Give with Ella
Creating a loveable friend to boost the impact of your donations
This was a pre-Speccy project of Dan’s. It was called “Give with Ella”. Ella was a loveable bot that people could chat with via Facebook messenger. Ella would help them decide which charities to donate to so that their donations could have the biggest impact. It was a huge project and one that needed a lot of time to prove the concept. After a year of running, Ella was shut down… here’s the story.
A personal giving assistant
The idea behind Give with Ella came from when Dan realised he had committed to two Direct Debits for the same charity. In amongst the monthly bills, it was difficult to keep track of donations and even harder to know what happened to the money after it had left the bank account.
Ella was a project that aimed to change that. What if all of your donations could be managed in one place? You would always know who you’re donating to and when. You’d know where that money went and how it was spent, and if you weren’t sure where you should send your money Ella would help you make that decision.
But the project didn’t quite go according to plan.
We had built Ella as a personal giving assistant on the Facebook Messenger platform, this was around the time when chatting with bots on the web became quite a trend. It was also around the time when news broke of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s views around privacy and data protection.
Giving to charity is a very personal thing – it’s intimate in so many ways and we were asking people to trust us, to trust this giving assistant we had created, an assistant that relied on people telling us lots of personal information about who they like to give to, what causes they like to support how much giving budget they would like to dedicate.
We only ever asked for the information we needed to make our recommendations and process donations, but it was still information that could be abused if it was treated incorrectly.
And Facebook had given us reason to believe that this data wasn’t in the safest hands.
So we pivoted. The assistant side of the project was paused until we could figure out another way of offering the service.
We set about creating an interactive and informational website that aimed to increase transparency around charity, and how charities spend their funds. There was so much misinformation and mistrust among the general public that we wanted to build a platform that could go some way to help change that.
Visitors could learn more about various causes, what the issues were and how charities aimed to solve those issues.
It showed what charities were actively working on those causes and provided information and context around the organisation’s financials.
Bringing this chapter to a close
With a heavy heart, we shut down the Give with Ella service roughly a year after launching. There was no real alternative platform for the giving assistant that would have provided us with the reach and growth we needed in order to be sustainable – and along with that went our business model.
The website provided a nice service but there were few options for a path to profitability. The costs mounted up and in the end, we decided it just wasn’t sustainable.
This was a real passion project for Dan and bringing this chapter to a close was one of the most difficult decisions of his professional career, but working on it brought so much enjoyment and fulfilment, and for that, it was worth every minute spent trying to make it work.