Nothing groundbreaking here - nonprofits are strapped for time and resources. Day-to-day administration tasks can feel impossible when you’re regularly going to bat to tackle the most urgent needs of your beneficiaries, especially amidst a global pandemic. While many nonprofits have yet to dip their toes into the pool of artificial intelligence, there’s no argument that implementing a few innovative and simple AI strategies can help lighten the load on the executors at your organization.
In truth, chatbots may sound more daunting than they actually are. Could it be because the word “bot” is plopped in there? This blog will cover what chatbots are, effective ways to leverage them, potential drawbacks, and how to mitigate risk.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is a messaging service, often powered by artificial intelligence. This artificial intelligence component allows a chatbot to respond as realistically as possible to users’ questions. Common examples of platforms featuring chatbots include Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, text message services, or an automated messaging pop-up on your website. Chatbots tend to live on your nonprofit homepage, answering or funneling commonly asked questions and sharing important information with supporters 24/7, freeing up your staff to do other work.
Pop-ups can come across as annoying if used improperly, so strike a balance between informative and engaging so they are easy to use and provide value to those you serve. Chatbots can only provide information included within their database, so bulk up all your frequently asked questions, timely info and updates into one place so it’s ready to fire off. This example from Color of Change makes it easy to get the conversation started.
How can chatbots benefit nonprofit organizations?
Chatbots can be used for daily administrative tasks, storytelling opportunities, community organizing, human resources, data gathering, and so much more.
Just think about how fun it is to receive multiple questions from supporters with easily searchable answers on your website. *Ping* What are your office hours? Have you announced your virtual plans for the annual gala? What’s your address? Where can I sign-up to volunteer remotely? How do I make a donation?
Even if you have an FAQ page, supporters rarely take the time to go hunting for an answer. You may be left to answer some of these simple questions again and again - which can take valuable time out of your day, and leave supporters waiting for answers or worse, disengaging with your organization entirely.
Chatbots grant the opportunity for quick answers to basic questions that you receive on the regular. By answering these inquiries in a timely manner, supporters (or potential supporters!) have a higher likelihood of moving on to the next step, remaining engaged, and ultimately joining your nonprofit community.
Chatbots are on the clock 24/7 so that you don’t have to be. The best part? There’s no need to hire a developer to create a fancy chatbot for your site. There are many affordable cloud-based options that can work with your existing website that require minimal setup.
Chatbots in action
Refunite, a nonprofit organization that serves as the largest missing persons platform for refugees and displaced populations, is fueled by the power of chatbots. Displaced families can answer demographic and personal questions to reconnect with missing loved ones, through a mobile phone, computer, or through a help line. This service offers free aid to over 17 countries, and they’ve reconnected over 40,000 families to date.
For health and wellness organizations, search & rescue operations can also be fueled by chatbots. In the sex trafficking industry, police officers often go undercover to try to hunt down the source. To combat the issue of high demand and not enough manpower, Seattle Against Slavery built a chatbot system powered by AI that can conduct conversations with hundreds of people simultaneously. This particular system was designed to mimic as close to a real conversation as possible, with multiple drawn-out interactions, planning meet-ups that never materialize, in hopes the trafficker will give up the hunt.
"We’ve had hundreds of thousands of text messages back and forth where buyers were attempting to buy sex from trafficking victims and instead they were talking to a piece of software," Robert Beiser shared, SAS’s Executive Director.
Let's talk about the downsides
All this sounds great, but the most prominent downside to chatbots is that they are fueled in data, which simply means a bit of extra care and security. Ensuring you’ve taken precautionary measures on your nonprofit’s cybersecurity is vital if you are to ensure your supporters and your organization’s safety online. Read our full blog on bringing your cybersecurity up to speed here.
Another downside is that not everybody wants to chat with a robot. Avoid a monotonous meep-morp by giving your chatbot an identity and communicating in a conversational tone. Some organizations choose to greet the user with a welcome message along the lines of, “Hi! I’m here to help. If I can’t get you the info you’re seeking, I’ll happily connect you with a wonderful human who can.”
Once safe, secure, and personable, bring your chatbot up to speed and you’ll be ready to go. Shop around, find a system that works well for your organization’s unique needs (whether that be a Facebook messenger bot or a chatbot on your website) and put it to the test.
All things considered, these downsides are not major obstacles to overcome, they just require a bit of leg-work up front so they serve. In the long run, chatbots can save time, energy, and can help you fuel your mission. Win-win-win.