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Do No (Technological) Harm By Mark L. Vincent



Technological advances require stewardship.

A couple of now tattered technological articles from the 2 May 2019 Wall Street Journal found their way into my backpack.  They are:

Both touch on the use of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace. Both touch on what nonprofit executives need to think about.

Greg Ip tells us that Amazon use of algorithms can now complete many HR tasks with precision, including generating dismissal letters for workers who underperform or who consistently take too long of a bathroom break. Walker, Loftus and Abbott write that data-driven prediction for healthcare is not providing its promised efficiency at this time, but the hoped-for fruit of continued investment in AI will bring better courses of treatment and significant cost reduction.

Mr. Ip notes that Amazon claims that manager judgment will be not be trumped by Artificial Intelligence.  Messrs. Walker, Loftus and Abbott say that insurers will have to remember that their algorithmic predictions should not overrule a doctor’s judgment. Somehow this feels very much like the argument that scientists will not edit human genes.

These articles leave a general queasiness for steward leaders.

  • Who does not love getting a book they are searching for, or the razor’s they would have forgotten to purchase in tomorrow’s mail?
  • Who among us does not want the cost of health care to go down? And yet, what are the costs of making this possible?
  • What price is paid in worker dignity and human relationships?
  • Whose lives and livelihoods are harmed along the way?
  • Who among us wants to be watched over and decided for in this way?

Nonprofit leaders make use of the same technology in raising support and carrying out Great Commission and Great Commandment activity. Donors are profiled and targeted for the big asks by CRMs and related research tools. Grant proposals are increasingly researched and then written to match the organization-speak of the Foundation offering the grant. Data is collected from online donations that can be parsed a thousand different ways, and then thrown back at the donor in the banner ads they see when they are online. When someone calls an organization they support, the person at the other end of the phone (if there is a person at the other end of the phone) reads from the fields on their screen to create relationship touchpoints (do we have your phone number and e-mail address recorded directly?) rather than having an actual relationship.

This technology helps us. And it hurts us. Let’s be honest about that so we can think more deeply about all of the implications involved with each subsequent technological investment, and then choose accordingly.

  • Let’s develop upside/downside lists as a matter of course when considering an increase in technological investment. There will always be tradeoffs!
  • Let’s pray with the upside and downside in mind as we discern where God is going and how we might join in.
  • Let’s bring case studies to places like Christian Leadership Alliance events so that we foster industry-wide thoughtfulness and resolve, placing God’s will for the redemption and flourishing of all of creation above the survival of an institution.


Mark L. Vincent serves as an Executive Advisor and is the Founder of Design Group International.


Coming Soon – Summer Term 2019

This term Christian Leadership Alliance is offering courses that will enable you to meet requirements for two of its premiere programs, the Credentialed Christian Nonprofit Leader  (CCNL) and the Outcomes Leadership Core (OLC). Now is a prefect time to get started on either one or both of these leadership programs!

Registration Deadline: June 17, 2019
Modules Begin: June 24, 2019



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