If you work for a nonprofit and want to learn how to use artificial intelligence (AI) and low-code automation to create your own digital solutions, applications, dashboards, and workflows, you are not alone. Gartner predicts that by 2026, developers outside formal IT departments will account for at least 80% of those using low-code development tools. Many of them will be nonprofit professionals without a technical background—such as fundraisers and database managers—who are looking for ways to increase their impact through the power of AI and low-code platforms. 

But what is low-code and how is it related to AI? What are the benefits and challenges of using low-code platforms? And how can you get started on low-code development with the fundraising software and data you’re already using? We have the answers and the resources to help you join the AI revolution and prepare to build your first low-code app. 

What Is Low-Code and What Does It Have to Do with AI?

Low-code is a practice, a platform, or a user experience that relies on a graphical user interface that automates aspects of the development process, eliminating dependencies on traditional computer programming approaches. Essentially, it makes coding less about code and more about programming logic with drag-and-drop features. There are now even natural language prompts powered by AI.

Did you know you’re doing this stuff already? Think of how often you use productivity tools such as email rules in Outlook or Gmail. And how many apps do you have on your phone? You’re likely interacting with low-code when you scroll to order a pepperoni pizza.

See How Bennington College Uses Low-Code to Automate Reporting

AI is a broad and quickly adapting term that refers to the use of data and machine learning to create new content or make predictions from it. For example, AI can accelerate low-code development by helping you build a workflow or an app just by using natural language, or it can generate content from data using large language models like GPT-4. 

The low-code or no-code revolution is the rise of drag and drop, simple user interfaces that allow non-developers to easily build productivity solutions, from apps to automated workflows to chatbots. The demand for low-code development is driven by several factors, such as the need for digital transformation, the appeal of automating repetitive tasks, the shortage of skilled developers, the benefit of cost and time savings compared to traditional development, and the empowerment of creative problem solvers.

Low-code development is also influenced by the emergence of generative AI, which is a type of AI that uses data and learning to create new content rather than simply processing and transforming it. 

Can Your Fundraising Software Integrate with Low-Code Platforms? 

There are many low-code and no-code platforms available and some of them have preconfigured integrations with fundraising CRMs, marketing automation software, and accounting software, including Blackbaud products and data. You can also use open APIs—an application programming interface with free access to the public that enables information sharing between two software platforms. Open APIs allow you to connect your CRM data to any platform that supports them. However, we will focus on the Microsoft Power Platform, which is the most widely used low-code platform among nonprofits, because it integrates well with Microsoft productivity tools and offers a lot of customization and flexibility.

See the Top Five Fundraiser Automations to Try First

The Microsoft Power Platform consists of four main components:  

  • Power Apps allows you to build integrated or standalone applications using a drag-and-drop interface 
  • Power Automate lets you create automated workflows that connect to hundreds of prebuilt connectors, including Blackbaud products  
  • Power BI helps you create reports and dashboards that allow you to visualize and analyze your data 
  • Power Pages simplify the creation of professional business websites using no- and low-code techniques  

Not every fundraising software company offers a range of low-code options. Blackbaud, on the other hand, has many connectors for the Microsoft Power Platform, including the Raiser’s Edge NXT connector and the SKY Add-in connector with more planned for other products in the future.

  • The Raiser’s Edge NXT connector allows you to instantly connect Raiser’s Edge NXT to Microsoft solutions such as Outlook, Teams, and Form solutions, and to a wide variety of other solutions such as Adobe and Webex
  • The SKY Add-in connector allows you to connect other Blackbaud products powered by SKY APIs, such as Financial Edge NXT, to the Power Platform
  • Custom connectors offer another option, which you can build to your specific needs using tutorials and guides from Blackbaud and Microsoft 

What to Know Before Your Team Starts a Low-Code Project

If you want to join the low-code revolution and boost your nonprofit’s impact with AI, you need to consider three main factors. 

  • Time: You need to make space in your schedule for the work that matters, which means investing time to automate the processes that will save you time and tedium in the long run  
  • Access: You need to have access to the low-code platform that suits your needs, which means working with your IT partners to get the licenses and permissions you need to experiment safely  
  • Support: You need the support of your managers, your peers, and your community, which means getting the training and guidance you need to build your skills and share your knowledge 

See How Preble Street Got Started with Low-Code Automations

To identify and prioritize low-code and AI projects, follow some key principles.  

  • Prepare: Involve your end users and stakeholders from the beginning, to capture their needs and preferences and to manage the change that your projects will bring  
  • Brainstorm: Keep a running list of ideas, and prioritize them based on their impact, complexity, and feasibility 
  • Start small: Begin with a pilot project or single process automation and build from there 
  • Pace: Break down large and complex processes into smaller and simpler phases or stages, tackling them one by one  
  • Set goals: Establish milestones, iterate on your projects, and measure their outcomes and benefits 

How Can You Gain Low-Code Skills?

Even though you do not need specialized coding skills to conceive, build, and launch a low-code or no-code application, you might need a little help to get started, especially if you have limited technical expertise. There are many resources available to you to help you learn and grow as a low-code developer.

Because the range of applications is expanding every day, no-code/low-code development is becoming an in-demand (and even expected) skill set for nontechnical employees. As you master low-code skills and the basics of AI, you will be fast-tracking applications to enhance your organization’s efficiency and fundraising efforts while giving yourself a competitive advantage in a challenging job market. Get started with low-code and AI now.

The post Join the AI Revolution: Build Your First Low-Code Fundraising App first appeared on The ENGAGE Blog.