking risks and supporting innovative ideas, philanthropic organizations can help create new solutions that have the potential to transform the social sector.
  5. Build capacity within organizations: Philanthropic organizations can help build the capacity of the organizations they support by providing funding for staff training and development, strategic planning, and other capacity-building initiatives. By investing in the strength and sustainability of organizations, philanthropic organizations can help create more impactful solutions to social problems over the long term.

Overall, philanthropy can be more effective by focusing on long-term solutions, collaborating with other sectors, prioritizing impact measurement and evaluation, investing in innovation, and building capacity within organizations. By doing so, philanthropic organizations can help create lasting change and improve the lives of individuals and communities in meaningful ways. What can foundations do to better support nonprofit organizations and nonprofit leaders? Here, ChatGPT provided another list. It concluded and summarized by saying:

By providing unrestricted funding, offering capacity-building support, simplifying grant application processes, fostering collaboration among nonprofit organizations, and supporting leadership development, foundations can better support nonprofit organizations and nonprofit leaders in their efforts to create positive social change.

Is philanthropy a net social good in the 21st century? 

Philanthropy can be a net social good in the 21st century when it is practiced effectively and with a focus on creating positive impact. Philanthropy has the potential to address pressing social issues, support marginalized communities, and drive positive change in society. However, the impact of philanthropy can be limited if it is not practiced effectively or if it is used to reinforce existing power structures and inequalities. 

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on effective philanthropy, which aims to maximize the positive impact of philanthropic investments. Effective philanthropy involves setting clear goals and benchmarks for success, measuring and evaluating impact, and investing in initiatives and programs that have the potential to create lasting change. When philanthropy is practiced in this way, it can be a powerful force for social good. 

However, philanthropy also faces significant challenges, such as the perpetuation of power imbalances and the potential for donors to use their wealth to influence political and social outcomes. It is important for philanthropic organizations and donors to be aware of these challenges and to work proactively to mitigate their negative impact.  

What do you think of these responses? Comment below, and we hope you’ll also join us in the conversation about the practical and ethical implications of AI for funders and nonprofits at the CEP conference, this fall in Boston.

Chloe Heskett is editor and writer, programming and external relations, at CEP. Find her on LinkedIn. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022. When asked for its bio line for this article, it also indicated that while it can “generate human-like responses” it “has no personal beliefs or opinions of its own.” 

Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.

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