Blog Insights
“Alexa: What can you do for my nonprofit?”

Virtual assistants are a powerful tool to gain legitimacy and strategic advantage.

Virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home are becoming extraordinary allies for many nonprofit organizations in their quest to elevate public awareness of their causes. And this is not simply a minor contribution of technology; it has the potential to bring nonprofit causes more directly to those who care about them. Many nonprofit organizations chronically struggle with tight budgets and are unable to gain exposure on mainstream media. To have the opportunity to take advantage of the market penetration of these devices could make a world of difference. But how can these organizations use Alexa?  Some nonprofit organizations have developed “skills” that allow Alexa to, for example, play bird songs from the National Audubon Society, or tell users if their carrots are still good like our client the Natural Resources Defense Council does through their Save the Food application to prevent food waste. But the real contribution of Alexa for nonprofit organizations is the availability of a means to earn legitimacy. Virtual assistants are an easier way to search the internet, and we rely on them to answer all our questions, regardless of their nature, context or subject, and nonprofits provide a valuable, trusted resource to answer those questions. 

Gaining legitimacy through strategic alignment  

From bots and trolls on social media to fake news, organizations and people have to deal with what’s real and what’s not real online. That is why they pose questions.  Nonprofits are thought leaders and repositories of reliable knowledge and data that has been collected through detailed and scientific processes. This knowledge constitutes their prime resource and contributes to their core purpose to educate, raise awareness, and create lasting change. It is at that level, when nonprofits become educators, that legitimacy is achieved. Eager users who cherry-pick content to find useful information can have access to legitimate reference sources. While Artificial Intelligence is gaining ground handling routine tasks for companies and organizations, Amazon has deepened its leadership of it by educating and training developers on ever-easier ways to create code for Alexa skills. Alexa already holds a solid first place with a 61.4% share of a market of more than 66 million users (March 2019, As soon as 2020, roughly half of all searches will be made using voice. Thanks to Amazon’s step-by-step tutorials, the versatility of Alexa’s Skills Kit, and the recent launch of skill connections (the tool that enables developers to use other Alexa apps and services features), the stage is set for a continuous expansion of the scope and variety of services.    Additionally, voice summits are taking place across industries. Education, healthcare, finance sectors (and many others) are seizing this opportunity. Nonprofit organizations are also jumping on this wave with creative approaches to conquer their place in the market. In a world where media, technology, and network infrastructure are aligning their paths to offer better and smarter services — alongside ever-growing concerns over privacy, security, and misinformation — nonprofits are well placed to become frontline beacons of knowledge and certainty.

What is the real challenge nonprofits face at using Alexa?

According to recent surveys, voice assistants have proved to be behavior changing. Users tend to use core features more frequently, but still struggle to discover third-party voice apps. Users are also quite likely to use devices to make purchases, and overall, owners are satisfied with their devices and highly recommend them. 75% of the surveyed users claim to use their devices at least once a day, and almost 60% of them use them multiple times. The top 5 uses of these devices are music, weather, information, timers, and news.  This growing market represents an outstanding opportunity for nonprofits, especially after Giving USA’s  Annual Report on Philanthropy 2018 showed some discouraging trends. Nonprofits and charities struggle to retain small donors and gain new ones, with a growing fear that this vital segment could very well disappear in the future. In the last quarter of 2018, both the number of giving and their size decreased compared to the same period of 2017. The same report states that for smaller nonprofits, or those without steady connections to wealth, this trend should be considered a warning.    In this context, reaching out, attracting, and retaining donors is the number one priority for many organizations. Here is where Alexa could be a formidable ally. The true challenge for many nonprofits would be monetizing the uses of these voice applications. Any creative approach should include a clear path for donors to give and stay in touch with the cause. Thanks to the affordability and accessibility of Alexa’s coding tools, nonprofits can invest in building a solid backend to handle transactions on one hand, and offer interesting and engaging content that gains them legitimacy on the other.    

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