7 reasons why humans are better than AI chatbots for nonprofit fundraising

At GivePanel we think human to human connection is a feature, not a bug.

When fundraisers connect with a real person at your nonprofit, especially when the fundraiser is doing something with the nonprofit for the first time, something magic happens.

So in this article we’re going to talk about why real fundraisers are better than Artificial Intelligence (AI) when combined with Apps like Facebook Messenger. 

Here are 7 reasons why we prioritise human to human connection over AI Robots…

1. Research shows people don’t like chatting to bots

A recent survey found that 86% of consumers prefer to interact with a human agent; 71% said they would be less likely to use a brand if it didn’t have human customer service representatives available.

It’s not that people don’t like to use chat. People love to chat. I’m sure you use it daily to talk to friends and family on apps like Facebook Messenger and What’s App. We love to use chat when it’s human to human. If you’re on a website and have a question, it’s useful to chat to a human. But when that chat is with AI robots is where it goes wrong. The same survey showed that only 30% believe that chatbots and virtual assistants make it easier to address customer service issues.

I recently tested out a Facebook Messenger Bot that was being used for a fundraising event (I interacted as though I was a fundraiser signing up).

What should have been a 30 second sign up process ended up with me receiving 22 messages (with no response by me) and I was left imagining what an awful experience this must be for a new supporter. There is simply no way I should have got 22 messages without any response. It felt like harassment! 

A human chat would just simply not do this. 

Chatbots are like a modern day automated phone answering services where you have to continually choose an option to get to speak to anyone. And who likes that? No one.

2. Risks for nonprofits who deal with sensitive issues

Many of you have supporters who are going through very tough and traumatic times. People who are fundraising in-memory or in-honour of loved ones who are ill or who have passed away. People who are fundraising because they have cancer or another rare disease. People who are dealing with bereavement. People who are dealing with mental health issues.

We work with some of the biggest and rarest cancer charities in the world. Being human is even more important for these organisations because of the intimate connections that supporters often have to the disease.

Do you really want to leave these conversations to a robot? 

The feedback we have from some of our nonprofit customers that deal with suicide, bereavement, mental health, cancer patients etc. is that the insensitivity of chatbot technology can make the organisation as a whole come across as insensitive. 

For example, one charity that tested a Facebook Messenger Bot where every time the word suicide was mention in a chat triggered a support number even if that person was not suicidal themselves. Feedback from their supporters was that they found this automation unfeeling.

We work with organisations like American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to capture Facebook fundraiser email addresses and then engage through email. Because of the sensitivities around suicide a lot can go wrong with AI technology and the risk is too great. Email allows for engagement with their supporters in a controlled way and over a long term.

We know that people fundraising around the subject of cancer or bereavement will most likely be experiencing extreme emotions. Chatbots are not human enough to write sensitive personalised messages or recognise what people are going through. A human having a quick glance at the Facebook fundraiser’s page and profile will outperform a bot every time.

And when technology and personalisation goes wrong (which it does often) the risk is too high to bear. 

3. When it comes to Messenger, Facebook have changed the rules making it useless for long term engagement

Facebook keeps changing the rules about what marketing can be done using Facebook Messenger Bots. Worried about the abuse of the platform by spam (overzealous messaging) Facebook introduced the “24+1” rule and then this was reduced to the “24 hour rule”.

It basically limits any interaction between a person and a brand using Messenger to a  24 hour period. If the person does not respond in 1 day that’s it – you can’t message them again (other than a few transactional message points that are allowed).

This means that Messenger as a channel is useless for long-term engagement with fundraisers and donors. This was a massive impact to the excitement around using Facebook Messenger bots to engage fundraisers and it killed a lot of Messenger marketing enthusiasm overnight.

One Chatbot fundraising agency that folded partly because of this change said: 

“this had a massive (negative) impact on “IM fundraising”, we were real people but this change meant that we couldn’t go back and restart those conversations with a prompt message, to try and get to a donation ask scenario. rendering a lot of our facebook ad “leads” as useless over night.”

This was the advice from ManyChat, the popular chatbot software that most fundraising chatbots are built on:

“Start gathering phone numbers and email addresses immediately to maximize the reach of your SMS and email steps, and also ensure that you have access to your audience through independent channels.

Get familiar with omnichannel campaigns that leverage Messenger, SMS, and email together to maximize your ROI while staying compliant with the New Messenger Policy.”

