What the public think of charities using AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is big news. It represents a potential step-change in how all of us do our jobs, but what this looks like in practice is still at a very early stage. Like most organisations, charities are considering what AI might mean for them: how could they take advantage of the opportunities while mitigating the risks?

As the UK’s biggest connector of donors and charities, we know that not only are charities grappling with practical questions around technical implementation, staff buy-in and training – they’re also thinking about their donors and how to engage rather than alienate them with AI.

So, what are donor opinions about charities using AI and what does that mean for how charities might implement the technology? Our new research reveals all…

  • Video transcript
    As the UK's biggest connector of donors and charities, we wanted to understand the general public's opinion on charities using AI so charities can be mindful in how they harness the opportunities AI presents and avoid alienating donors in the process.

    We spoke to more than 6,000 people across 10 countries from around the world, representing a range of income levels per capita.

    We then did two focus groups in the UK to dig deeper into opinions. We showed them seven opportunities that AI presented to charities. And we showed them seven potential risks, that they might need to manage to keep it fair, half the sample saw the risks first and half saw the opportunities first.

    Overall, the majority thought the opportunities outweighed the risks.

    "I would recommend giving AI a shot. It has amazing potential benefits."

    "It would have huge benefits if it's used correctly."

    The verdict varied greatly across the 10 countries. Low and middle-income countries tended to be much more positive, with Kenya the most receptive.

    Australia was the only country where the risks outweighed the opportunities for the majority of people, with a net score of -4.

    In general, charities can embrace AI safe in the knowledge that those who donate more money are increasingly positive about the technology.

    The most exciting opportunity was AI enabling a faster and more targeted response to disasters.

    "If you can then prepare as it's happening or just before, they could potentially save lives."

    "I mean even if you can't get the materials, I mean, at least you know the problem and the size of the problem."

    The public can see the positives in all seven opportunities we put forward. Even the least popular,  ‘personalising their communications’ had 51% of people rating it ‘good’ or ‘fantastic’. But when forced to prioritise, the two most popular were the two opportunities that had the most direct human benefit, ‘faster disaster response’ and ‘helping more people’.

    ‘Increased efficiency’ was also popular, as it could allow charity workers to spend more time helping their communities.

    "I would choose being more efficient as well."

    "By assistance of AI, you can become more efficient as a charity, as a business, and therefore you can generate more money that can go to the causes."

    The most likely risk was felt to be charities reducing their workforce, as certain tasks become automated.

    "I think it's a threat to people's jobs. I'm afraid I just cannot support it."

    "I don't need an artificial intelligence because it would cost people's jobs."

    When looked at individually, each of the seven risks is felt to be more likely to happen than not.

    When they were asked to prioritise, ‘reducing their workforce’ and ‘a data breach’ were the two most likely risks for charities. ‘Making biased decisions’ also came up strongly in the focus groups.

    "In this day and age, nearly everyone at some point has a sort of data breach."

    "Ensure the safety of personal information."

    "The bias is the most concerning to me because it is a huge risk."

    "It's kind of scary to think that somebody would bet intentions can be programming a computer and you're basing your decisions on their bad intentions."

    In the focus groups, it became clear that even those who see the risks as being dominant are not completely averse to charities using AI.

    The key tenet is about maintaining what makes charities special and that is the human touch.

    "I think the human touch within a charity can't be denied."

    "For me when I hear the word 'charity', I think of humans, I think of compassion, I think of getting people in there working on the ground, frontline, that type of thing. And it should definitely, you know, not replace humans. It should definitely work alongside but humans doing the majority."

    Charities need to communicate carefully, as people will be watching and expect transparency on how AI is being used. Just 13% of people would pay not much or no attention to what a charity they supported said publicly about how they were using AI.

    Those who donate more money will pay more attention. Those in low and middle-income countries, will pay more attention too.

    People find it hard to understand use cases of AI. And so clear communications that show charities using it to enhance their impact while maintaining human oversight will be crucial.

    "It's kind of uncharted territory and not a lot of guidelines have been set up yet."

