“Alexa, make a donation to my favourite charity" – a command that could become commonplace, as more and more charities are engaging with supporters through voice assist tech.

A familiar friend

Voice assist tech is increasingly part of everyday life for many of us, and perhaps the most enthusiastically adopted connective device in the Internet of Things.

Amazon says it has already sold 100 million Echo smart speakers, and the charity Childnet International has found that 70% of 8-17 year old's surveyed had used voice assist tech in 2018.

Devices constantly listen for 'wake words' – such as "Alexa" or "Hey Siri". When woken they record data as a means to improve services – enabling the user to conveniently order groceries, control their heating, or book an Uber to their workplace.

In many households, this tech has become a familiar friend.

How charities can benefit from the voice tech revolution

Increasing use and familiarity of voice assist tech will provide a variety of opportunities for charities:

  • Fundraising – charities can receive donations through Amazon Alexa using Amazon Pay – as NSPCC have done. Supporters simply say "Alexa, open NSPCC" to donate. It's only a small step on from donating by text or via JustGiving, both routes which are already understood and accepted.
  • Engaging new audiences – by engaging users in their own homes simply by a spoken command, voice assist helps overcome the barrier of picking up a phone or reading a leaflet. This ease of use is particularly appealing to the time-poor and to early adopters who enjoy discovering new uses for technology. As early adopters tend to be young, this is an attractive prospect for charities who want to reach and engage the next generation of supporters.
  • Helping beneficiaries – voice tech can remind those living with early stage dementia to take medicine, or share life-saving information on the signs and symptoms of cancer – as Breast Cancer Now have done through Amazon Alexa Skill. This adoption of the Internet of Medical Things could have a transformative impact on beneficiaries.

What should be considered before a charity adopts this tech?

Clearly charities should play a part in the voice tech revolution – so long as adoption helps the charity deliver its purposes most effectively for the public benefit, and the charity takes steps to mitigate risks, especially privacy concerns and the charity's reputation.

In deciding this, the trustees (or a sub-committee with delegated authority) should consider:

  • The Charity Commission guidance on fundraising – which outlines the Commission's expectation that charities follow the law and recognised standards – namely the Code of Fundraising Practice and the Charity Governance Code. This guidance should be in the forefront of minds when considering adoption new digital fundraising techniques.
  • The charity's reputation – some users have concerns about how voice assist devices might compromise their privacy. Charities should take account of the likely donor base, supporter concerns and public perception when deciding whether to adopt voice assist tech is the right move for their charity. The charity should be open and accountable with its supporters and help them understand the pros and cons of adoption.
  • Entering into an agreement with a commercial partner – the terms of the agreement should protect the charity against undue risk, particularly for sharing of personal data and use of the charity's name and reputation, which is a particular regulatory concern for the Charity Commission. For developing digital products and services, charities should refer to the Charity Digital Code of Practice and the helpful material that supports it.
  • Speaking to an accountant – to see if donations using voice assist tech can be made in a way that benefits from the Gift Aid scheme.

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