This is staggering. They are basically saying that you can’t rely on chatbots and should diversify your platform risk by investing in email and SMS.

4. Messenger Bots are more Facebook Platform Risk

We’re all for keeping people on Facebook where it makes sense. But Facebook is so successful for fundraising right now that nonprofits are rightly concerned about Facebook having too much power and control over their fundraising. 

Some parts of the Facebook ecosystem are not replaceable for making great Facebook fundraising work. For example, there is nothing like Facebook Ads or Facebook Groups and they are not replaceable when running great virtual events. This is not the case with Facebook Messenger. There are plenty of non-Facebook channels that can be used instead, like email and SMS and as you’ll read below there are reasons they are better for your nonprofit long term. 

Having even more of the experience wrapped up in a Facebook Messenger Bot for fundraising, means more power and control for Facebook.

Instead, at GivePanel we focus on helping nonprofits go “Beyond Facebook” by capturing data and engaging fundraisers on channels that have less platform risk like email and SMS text messaging.  We think this not only gets better results but also reduces the reliance on Facebook as a platform.

5. Chatbots are a terrible way to allow people to sign up to something simple

What’s sad is that it’s so unnecessary, all the information that can be gleaned from a long-winded chatbot experience could have been done in 30 seconds on a simple online form.

By really focussing on what users want when they are signing up to something like a fundraising event on Facebook (i.e. convenience) we have been able to get the sign-up conversion rate of our Facebook Group Event Registration forms to sensational levels. Over 93%!

I shudder to think what the conversion rate would be of the same form but done with a conversational AI. If you are considering using an AI Chatbot, ask about conversion rates! Unsurprisingly we don’t see many clear results and case studies for chatbot fundraising. 

We shouldn’t get trapped into using tech just because it exists. New, shiny stuff is often not the best experience for the supporter.

6. Chatbots don’t save time. Not really.

A large proportion of chatbot conversations end up with a human having to be involved anyway. So they don’t save time. Not really. In fact, they may open up a channel that costs your organisation more time or budget. 

We know internal capacity and resources at charities are already stretched thin so if you do use Chatbots be aware that you’re going to either have to pay a company to handle the people who chat for you (who will not be as good at having conversations with your supporters as you are!) or impact that already stretched internal resources. 

Chatbots don’t automate thanking your Facebook fundraisers either. 

When someone sets up a fundraising for your nonprofit on Facebook their contact details are not passed onto your organization in Facebook transaction reports. So the best practice is to thank them on their fundraising page. 

GivePanel tools enable this one-by-one process to be more personalised, streamlined, tracked and to capture fundraiser data using a simple form (it is not uncommon for our integrated fundraiser forms to capture over 50% of fundraiser contact details) 

For nonprofit customers with large volumes of organic fundraisers we do this by working with our own team of experienced in-house fundraisers who understand how to support our charity customers at scale. Real humans. 

Messenger Chatbots do not solve this problem or automate it. To get people into the chatbot experience someone still has to post individually on their fundraiser page.  

So chatbots do not automate Facebook fundraiser thanking or save time.

7. Chatbots are taking a long time to improve

You might think chatbots are new but they are not. The first chatbot was developed in 1966! It was called Eliza. 

If you are waiting for AI Chatbots to suddenly get a lot better next month you might be waiting for a very long time.

The potential of AI is huge and it’s around to stay but right now, this year they have nothing on humans and there too many risks and barriers for great long term fundraising.

As Warren Buffet once said “The trick is just to sit there and watch pitch after pitch go by and wait for the one right in your sweet spot.”

You don’t have to swing at every pitch. You have time to wait to see how AI Chatbots develop. 

Summary

Let me be clear, I am not saying that there are not good use cases for nonprofits for Artificial Intelligence. There could be and there are some interesting case studies coming out about uses of Chatbots outside of fundraising.  

We’re also not saying that simple chat (conversation) can’t be a useful channel for charities. I think it can, done right.

But we are saying that you should be really careful how and when we use Artificial Intelligence in fundraising and that real humans have the best Life Time Value! Don’t confuse chat with humans with AI chatbots. 

At GivePanel we are going to be developing an exciting new feature using everything that Facebook and technology outside of Facebook offers, including Facebook Messenger. But we won’t be going deep into AI Chatbots. Not for a while at least.

Because humans are what make fundraising great. Not bots.

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