Use of the cloud, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming several industries, including the nonprofit sector.

TechRepublic’s Dan Patterson met with the Foundation Center‘s data and technology strategy vice president Jake Garcia to discuss how foundations, nonprofits, and government agencies are using big data to their advantage.

The Foundation Center tracks grants that foundations across the world give to nonprofits, and helps those nonprofits find grants from foundations. The organization also helps the foundations make better decisions about how they create grants.

Different types of foundations and nonprofits have different sets of needs. “For a lot of nonprofits, getting grants from foundations is a significant portion of their revenue that they need to make every year,” Garcia said. The Foundation Center now helps match these nonprofits with the specific grants they need by using big data and machine learning to search for specific keywords.

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Garcia explained that most nonprofits that conduct data analysis often feel like they are missing an important piece of information, or that other organizations have access to certain data that they do not have. “The volume of data is much higher than it has ever been before,” he said. Nonprofits are collecting data about their own users and from outside sources. “There’s just so much data out there, and taking all that noise and synthesizing it into something that’s really meaningful for their customer base, or their user base, is probably the biggest challenge,” he added.

The Foundation Center now relies on AI to help solve its large data problems, specifically to look for grant descriptions. The organization has access to a lot of text, Garcia explained, and to make sense of it, it has to classify that data into a taxonomy. With machine learning, the center is able to auto-classify text into different codes, making it easier for a decision maker to decipher which text is relevant, and which can be thrown out, he said.

Big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are becoming most useful for the nonprofit sector when it comes to “making sense of sentiment from text and understanding financial trends,” Garcia said. He suggests that organizations looking to using data and machine learning train their staff on machine learning methods with online tools and classes, or at least familiarize them with the methods.

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