Robots hands typing on a computer.

Chatbots and charities: unlocking potential

Our Digital Marketing intern, Ellen Whyte, talks us through the exciting world of chatbots and the charities making the most of them. 

What are chatbots?

Also referred to as talkbots, IM bots, or Artificial Conversation Entities, chatbots are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in our increasingly digital world. They are computer programmes that have a variety of uses, but almost all are designed to mimic human speech in the hope that they hold a semblance of a conversation. Apple’s Siri is perhaps the most well-known example.

Whilst some chatbots are purely for entertainment, a growing number of companies are beginning to recognise their extraordinary amount of potential. Their promising future is evidenced in a study by Juniper Research which estimates that although only 20% of interactions with bots used by banking organisations are currently successful, in 2022 93% will be, creating an average saving of $0.70 per chatbot interaction.

But do chatbots have any relevance to the third sector? 

Well, various charities are beginning to seize the multitude of opportunities offered by chatbots and really make a difference.

Walk with Yeshi 

Poster for 'Walk with Yeshi' campaign. A young woman walks on unpaved road with a large container of water on her back. Text reads 'An immersive story about the young women of Ethiopia'.

Immersive charity: water campaign

One of the most outstanding examples of chatbot innovation is ‘Walk with Yeshi‘, a collaboration between charity: water, the jewellery brand Lokai and the agency AKQA which hopes to raise awareness about the water crisis.

When a conversation is started with the chatbot on Facebook Messenger, it triggers two-and-a-half-hours of messages from Yeshi, a woman living in Ethiopia who spends the same amount of time walking to gather water. The messages from Yeshi include photos and sound recordings, and there is even a digital map of her journey that users can follow.

By using the chatbot medium on a platform where people normally communicate with friends, ‘Walk with Yeshi’ presents a unique opportunity to raise recognition of the crisis as it allows the audience to personally connect with Yeshi’s plight. 

‘Here I Am’ 

Screenshot of 'Here I Am' chatbot. Left is headshot of a woman underneath text reads About me – So you’re here to learn about learning disability? Hopefully I can help. My name’s Aeren. I love reading and acting. I went to mainstream school, got all my GCSE’s and then did a BTEC in Performing Arts. Let’s chat!’. On right is chatbot conversation.

Conversation with Aeren

Mencap has also used a chatbot exceptionally well, in its quest to help people understand more about learning disabilities and those affected by them. As part of the ‘Here I Am’ campaign, users can talk to a chatbot whose answers come from the experience of Aeren, who has a learning disability.

Whilst users cannot type in their own queries, they can initially choose from a selection of four pre-set responses, including emojis, and so the experience still feels personally tailored. It’s a great way for people to discover more about learning disabilities in an original and engaging way and the project achieved notable success.  Awareness of Mencap grew by 3% as a result of the campaign, with 20% of the public seeing it.

Virtual Assistant 

Another charity attempting to harness the power of the chatbot is Age UK which aims to help people ‘Love later life’.

As part of their support network, they have an advice line that runs daily and receives over 250,000 calls a year.  However, as their Head of Digital Content, Rob Mansfield, explained at an Equimedia Charity Conference8, sometimes the lines are too busy to respond to every phone call.

In an attempt to combat this, Age UK have recently implemented a chatbot (called a ‘Virtual Assistant’ so it was not too alienating for the older generations) on the site in the hopes that simple enquiries could be answered using the chatbot, and ultimately relieve some of the pressure on the phone line. The study by Juniper Research also revealed that, on average, four minutes were saved every time someone used a chatbot, demonstrating the invaluable potential of an effective bot.


Screenshot of Virtual Assistant chatbot conversation. Text reads: Hello. We’re testing our new Virtual Assistant to try and help find the information you need on the website. Please keep your questions short and simple and don’t include any personal information. 

Age UK’s Virtual Assistant

However, it is very difficult to create a chatbot that can handle every single query thrown at it, as they are often confused by complex questions, or unable to interpret spelling mistakes. To ensure people with complicated questions could still receive help, Age UK created a response to questions that the chatbot could not answer which included other ways people could contact the charity. So, whilst chatbots are a great way to provide quick responses to straight forward questions and reduce congestion on the phone lines, they are far from flawless.

Do chatbots have a place in our future? 

Chatbots undoubtedly have a huge future in helping customers have a smoother experience online. They also have the massive potential to create a new dimension through which an audience can engage with and discover more about a charity.

Whilst it may take a few more years before they work perfectly, the technology is definitely exciting, and one for people in all areas to watch.

Want more digital insights?

Check out our previous posts on the potential of Snapchat for charities and how to keep your digital content accessible.

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