Whether they're to serve up content, answer questions, or bolster fundraising efforts, chatbots hold great promise for nonprofits and charities. And although chatbots are relatively new to the nonprofit community, some organizations are already using them in interesting and innovative ways. Here are three nonprofits that are doing just that.
What Is a Chatbot, Anyway?
Chatbots are clever little pieces of artificial intelligence that hold automated conversations with you. Type something into a messaging window, and the chatbot will attempt to reply with relevant information. Chatbots often live on websites, on Facebook, and inside mobile apps. Most are used to field common customer-service questions 24/7 that would otherwise require an employee to answer.
If you've ever used a virtual assistant like Siri or Google Now on your phone, you're already familiar with the concept behind chatbots. The major difference is that while Siri responds to voice commands, chatbots respond to text. When done well, chatbots make it seem as though you're holding a text chat with another person rather than with a computer program.
Chatbots aren't new, but they've taken off in recent years, thanks to technological advances and the fact that Facebook now lets anyone program a chatbot within its Messenger app.
How Nonprofits Are Already Using Chatbots
Although nonprofits are just now hopping on the chatbot bandwagon, many large companies already use chatbots to provide information to their customers. Take a look at how three nonprofits use chatbots to engage with their communities.
The Climate Reality Advocacy Bot
Environmental advocacy nonprofit Climate Reality uses a bot on its Facebook page to encourage supporters to become more involved in the fight against climate change. When you sign up, you'll get alerts featuring ways you can help solve the climate crisis and combat climate change denial. This bot also generates leads for the organization.
If you'd like to try it out, go to the Climate Reality Project Facebook page and click the Message button at the top of the page.
Text4baby: Health Information for Infants and Their Mothers
Text4baby, a free nonprofit service from Wellpass in cooperation with CTIA Wireless Foundation, uses a chatbot to provide critical health and safety information for pregnant women and moms with infants. This chatbot covers an impressive array of critical topics including nutrition, immunization, breastfeeding, and car seat safety.
To use it, download the free Text4baby app for iOS or Android and then text BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to 511411. You'll receive free text messages three times per week, timed to your baby's due date or birth date, from pregnancy up until your baby's first birthday.
Voter Resources via Chatbot
The HelloVote chatbot app from Fight for the Future and the Fight for the Future Education Fund provides everything you need to vote wherever you live.
Simply enter your mobile number on the HelloVote web page (or text HELLO to 844-344-3556); HelloVote will send you your polling location, early voting information, and election day reminders, among many other services. You can also use the app on the HelloVote Facebook Messenger page — just click Get Started at the bottom of the page on any device.
Build Your Own Chatbot
Inspired? It actually isn't too difficult to build a Facebook Messenger chatbot of your own!
First, take a look at other chatbots out there to get a feel for what they can do. Chatbots.org has a vast collection of chatbots that are worth playing around with.
Author and friend of TechSoup Beth Kanter has a great piece that describes how charities can use chatbots. She also created her own Beth's Bot on Facebook Messenger and explains how she did it.
In addition, Udemy has a paid online course that shows how you can build a Facebook Messenger chatbot in one hour, and Chatbots Magazine has various tutorials on the topic. Last but not least, wikiHow provides a good overview on how to use Facebook Messenger bots. Happy chatting!
Nick Mediati contributed to this blog post.