    "It's still a bit of a loose cannon and there's still a little bit of an unknown."

    "AI is the future and without using this future, you will be left out in making critical decisions to help the society in future."

    "Learn as much about AI as you possibly can from all angles. Not just from the companies themselves."

    "It would leave charities falling behind as we go forward, without the use of AI."

Who we spoke to

We asked over 6,000 people across 10 countries about their views on charities using AI.

A map of the world showing 6,102 people took part in the study from 10 countries

A bar chart showing public outlook towards the use of AI, where the largest section (34%) consider the opportunities and risks equal, while 25% consider the opportunities to outweigh the risks

A bar chart showing 37% of respondents focus on the opportunities, while 22% see risks as more important. This gives a +15% net positive outlook

This net score is used in the following four images:

A line graph showing more generous donors are most in favour of charities using AI. 5% of non-donors are in favour, ranging up to 30% of high donors

Charities can embrace AI, safe in the knowledge that more generous donors are the most in favour.

Age is not a major factor in public perception of AI. All groups have a net positive outlook of +12% or more, apart from 55-64s (+6%)

All age groups have a net positive outlook of +12% or more, apart from 55-64s (+6%).

High-income countries are more sceptical

High-income countries are more sceptical than low and middle-income countries.

A bar chart showing net positivity scores across the countries surveyed, showing positive results ranging from Kenya with +44% to the UK at 5%, with Australia the only country with a negative result -4%

Australia is the only country in the survey of significant size where more people focus on the risks (30%) than see the opportunities (26% = net score of -4%). Kenya is the most positive with a net score of +44% (60% in favour, 16% not).

Concerns and opportunities that AI presents

Public concerns regarding the use of AI

Despite more saying the opportunities outweigh them, people are concerned about the risks: each of the seven risks is felt to be more likely to happen than not.

Between 44 and 64% of people said each risk was 'extremely' or 'fairly likely' to happen. This compared to between 12 and 25% who say they're 'not that likely' or 'not at all likely' to happen.

When they prioritised, 'reducing their workforce' and a 'data breach' were the two highest rated.

Japan, India and Brazil all think a data breach is a more likely risk than a reduced workforce. UK and Kenya see workforce reduction as by far the most likely with nearly twice the amount of people selecting this in those countries (UK = 34% vs. 18% data breach, and Kenya = 38% vs. 20%).

A pie chart showing public concerns about AI. The top concern in a reduced workforce, followed by the risk of a data breach
A pie chart showing opportunities that excite the public. The top opportunity is faster disaster response, followed by helping more people

Opportunities that AI presents, which excite the public

The public can see the positive in all seven opportunities we put forward, even the least popular 'Personalising their communications' had 51% of people rating it 'good' or 'fantastic'.

When forced to prioritise, the two most popular were the two opportunities that had the most direct human benefit: 'faster disaster response' and 'helping more people'.

People are far less interested in more internal benefits like measuring success or managing volunteers.

While most countries saw these top two as broadly equal in appeal, Turkey and Japan, two countries with recent natural disasters, felt much more strongly. 37% in Turkey and 34% in Japan saw disaster response as the top benefit (vs. 21% saying 'helping more people' in each country).

Charities need to communicate carefully as people will be watching

The vast majority of the public will be paying attention to what charities say about AI.

When asked: “If a charity you supported was using AI, how much attention would you pay to what they said publicly about how they were using it?”, only 13% said ‘not much’ or ‘none at all’.
A bar chart showing how much attention people would pay to what a charity they supported said publicly about how they were using AI. 13% would pay ‘not much’ or ‘no attention’

A line graph showing more generous donors would pay more attention to what a charity they supported said publicly about how they were using AI. Only 44% of non-donors would pay a fair amount or great deal of attention, this rises to 77% for high donors
While most people would pay attention to what a charity they supported said publicly about their use of AI, it's the higher donors who are most interested.

People in low and middle-income countries will be paying more attention
People in low and middle-income countries would pay far more attention than those in high-income countries.

