Cloud Direct and mhance host UK Nonprofit Leaders Summit

When we attended Microsoft’s Global Nonprofit Leaders Summit earlier this year, we came away filled with energy and excitement having witnessed the innovative work that is taking place in the nonprofit sector, and what Microsoft has in store in the near future.

But for many UK nonprofits, making the 10,000-mile round-trip to Seattle just wasn’t feasible. Eager for you not to miss out, however, we teamed up with mhance – as the only two UK organisations to sponsor the event – and with Microsoft to host a UK Nonprofit Leaders event on the 28 March, to bring you everything you might’ve missed from Seattle. Bringing together IT leaders from a range of charities across the UK, we spent the morning talking about all things Microsoft AI, and how non-profits can start leading the way in using AI for good.

If you weren’t able to make it to Seattle, or to our event in Reading, then we’ve created this rundown of key highlights so that you don’t miss a trick.

Key highlights from our Reading event

We opened with David Leigh and Ha Cole, from Microsoft’s Tech for Social Impact team, who started by highlighting how technology is moving at such a fast pace that, for nonprofits, it’s starting to raise challenges and intensify existing inequalities.

In comes AI, which can start to address some of these growing challenges and inequalities. David showed us that Microsoft is investing heavily in AI technology and says nonprofits are increasingly becoming one of the largest adopters of AI as a force for good.

But AI adoption doesn’t come without its challenges. Ha demonstrated that nonprofit employees are ready to embrace AI, with 70 per cent willing to delegate work to AI, while three in five say a lack of innovation from leaders is a concern of theirs.

We quickly covered what cognitive tasks nonprofit employees want to use AI for, which include:

  • Summarising meetings and action items
  • More creative work
  • Analytical work
  • Planning and managing their day
  • Repetitive admin tasks

Some nonprofits have already started using AI, with one example showing how Microsoft Copilot can be used to create summaries of missed meetings, saving an average of 32 minutes per meeting – time that can be spent on more important tasks.

But what is holding nonprofits back?

  • 52 per cent lack skilled workers in AI
  • 28 per cent are worried about the cost of AI
  • 28 per cent are concerned about data or IP loss due to improper AI use
  • 26 per cent lack any form of AI governance or risk management

With a well-developed AI strategy and upskilling in workers’ AI knowledge, nonprofits can start to overcome these challenges.

Transformative Leadership in the Age of AI

Up next was Jonathan Chevallier, CEO of Charity Digital, who was there to talk about how you can be an effective IT leader in the age of AI.

Straight off the bat, Jonathan referenced the 2023 Charity Digital Skills Report to highlight some key stats around leadership and team support for nonprofits that are adopting AI:

  • 51 per cent of respondents stated that their organisation was providing no AI training and support
  • 43 per cent would like their leaders to develop and embed a good digital strategy
  • 6 per cent of respondents felt that there is sufficient AI upskilling support available to the sector

It was evident that AI is a recurring theme for nonprofits across the sector. Its power can work wonders for a nonprofit, but many don’t know how to get started or how to support their teams in leveraging AI responsibly.

Jonathan also went through the facets of developing an AI strategy, and how to become a great AI leader. He mentioned that for a strong AI-focused digital transformation journey, you need to align these three main strategies:

Business strategy

A plan of action that outlines what an organisation needs to do to strengthen their performance and achieve their desired goals and outcomes.

Digital strategy

A plan of action that outlines how an organisation will leverage digital technologies and channels to fulfil its objectives.

IT strategy

A plan of action that outlines how an organisation will use its IT resources, systems, and infrastructure to achieve its goals.

Jonathan closed with his top three traits that make a good AI leader:

  • They focus on empowering and supporting their team with AI technology
  • Decisions on AI are made collaboratively within the team
  • They help their team develop AI skills and capabilities

Charity Digital have some useful resources that can help nonprofits get started, including this AI checklist for nonprofit IT leaders which is free for you to use.

Empowering your fundraising journey through AI

Next up, we had a great demonstration from James Glover at mhance, about Journeys and Propensity Modelling within Microsoft’s Customer Insights, and how it can be used to enhance fundraising efforts with AI.

James showed how you can start to analyse your donor journeys and predict their behaviour and preferences. We were shown how, with Customer Insights, you can map out and analyse the end-to-end journey that a donor takes and understand their interactions across various touchpoints, such as emails and website visits.

By segmenting your donors based on behaviours and preferences, you can tailor your communications and engagement strategies. James demonstrated that, with the help of AI, you can proactively identify those donors who are more likely to donate and focus your efforts on engaging with them.

