Guest speaker Scott Rosenkrans takes look at artificial intelligence in philanthropy | Academics

Scott Rosenkrans spoke at UT on Oct. 26 to discuss how nonprofits can utilize AI to better advertise. 

On Oct. 26 in the College of Communication and Information, guest speaker Scott Rosenkrans gave students an insight into the world of advertising, now inhabited by artificial intelligence. Rosenkrans, the associate vice president at DonorSearch AI, has spent much of his professional career navigating this tool in the philanthropic and not-for-profit worlds.

For most undergraduates in the Tombras School of Advertising and Public Relations, AI feels like a fairly new trend. ChatGPT made waves in academic news and led many in higher education to approach the concept with some hesitancy. For Dr. Joseph Stabb, an assistant professor at the Tombras School, AI is far from the newborn homework hack most make it out to be. To him, it is a tool he has been using for almost a decade in his career.

“We don’t have to build an entire 15 or 30-second ad anymore,” Stabb said. “What we can do is put elements into a system, and AI will, on the fly, put together an ad for you based on your viewing habits. That’s already happening in the industry. If you notice an ad abruptly stop playing and switch to a different ad, it’s because it knows the viewership on the TV and that it needs to switch ads based on who’s watching. That’s AI in advertising already.”

A large portion of Stabb’s curriculum is centered around giving students the necessary tools for industry adaptation. While being ahead of the curve in an industry of trends is basically impossible, Stabb is far more concerned with being able to react properly rather than trying to play a game of predictions. For Rosenkrans, who has been using AI models at DonorSearch for six years now, there is no better way to apply those tools than with a spirit of giving.

While AI already permeates the for-profit landscape, not-for-profits tend to follow industry trends with a delay of a few years. What is seen as concerning in the nonprofit world is the dip that has been taken in charity donations in the last two years. Calling it a “generosity crisis,” Rosenkrans predicts that without intervention, individual giving to nonprofits may end in 49 years. As for-profit companies start to dip into the charitable waters and the number of giving households dwindles every year, the need for solutions becomes more dire.

This is where transformative AI comes in, with Rosenkrans saying it is the only scalable solution to help reverse the decline in giving our country has seen in recent years. Prior to the emergence of ChatGPT, it is estimated that 50% of the for-profit sector was already using AI in some form or facet. Only 20% of nonprofits, which operate in a naturally risk-averse field, have implemented or even experimented with AI.

Rosenkrans has been building predictive models for years now. In that time, he has found that the decline in giving isn’t entirely centered around some economic crisis or an increase in selfishness. Most of the roadblocks with charity today come from an industry averse to change in the face of a tool that could bring unlimited possibilities.

Most not-for-profit organizations tend to put their focus on a small pool of immense wealth, with the thinking that an increase in affluence leads to an increase in generosity, which is rarely the case. With charity, most people’s reasoning to give is rooted in connection rather than their tax bracket.

DonorSearch has been providing data to charities and other nonprofits since 2007. Just last year they added DonorSearch AI, a brainchild of Rosenkrans and a way for those in philanthropy to reach potential donors the same way Amazon reaches potential customers: targeted advertisements and an AI entity tailored to know your philanthropic habits.

“Nonprofits tend to not be talked about that often,” Rosenkrans said. “So it’s nice to combine something behind the scenes with something so front and center in today’s world with ChatGPT.” 

With discourse surrounding AI pervading academics and most career fields, a lecture as informative as Rosenkrans’ highlights some of the unknowns and big questions surrounding its place in our world. For philanthropists, knowing the ins and outs of AI may soon become an invaluable skill.