AI must not be the privilege of the few

The public are clear that access to AI should not create a divide within the charity sector.

The vast majority (70%) say ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ effort should be made to make AI accessible to different sizes of charity while a only fifth (21%) say no extra effort should be made.
A graph showing 70% of people believe efforts should be made to help charities of different sizes to access AI

What this means for charities

The results show that people around the world recognise the opportunities that AI can bring to charitable giving – especially so in low and middle-income countries.

When we spoke in more detail, it showed they were well aware of the risks but, even for those who currently see the risks as more dominant, this didn’t mean they thought that charities shouldn’t use AI at all. The implication is rather that they will expect caution and transparency so that they can understand how the charities they support are using AI to achieve their mission (and why).

The challenge for charities is that AI is a tricky subject to grasp before there are real examples to see. Discussions showed that people don’t really know how AI works, so charities need to consider bringing it to life for their audiences. People often cite examples of bad technology as bad AI, such as a frustrating phone-tree or a supermarket self-checkout, and these perceptions can dominate when AI is discussed at a high level without tangible examples.

Fundamentally, the public want to know that the charity is not losing sight of its most important part, the connection between the charity and the cause it supports. That’s why it’s the positive human benefits – helping more people, disaster relief, making better decisions – that are the easiest for people to grasp and, therefore, the most supported.

In turn, it seems reaction would be extremely negative if a charity was seen to be using AI to drastically slim down its workforce. However, other major risks such as a data breach need to be taken in context: while rated as the second most likely risk, people do not see the use of AI as making a data breach any more likely than it is already.

The results show that there will be scrutiny from the public, especially higher value donors, so thought needs to be put into communications. Similarly, tech companies need to consider access to AI, as this is seen as important: ensuring that charities of all sizes and levels of resources can access solutions will be a defining measure of successful implementation across the sector.

“AI must not be the privilege of the few. We must work together with the technology industry to ensure it is accessible for large and small charities. Digital advances have great potential to support charities to further their missions and accelerate social progress. As a starting point, AI could help target disaster relief more effectively, decrease the time spent on administrative tasks and improve operations.

“Charities need to also remain alert to the risks, stay close to the human essence of their cause and communicate clearly with donors to further social impact.”

Neil Heslop, OBE, Chief Executive, Charities Aid Foundation

The reaction from around the world

“The research is clear in showing the appetite that donors have for charities implementing AI in Indonesia. For us, integrating AI brings considerable potential and benefits, empowering smaller institutions to compete with larger counterparts and enhancing governance.

"Yet, there are challenges and risks to it. The most important of which in Indonesia is the reliability of AI-generated data and the need to ensure sufficient human resources in delivering programs. In response, philanthropy must adapt to AI's increasing role, redefining competencies while recognizing AI's limitations in replacing the core values of generosity, solidarity, and human connection inherent in philanthropy. At a sectoral level, continuous dialogue will be essential to navigate the diverse perspectives, concerns and implementation challenges within the sector.”

Filantropi Indonesia

"The concerns raised in the survey are also my concerns as a leader of a civil society organisation. The one that worries me the most is the potential for bias, as this can lead to wrong decisions.

"At Ação da Cidadania, we use AI for communication, creating sponsored ads and generating images. We also see great potential for its use for fundraising, as it can help us better understand the profile of our donors and create strategies based on this knowledge.

"Today, in Brazil, CSOs use AI very little. I believe that it can generate positive results, but first organizations must be clear about the fundamentals of the technology. Otherwise, the risk of them making biased and even disastrous decisions is high."

Rodrigo ”Kiko” Afonso, Executive Director, Ação da Cidadania, Brazil

What next?

We know that the donor viewpoint is just one angle on AI for charities. Watch this space for more primary research over the course of 2024 and look out for our Connector Event later this spring, where you can:

  • Hear more about our research
  • Discuss AI with charity sector peers
  • Ask questions of AI professionals

Be the first to get the event details, plus more on AI and other issues affecting the charity sector and the giving landscape straight to your inbox.

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