With AI in Customer Insights, you can also predict donor behaviour and understand which ones are more likely to contribute and to engage with your campaigns. Many nonprofits are trying to find new ways to improve their donor retention rates, so it was a notable highlight for the room to see James demonstrate how AI-powered insights can help optimise campaign performance to increase donor engagement and retention.

Seven Step Roadmap to AI

We know that AI can help you make better decisions and improve efficiencies within nonprofits, but you have to start with a plan before diving straight into it – and it all starts in the cloud.

Up next was Cloud Direct’s Principal Cloud Evangelist Leon Godwin, who brought to life our seven-step roadmap to adopting artificial intelligence. Here’s a quick rundown of those seven steps.

Step 1 – Migrate to Azure

To meaningfully embrace AI, your data must be accessible in real time, and migrating to Azure will allow for this kind of accessibility. Start with creating a business case, and set out why cloud migration is right for you and how it can help with your AI strategy.

Step 2 – Controlling cloud costs

An Azure cost optimisation report will establish what your cloud spend is, and whether you are spending too little or too much. The Azure model means you only pay for the tools you need, so you must consider what you’re paying for and what you need in order to lay the foundations for AI.

Step 3 – Security and performance review

Undergoing a security review will help you understand and identify threats that are relevant to you. You’ll also want to review performance to ensure your cloud environment continues to deliver what you need it to. Tools like Azure Monitor and Advisor will allow you to keep a close eye on your environment and ensure it is equipped to handle your AI tools.

Step 4 – Modernising your applications

What services are you using? Can they be found on Azure? If so, this ensures you are paying for up-to-date tools that are designed with data accessibility, scalability, and security in mind, as and when you need them. Doing this before AI adoption means you remove many of the barriers ahead of you, making you more operationally efficient and giving you a greater degree of agility.

Step 5 – Making data accessible

Data powers AI and if it isn’t modernised or accessible then your AI will be running on inaccurate and unstructured information. Make sure your data has been collected, organised, cleaned, and stored properly before you introduce any element of automation or AI.

Step 6 – Gaining insights from data analytics

At this stage, your data will be in good shape for AI to start delving into. These insights will provide a foundational understanding of your business’s pain points, inform future decisions and choices, and enable you to accurately and effectively allocate resources. You can also use Power BI at this stage to make insights from your data clearer, which is particularly important when it comes to explaining the reason behind your AI decisions to your team and leadership.

Step 7 – Create an AI policy

AI is complex and constantly evolving. There needs to be an element of control around how you and your employees use AI, so you should adopt concise policy documents before rolling it out to keep everyone on the same page and using it responsibly. Once your strategy is in place, and your data and apps are ready, you can begin to work with AI, confident that you are well-prepared and primed for success.

What you need to know before using Microsoft Copilot?

Last up to present was Stuart McSkimming, an experienced charity CIO and now Deputy Chair of Charity IT Leaders. We were very excited to have him on board to give some insight about his time trialling Microsoft Copilot and offer advice for nonprofits that want to start using it.

It was no surprise to see that when Stuart polled the audience, nearly all of the attendees did not think their nonprofit were experts at AI, and that the vast majority had only limited experience in using a handful of AI products.

“The differentiator between success and failure was how people used and embedded the technology in their day-to-day work,” he said.

Stuart learnt a lot through trial and error with Microsoft Copilot at a charity – meaning you don’t have to! He shared his top considerations before embarking on an AI project:

  • AI Skills Training for your team – do you need to form an AI board?
  • Find use cases – can they help to inform a business case?
  • Start small – get a handful of Copilot licences and start to explore in a small team.
  • AI Policy – create a policy that outlines how and why you’re using AI.
  • Celebrate your successes when using AI.
  • Develop AI champions in your team.
  • Produce an AI roadmap for the next 12 months.
  • Consider your AI readiness with the seven steps.
  • Get help! Don’t be afraid to speak to a Microsoft partner, like Cloud Direct or mhance.

There’s a lot to consider here from Stuart, but his key takeaway was making sure you get your IT infrastructure and data into a position that is ready for AI before you embark on your journey. Don’t set off with a planned route.

What can you do next?

At Cloud Direct, we understand that using data and AI can play a crucial role in the success of your nonprofit. As a leading UK Microsoft Solutions Partner and Azure Expert Managed Service Provider, we can assist you in your digital transformation journey and provide access to Microsoft nonprofit resources and funding.

From Azure migration to building a sound data strategy and implementing key Microsoft AI services such as OpenAI, Copilot, Power BI and more, our experts can help kickstart your data and AI journey in the cloud. Get in touch today to find out more, or book a free 1:1 Data and AI Innovation Workshop for a tailored assessment of your AI potential.