Exploring Opportunities and Risks of Artificial Intelligence in Business Associations

AI has significant implications for business associations, transforming their operations and strategic decision-making. Associations can leverage AI to analyze vast amounts of data, uncover actionable insights, and predict market trends. AI-powered tools can automate routine tasks, enhance member engagement, and personalize experiences. Machine learning algorithms enable associations to deliver targeted content, personalized recommendations, and predictive analytics. AI can also streamline administrative processes, optimize resource allocation, and improve operational efficiency. However, business associations must carefully address ethical concerns, data privacy, and transparency to foster trust and ensure responsible AI implementation within their frameworks. Overall, AI empowers business associations to thrive in the digital era by unlocking new opportunities and enhancing member value.

The foregoing was written entirely by artificial intelligence. By simply typing “AI implications for business associations in 100 words or less” into ChatGPT, the popular AI-powered large language model (LLM) developed by the San Francisco-based non-profit OpenAI, this paragraph was written within a matter of seconds, with no editing required. As the paragraph highlights, the use of AI can have profound implications for associations on multiple levels, with the potential to generate quality content and augment limited resources when used correctly. Clearly ChatGPT is quite optimistic about its relevance to business associations and the world of work more generally, but it’s still up to all of us to decide when, why, and how we adapt it in our daily tasks. Let’s take a closer look at use cases and potential risks.

A recent Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) discussion with William Pawlucy,  president of the global consulting firm Association Options and author of The Essential Handbook for Nonprofit Leaders, highlighted AI and machine learning as the top technological trend facing associations today. A recent American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Research Foundation study of associations as innovation catalysts found that AI and other digital and technological innovations were among the top drivers of change within the industry.

Importantly, the first step in integrating generative AI successfully into your organization is understanding what it can and cannot do. For example, ChatGPT reminds users that it “may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.” Keep in mind that ChatGPT and similar LLMs are chatbots that predict answers to prompts based on its algorithm and training data. The source of this data, the internet, is awash in ethical concerns such as false, misleading, and biased information, as well as propaganda and hate speech – which AI cannot always identify and, as noted above, can also perpetuate. In order to manage those risks, it is important for associations to start by analyzing and understanding the risks of adopting specific AI technologies within the organization. For example, what are the privacy implications of the user data that will be collected, how might bias be present, and how can those concerns be mitigated in the way the technology is integrated?

Understanding the limitations of generative AI tools can in turn help association professionals maximize the benefits. For example, how can a machine deliver personalization and member engagement? Isn’t that dependent on human interaction? The human element is still important, especially in high-context societies where relationships matter. If integrated properly within an association’s operations, AI tools have the potential to supplement and accentuate the role of the staff, rather than diminish it.

AI can introduce new efficiencies and allow for a level of on-demand service that wasn’t possible before, continuously adapting and improving through machine learning. AI tools like chatbots can help members access the information and advice they need at any time. Plus, imagine the ability of the AI to also suggest programs, benefits, and services based on the conversation. Given limited staff resources within many associations, AI could help staff focus on more strategic initiatives instead of dealing with basic issues and requests. When a user reaches the limits of the technology, or just wants to talk to a human, the association’s staff is there to help. Associations can increasingly leverage AI to maximize the benefit of their Customer Relationship Management system to better tailor their communications, services, and engagement to meet market demand. As with any other investment in technology, the end game should be creating new forms of value, and in a way that builds member satisfaction (not frustration).

On the other hand, adopting highly tailored AI systems remains prohibitively costly for most business associations, not-for-profits, and small businesses. While many of us have become accustomed to chat bots, algorithm-based recommendations, apps and software, only 35 percent of companies have adopted AI and many of those represent the largest multinational companies from a handful of wealthy countries. It is also true that many of the apps and software your organization already uses contain all kinds of AI, and additional free and affordable AI tools are coming to market that may be a great fit for your association’s needs.

For example, leveraging free AI tools can also have a transformative effect within an association’s advocacy program, especially for small-staff associations. Most government affairs and advocacy professionals are on teams of just one to three people, and many CIPE partners in emerging and frontier markets do not have dedicated staff for this function at all. AI tools can therefore be a game changer for producing first drafts of advocacy content that would otherwise be labor intensive, such as press releases, letters to lawmakers, and even video editing. It can also be used to optimize email copy and newsletters for members and constituents to help hold their attention and move them to action – with help from a skilled editor.

As the AI-authored first paragraph of this blog post states, there are also risks associated with the use of this technology which must be managed. The ASAE points out that “as associations consider implementing AI technology, they must keep in mind several legal issues that could affect data privacy, intellectual property, insurance, discrimination, and tort liability when it comes to their members, other volunteers, and staff.” It is also not unusual to hear even proponents of AI adoption in the workplace say “don’t feed the beast” – in other words, do not upload proprietary information into an LLM, as any intellectual property will be incorporated into the model and becomes fair game. To that end, establishing clear policies and procedures around AI use and ethics at your association is recommended, as is developing a risk management plan and obtaining legal advice as necessary.

Importantly, associations can also be a champion for democratic and accountable AI adoption, ensuring the voice of local business is reflected in the governance and regulation of this emerging technology. In the U.S., for example, a new public working group will provide input on how the AI Risk Management Framework released by the National Institute of Standards and Technology can support the development of generative AI technologies. Meanwhile the European Union is poised to pass the EU A.I. Act, the first ever comprehensive AI regulation, which is likely to also set a precedent for other jurisdictions across the globe, including addressing data privacy and transparency issues. Business associations that understand how AI can be used and misused are well equipped to advocate for smart public policy that reduces risks and harm while encouraging innovation.

Ultimately, association leaders should not feel threatened or intimidated by the potential impact of AI in their organizations. Far from putting associations out of business or rendering functions obsolete, this new technology, when used with care, has the potential to help associations become more effective service providers and advocates for their members. It has long been best practice for associations to plan and budget for technology, and AI can be a key component of that. Especially for small staff associations with limited resources, AI can be a force multiplier and help deliver value for members in ways that weren’t possible before. Notably, associations have a unique opportunity to shape AI in their own workplace, across the business community, and in policy debates.

Published Date: September 15, 2023