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Chatbots: Why Your Organization Needs One

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Chatbots are everywhere these days.

If you’ve been on a retail website recently, chances are you’ve encountered at least one. In the retail space, chatbots are essentially a virtual guide, ready to answer all questions you may have at any given point. They make the shopping experience virtually seamless for the user and leave website visitors feeling understood and heard. Due to the success of chatbots in the retail space, chatbots are starting to be utilized by other sectors to facilitate a positive user experience. For example: during the COVID-19 pandemic, chatbots have been used to help healthcare providers quickly and efficiently engage with their users to identify and provide customized solutions. This massive boost in efficiency allows patients to rapidly access vital information, thus potentially saving lives. 

As we recognize the success and growing utilization of chatbots, it’s time to ask ourselves: what opportunities await us by introducing this streamlined user experience to the nonprofit sector?

As organizers, our goal should be to help guide our supporters up the ladder of engagement. Well crafted chatbots can help organizations optimize their user experience and provide key audiences with useful information. For example, this streamlined experience can lead to more donations, readily answered FAQs, and higher turnout rates at your most popular upcoming events. These examples barely scratch the surface of the potential applications a chatbot can have.  

What exactly is a Chatbot?

A chatbot, short for “Chat Robot”, is essentially a computer program that uses natural language processing (NLP). NLP allows for humans and technology to interact through text and voice. A basic chatbot might be a simple solution for answering standard questions which follow a predetermined script. For a much more seamless experience, advanced chatbots have the intelligence and capability to deliver sophisticated experiences that most of us are accustomed to using on shopping websites. Some chatbots are so advanced that the average user has difficulty distinguishing whether or not they’re speaking to a bot or an actual human. 

How do Chatbots work?

Chatbots process the text presented to them by using a process known as “parsing,” and then use a series of algorithms that interprets and identifies what the user has said and determines a set of appropriate responses. 

Typically, Chatbots use three core technologies that help build the best possible user experience. If voice / speech is used, the chatbot turns the voice data input into text using Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. Text-only chatbots skip this step. The chatbot then analyzes the text input, considers the best response and delivers that back to the user. The chatbot’s reply may be delivered in any number of ways such as written text, voice via Text to Speech (TTS) tools, or even by completing a task.

It’s worth noting that human speech patterns are not easy for a machine. The nuanced way humans communicate is difficult to recreate artificially, which is why chatbots use several natural language principles: 

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is used to split the user input into sentences and words. It also standardizes the text through a series of techniques, for example, converting it all to lowercase or correcting spelling mistakes before determining if the word is an adjective or verb – it’s at this stage where other factors such as sentiment are also considered.

Natural Language Understanding (NLU) helps the chatbot understand what the user said using both general and domain specific language objects such as lexicons, synonyms and themes. These are then used in conjunction with algorithms or rules to construct dialogue flows that tell the chatbot how to respond.

Natural Language Generation (NLG) Delivering a meaningful, personalized experience beyond pre-scripted responses requires natural language generation. This enables the chatbot to interrogate data repositories, including integrated back-end systems and third-party databases, and to use that information in creating a response.

Lastly, the future of chatbots will use Conversational AI technology that takes NLP and NLU to the next level. It will allow organizations to create advanced dialogue systems that utilize memory, personal preferences and contextual understanding to deliver a realistic and engaging natural language interface. 

How to Build a Chatbot

To build a chatbot, organizations need to choose a platform. Some of the most common include, Facebook Messenger, Google Dialogflow, or Kommunicate. Once a platform is chosen, the next step is to determine what kind of information or questions you would like to answer for users. This could be an FAQ, telling visitors about an event taking place or updating them on latest actions, etc. In our experience, it’s best to start small and start with a basic chatbot that can answer FAQs. Once you have your strategy and content ready to go, it’s time to build your bot. This process is fairly straightforward and can be tackled by your internal tech team or your digital agency.  Once you start learning about chatbots you will see the endless possibilities for your organization. 

Examples of Chatbots Use In The Non-Profit World

Below are examples from three nonprofits each using a chatbot to engage and inform their supporters.  Be sure to check them out and think about how a chatbot could be deployed in support of your organization’s goals and mission. 

Charity Water uses a simple “help” chatbot that makes searching their site much easier. Since chatbot uses native speech partners, supporters simply input a question and get an answer. Also, because this is a guided process conversion rates are typically significantly higher than when users navigate to the donate page via a traditional button in the main navigation. 

Unicef’s U-Report Global uses Facebook Messenger Chatbots to collect data from users about the issue they care about most. This provides Unicef incredible data on their supporters and what matters to them.

These chatbots offer non-profits so much opportunity to engage with supporters and guide them down curated user journeys.

Missio USA uses a Facebook Messenger chatbot to engage users and to showcase the Pope’s missions around the world.  The bot does a great job of trying to engage a user right away and utilizes storytelling and images and then asks the user what they care about to keep the conversation going and to engage the users on topics of interest and guides users into learning more about the work of the organization and how they can support Missio USA.

Consider Chatbots For Your Org’s Future

It’s time nonprofits utilize chatbot technology to better engage with supporters and craft a user journey that keeps your audience coming back to both your website and your social accounts. If your organization is interested in taking an innovative step by using chatbots, reach out to us at or via our website’s inquiry page!

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