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Charity Community

Digital tools and AI bunnies: The Charity Excellence Framework is a one-stop shop to support your charity

Author: Kristina Kopic, Head of Charity and Voluntary Sector, ICAEW

Published: 29 Aug 2023

The Charity Excellence Framework helps charities ask the right questions, identify priorities and access relevant, trustworthy resources or organisations that can help charities improve, all with the help of artificial intelligence and a big vision.

Artificial intelligence can help trustees see the wood for the trees

Last year, we asked trustees about their priorities and challenges in a joint research project with the Charities Aid Foundation and heard that some trustees were overwhelmed by the volume of guidance. They found it difficult to ascertain which resources were reliable or useful, regretting that there is no ‘one-stop shop’ for trustees seeking help.

Since then, artificial intelligence (AI) has come a long way and can help trustees find relevant guidance more quickly. ChatGPT is now widely used by the public and, with the appropriate safeguards on privacy, copyright and fact-checking, AI can help charities become more efficient and free up much needed time. And whilst human intelligence still plays a key role in assessing the quality and accuracy of information, much of the heavy lifting is done by registered charity The Charity Excellence Framework (CEF), which uses AI to help not-for-profits find reliable information quickly with its ‘AI bunny avatars’.

Ian McLintock, founder of CEF, believes that AI could be the best thing that has happened to the charity sector in a long time. With decades of experience as a CEO and Chair of charities, he created CEF to help charities find funding or assess the effectiveness of their governance and management with a range of online health checks. The platform also provides access to free policy templates once a charity has registered.

How can CEF help your charity?

CEF signposts free high-quality resources to charities that are looking for reliable guidance, including ICAEW’s Trustee Training Modules, ICAEW Volunteers and our Charity Community. Navigating a wealth of available guidance on a wide variety of charity-related topics is made simple by the AI bunnies who will help you find relevant guidance quickly. They can write funding bids, ChatGPT prompts and respond to 20,000 questions on anything charity related, 24/7. The platform already has over 40,000 members and is growing rapidly; McLintocks aims to reach his target of 100,000 charities by the end of 2024, a level which, he believes, will enable system change.

McLintock’s mission is to help charities maximise the impact of their limited resources by helping them ask the right questions, quickly identify priorities and access relevant, trustworthy resources or organisations that can help them improve, all free of charge. He describes CEF as a “a charity eco-system that’s a one-stop-shop for anything that a non-profit needs” and designed it as a behavioural change system that respectfully nudges the sector towards greater professionalism.

CEF’s business model

McLintock had planned to prove the system and then transfer ownership to the sector but, because of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, he ended up paying for the development and running costs from his own pocket since 2016. He says that it was difficult to attract funding because CEF does not fall neatly into a charity sub-sector. Now, CEF has pivoted to a wholly commercial sector model and benefits from the support of 5 tech and AI companies from London to Los Angeles, which provide funding, AI machine learning, developer support and substantially discounted coding.

McLintock is conscious that CEF needs a balanced strategic approach and wants to work with companies that either have expertise in working in the sector or that share the charity’s aim to fundamentally change the sector in a good way. “Anyone who is interested to know more or might wish to think about joining us is welcome to get in touch,” he says.

Why the bunnies?

Some of the people that AI avatars chat to are vulnerable or underage. McLintock was pondering which avatar would be the least threatening when he spotted his rescue bunnies fast asleep on the floor. He adds “the other reason is that nobody would tell their friends about a bot that can answer 20,000 charity questions, including tax and accounting. But a fluffy bunny that’s fixated on carrots, tells bad jokes and gets hissy if you mention Fatal Attraction? They promote themselves.”

What’s next for CEF?

According to McLintock, the next step will be to use social franchising and give large charities, groups of charities and grant makers their own CEF master system. He says “not many people know it but there are already 4 CEF systems and we plan to deploy up to 100. The next stage will be to move to a single AI concierge service that will act as a single gateway to everything any non-profit needs.”

If you are interested in exploring the platform for yourself, you can visit the CEF website and register here.