Roy Murphy
Roy Murphy 21 April 2020

Charity Chatbots - Using Voice to Engage With More People

It’s tough for charities to get their message out, particularly with current global coronavirus crisis - there are numerous very worthy causes needing attention and funds. Automation and emerging platforms may be able to help.

It must be difficult to know, as a charity, what the best course of action is right now when it comes to engagement and donations. The traditional approach of street teams, big events, auctions supplemented by celebrity patrons driving JustGiving and Facebook campaigns may not be as effective

So is now a good time to be looking at innovating, to give charities a better chance of keeping the doors open and potentially being better placed when things change for the positive? Tough question.

The relatively new channels of chatbots, automation, and in particular, voice may be an area that worth exploring

There’s a few reasons why these platforms may be relevant (apart from the obvious ability to not need human face to face interaction) -  one of the big ones is the fact that voice platforms, for instance, are less rubbish that they used to be – and over the last couple of years AI assitants actually understand the questions they are being asked — and have updgraded their ability to return useful information more regularly.

The user experience is getting better as well, not perfect, but definitely improving. Being able to have voice interactions and search, giving information about their mission and information or even automated donating are possible. Amazon are also continuing to act as ‘official’ aggregator of voice advice for certain charities (more on this in an upcoming article) giving advice on services or conditions ‘native’ intents — a good thing.

So, should charities use chatbots to go all in right now, develop their own eco-systems, payments and channels (frictionless donations, millions of users ) is there a way of testing the utility of chatbot and voice channels to see if they can help charities stand out in the current climate?

Lets take a look at some practical examples of charities and their voicebot and app strategies and applications — what they are doing, which channels they are launching on, common themes and patterns.

This is part two of this series on emerging technogies and the charity sector, where we take a look at the landscape, see where emerging technologies such as chatbots and voice are being used  by charities — and make some baseline strategic suggestions as to how charities could apply this thinking to their own projects.

Stand Up To Cancer

Cancer Research UK launched the ‘Stand Up to Cancer’ campaign in conjunction with Channel 4 and comedian Joe Lycett. As part of the initiative they created a quiz based around Alexa. The premise is that by getting groups of people together, they can have their own fundraising event to raise donations for cancer UK and have a bit of fun, to boot.

The overall idea is a mix of physical (get your mates round IRL) digital (the quiz is on Alexa devices) and a neat way of getting their celebrity influencer (Joe, the comedian) to use their audience pulling power in an interactive. 


The skill has four rounds to test knowledge, entertainment, anagrams and a round about Cancer Research (Double points, woop), with audio from Joe and Alexa combining voice duties.

There's a quizmaster pack that can be downloaded and printed off, with answers, instructions on how to play, info and tie-breakers. It's a bit old school, but I guess so is doing a quiz with actual people.

The mechanics of the game are that users should donate suggested £5, £10 or £20 to play the quiz and they can do that by texting Quiz5, 10,20 etc to a dedicated short code number. players can also pay in cash (blimey, a novel one) or the host can get everyone to donate on their justgiving/donate page as well.


Key takeouts for charities thinking about voice and Conversational AI initiatives

Well, its a tidy skill with some nice touches around how you play, incorporating some actual people getting together to test their knowledge (never a bad thing in our distributed world). Our suggestions on possible enhancements would be to make it more playable interactive gameplay and integrations for easier donating.

  • The most obvious enhancement would be to integrate donations. Currently, it's a bit of faff to have to get everyone to donate on just giving or text the number in. Other charities like British Heart Foundation have done this, where users can donate within their skill (albeit through a slightly annoying opt-in through the Alexa app first). 
  • What would be good is to have donation tied to lowest score or losing team so incentivising gameplay to create the opportunity for more — and larger donations as part of the fun.
  • Simple gameplay mechanics like team and individual names would make it more personal for users, and could be part of a more structured quiz/information strategy where users are encouraged to come back, play another quiz or games. The addition of leaderboards would also be interesting playing against other teams (i.e. Words with Friends). 
  • Running the quiz as a series tied a longer campaign would work, without adding huge amounts of additional effort — with extra rounds, more levels or even a ‘Beat Joe’ round to make it more engaging. 
  • There could be a finance element where the game is say 99p to access the first round in a freemium model then an additional £2.99 — small changes could increase the amount raised substantially.
  • There could be a finance element where the game is say 99p to access the first round in a freemium model then an additional £2.99 — small changes could increase the amount raised substantially.
  • Adding translations would help as well, though obviously it’s a UK skill for a UK charity currently — the game mechanic could work well for other localised Cancer research charities. Though replacing Joe Lycett/Hugo Boss would obviously be a factor in cost/effort). 
  • Some other more general physical/digital voice skills and games are available such as When in Rome– this area could also be a partnership opportunity for forward thinking games/development companies and platforms.

If you work for a charity, drop us a line; we have a range of free and cost effective initiatives to help you  — we also run roundtables, specifically for charities looking to power their engagement and fundraising with AI.

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