AI is helping this crowdfunding site raise more with less

Give.Asia has developed its own tool based on open models, including OpenAI, which is helping the site to generate short-form videos that are used to run fundraising campaigns.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
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Give.Asia has developed its own artificial intelligence (AI) tool that is helping the crowdfunding platform generate content for fundraising campaigns. 

Dubbed Sidekick, the AI application is used to create infographics, images, text, and short-form videos that are needed to run alongside fundraising campaigns. Tailored to portray personal stories of beneficiaries of these campaigns, the content is then shared across social media channels, such as Instagram and Facebook.  

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Users only have to furnish the details needed to generate the infographics or provide the videos to be edited. The AI tool includes a text writer that can produce campaign stories that meet the chosen style of writing, including "journalistic or activistic". 

Sidekick not only enables users without proficiency in the necessary skillsets to generate content, it has also significantly cut the amount of time and effort required to generate campaign stories, said Give.Asia CTO Gia Ngo in an interview with ZDNET.

Tasks that previously required days can now be completed in minutes. Instagram-styled videos, for example, can be generated in 15 minutes -- it previously took three to five days to produce a single 30-second clip. 

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Copies for a campaign also used to take two to three days to be completed, including graphics. This content-creation process now takes less than half a day using Sidekick, with multiple draft versions developed, from which the staff can choose one to use for the campaign. 

Founded in 2009, Give.Asia is based in Singapore and raises funds primarily via online channels. To date, it has helped run more than 20,000 campaigns across six Asia-Pacific markets, including Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the Philippines, raising in excess of SG$100 million ($73.75 million). 

Give.Asia is registered as a for-profit company, but does not collect a cut from the funds it helps raise. Instead, the platform sustains its operations mainly from "tips" that organizations give on top of their donations. It also supports charity organizations, from which it collects a nominal amount to cover transactional fees, such as credit card service charges. 

It has worked with some 400 organizations, including hospitals and charities, and supported a few ad-hoc corporate social responsibility projects for private companies. 

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Give.Asia has a headcount of 30 people, comprising full-time and part-time staff, as well as volunteers, who work in tech, marketing, partnership, and service support. The crowdfunding site helps both organizations and individuals, the latter of which mostly need funds for their medical bills. 

It does not charge charities and non-profits for the use of Sidekick to create AI-generated materials for their fundraising campaigns.

Higher efficiency without the associated costs 

Typically operating with minimum resources and in markets, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where the cost of human talent can be high, charities often face difficulties finding the right skillsets, Ngo said. Doing more with the staff they have is essential -- and AI enables them to achieve that, he said. 

Ngo, who has a PhD in AI neuroscience and biomedical data analysis in healthcare, started as a volunteer with Give.Asia in 2014. He became a full-time employee in 2018 for two years, before heading off for his PhD studies, and returned again last year as its CTO to spearhead the company's AI initiatives. 

It took his team six months to develop Sidekick, which is currently in closed beta and used by a small group of charities that gave explicit consent for the AI tool to be used for their campaigns.

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The beta has been running for more than four months and feedback, so far, has been largely positive, according to Ngo. 

"It helps drive the efficiency of the content writing team because they can now generate multiple jobs more quickly," he said. 

"They can also do things they couldn't do before, where they would previously have to ask for help from the marketing team or designers to create graphics. Now, the content team can do these tasks by themselves."

The staff can also respond faster to what works better. 

Now they're able to quickly generate multiple versions of content for a campaign. Charities can run an initial batch comprising different versions and then identify the one with the highest response, which can be pushed out on a larger scale. 

Doing this work manually perviously required two or three days. Teams had to churn out different versions of content that was used to run a small scale campaign, Ngo said. With Sidekick, this task can now be done in one day. 

He added that charities are keen to use AI because it is hard for them to compete against private companies for talent and, hence, they often lack the expertise. 

"With AI, they can empower their staff to do more tasks, such as creative work, without having acquired the necessary talent," he said. 

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Human oversight, though, is still important, Ngo noted, especially in human-centric industries, such as charity work, where trust is crucial and must be maintained. 

Checks are carried out on the content generated by Sidekick. These checks ensure all AI-generated content, including text and video captions, are factually accurate and do not contain sensitive personal information. 

AI, Ngo added, should be seen as a companion to a company's operations, assisting in tasks that are repetitive and manual-intensive. 

With the beta run, his team is looking to improve the quality of campaigns generated by Sidekick, rather than increase the quantity of campaigns. 

The AI application was developed in-house on top of open APIs, including OpenAI, which were used to build the base model and sources for content creation, such as graphics and logos. 

Give.Asia's long-term goal is to make Sidekick open source and a self-service tool that can be accessed by any charity that wants to use it, Ngo said. 

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Until then, the challenge is to adapt to changes in the evolving AI space, he said, noting that core models will continue to be developed and released by key market players, including OpenAI, Google, and Facebook. These emerging models then need to be assessed and applied in a way that is relevant for Give.Asia, he said. 

"When we started implementing AI, we did so in an iterative process, running small experiments and MVPs with the various teams to see how the tool is adopted," he explained. 

"We want to make sure we're not building something that isn't useful."

His team also provided guidelines, such as checking against hallucinations and data inaccuracies

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"Everyone understands it's not a one-size-fits-all, and that human decisions and monitoring are still important," he said. 

These checks and balances will remain important moving forward, as his team looks to apply AI more extensively. For example, they have begun evaluating the use of AI to transcribe interviews conducted with beneficiaries, the information from which is used to create content for fundraising campaigns. 

These interviews often contain sensitive information, so the AI tool must be able to identify what should and should not be included in the campaign materials, Ngo explained. These perimeters need to be set as a criteria that the AI model can understand, he added. 

With human oversight especially important, his team is still working to integrate both AI and human processes.

There are concerns about privacy, he added, noting that the AI model currently is missing out on some "red flags". For example, it was instructed to mask phone numbers and missed out on some instances. 

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His team is figuring out how to resolve such kinks, including the fine tuning of the prompt-engineering process.

There also are challenges that need to be addressed when the AI tool is used in different markets. Writing styles, for instance, that appeal to audiences in Singapore may not be as effective in Hong Kong. Infographics used in Hong Kong also require translation to Chinese.

Such issues underscore the need for continuous user feedback, monitoring, and improvement, Ngo said.

"AI is here to stay and, in future, will be embedded into our daily processes," he said. "The broader question then is how we evolve and live with AI, using it to empower ourselves."

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