Artificial Intelligence could offer a boost to charity giving

Technology using Artificial Intelligence (AI) / bots will likely encourage donors to donate even more money and increase their understanding of charities, according to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) thinktank's recent article titled "Is AI The Future Of Philantrophy Advice".

AI: reducing costs and increasing reach

The current and future use of AI by charities is expected to help better deliver services and inform donors.

Conversation on mobile phone with botAlmost everyone will have experienced 'AI' on the internet; either when using an automated chatbot linked to a website or via ads on the internet that use carefully crafted algorithms to target them.

As the internet grows smarter and better able to offer you a tailored service, without the need for human involvement, the more an organisation can use it to help maximise both the satisfaction and the engagement of the stakeholder.

In the case of charities, this promise of being able to extend the reach of your services through more meaningful messaging, whilst at the same time reducing the cost of delivery by offering automated advice and information, makes AI a very attractive project to pursue.

Earlier this year, in a news release from IBM, the details of Arthritis Research UK's virtual assistant were announced. Their IBM Watson-powered chatbot offers web visitors personalised information and advice on arthritis. Others are improving real-time language translation services for refugee and migrant projects or helping predict patterns of poaching and supporting conservation efforts.

Using AI to make giving quick and simple

Whilst AI, bots and better algorithms are helping charities to pursue their goals, there is one very significant application of AI that is ready to give ‘giving’ a boost.

Amazon Echo Dot light ring

We have had virtual assistants in our smartphones for several years now, but the popularity of the Amazon Echo and subsequent similar ‘smartspeakers,’ like Google Home, has taken everyone by surprise. Consistent best-sellers, they are helping to bring the benefits of artificial intelligence to the very air in our homes. It won’t be long before almost every house will have one or more such devices – either standalone or coming as standard in any white good you purchase. Soon speaking to a smart digital member of the family will be as normal as having a television or toaster – and infinitely more useful at almost everything (except perhaps making toast).

The abilities of these virtual assistants are almost inexhaustible. You can listen to my daily podcast on the Amazon Echo in which I demonstrate one or more Alexa Skills. Think of these 'skills' as new abilities, or apps, that you can add to your Echo simply by asking. You can visit the Amazon website for more information about Alexa Skills and to discover the breadth of 'skills' that are available. Since the Echo adds several hundred new skills each week, I'm not about to run out of new, entertaining and useful abilities to demonstrate.

Now let’s focus on the use of such smarts to make donating easy. Imagine that the ability to give to a good cause, at the very moment you’re moved to do so, is as simple as saying to the air around you “Alexa, give £100 to the Red Cross hurricane relief fund” or “OK Google, give £5 a month to Comic Relief.”

Donation and gift iconography

These devices already have your credit or debit card details. It’s already possible to purchase any number of products from Amazon through your Echo with a single command, for example; “Alexa, order more Paul Smith Floral Eau de Parfum please” which just happens to be my wife’s favourite perfume. You certainly aren’t restricted to purchases of a few pounds (again I refer to that same pricey perfume). Amazon wants to make buying through the Echo as natural and frictionless as possible – and the same is undoubtedly true of Google with their home assistant. Apple, will likewise, already hold your card details (via your Apple ID which you use to make iTunes and app store purchases) and we’d like all the manufacturers of these virtual assistants to extend that capability to charitable giving too.

The ability to use your Echo to make a donation, in a way that is as simple and straightforward as purchasing goods online, is not yet built-in. But, the option of adding a third-party skill that turns the Echo (or Google Home etc) into a giving machine for worthy causes certainly is possible today.

Just Giving and other high profile giving sites such as BT My Donate (which takes no commission whatsoever on donations) would be obvious and ideal organisations to create such a skill. Many donors already have accounts with these websites. So, enabling the giving process would be as easy as asking the Echo (or Google Home etc) to add the BT My Donate skill, for example. Then donations can be made as quickly and easily, whenever the generous owner of the smart assistant is moved to do so.

Such smart-giving skills needn’t be limited to the likes of Just Giving or BT. Any organisation could create a similar skill and accept donations through Alexa or the Google Home. An extra step of entering card details would need to be added by way of the Alexa app, say, but this would still make such smart-giving simple.

Making smart-giving more mobile

iPhone and Apple watchSeeing a campaign or real-life need might induce us to give and, with the virtual assistants built into our phones or other wearable technology, the act would almost be as natural and seamless as saying out loud; "I'd really like to give to that cause..."

There have been articles published and it is rumoured that Amazon plans to bring out a pair of smart glasses with Alexa built-in by the end of this year. The ambient nature of an ever-listening assistant might make giving that little bit more frictionless. We then wouldn't even need to take our phones out of our pockets to give to good causes.

These smart glasses wouldn’t of course be the first of their kind.  But unlike Google Glass and many similar smart glasses, Amazon's planned wearable avoids the option of a built-in camera - making it a far less controversial product. Wearers of Glass were banned from public restrooms (that's 'toilets' to you and me) and Google were quick to release a version that had a prominent light that clearly indicated when someone was using the camera. Snapchat's glasses similarly sport a circle of yellow lights when the user is recording.

Amazon's offering is said to simply include a microphone to hear you ask Alexa questions and issue commands. It will have an unobtrusive bone-conducting speaker tucked behind your ear to convey her response. This should make these smart glasses look relatively normal and avoid the disquiet that head-mounted cameras can evoke. At the same time they will give you all the functionality of the Echo wherever you are. Let's hope that they avoid the pitfalls experienced by earlier products, are attractive and affordable. And also bring all the utility of smart assistants to users in whatever they do - including giving.

Adding a safety-net to smart-giving

Security lettering with cursor hovering overBut what, I hear you say, about rogue donations made by madly generous family members or a change of heart when you realise that you were moved more than your bank balance can bear? In the case of online purchases made on the Echo, you have half an hour to cancel the order - and of course you would already have that capability turned on in the first place if you routinely had unpredictable or unscrupulous people around.

In just the same way, regardless of whether the capability was built-in or provided by way of a third-party skill, it would be easy to build in the ability to change the donation or cancel it altogether within a predefined period. Adding in a notification sent to the smartphone of the cardholder would also make sure he or she was aware of every donation made through the virtual assistant.

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