Idealist's new chatbot connects Facebook users with the right charities and nonprofits

BBDO New York's Ida continues the organization's growth beyond its job board origins.

Perhaps the only good thing that’s come of the past year’s skyrocketing political tension and divisiveness is a parallel increase in volunteering and charity work. People feel overwhelmed, and they want to turn that into positive change. But motivation, particularly among those new to donating their resources, can quickly disappear upon realizing that there are hundreds of thousands of charities in the U.S. to choose from. It’s hard to make a difference when you don’t know where to start.

This week, that first, hardest step got a little easier. BBDO New York just introduced Ida, a Facebook Messenger chatbot they created for Idealist. In less than five minutes, Ida connects users with a specific organization to get involved with immediately, through financial support, volunteering or both. 

"Our inspiration came from Idealist’s mantra that there’s good in all people," said BBDO Senior Creative Director Joyce Pedretti. "But people don’t know where to begin or get distracted—life gets in the way. We want to bridge intention and action."


Founded in 1996 by Israeli entrepreneur Ami Dar, Idealist’s platform connects users to volunteer opportunities and jobs at over 120,000 nonprofits. Over a million people visit the site monthly, and in the last five years, Dar has focused on expanding the brand beyond its reputation as a job site and toward being the definitive resource for nonprofits. 

To build the perfect bot for such a broad, successful platform, BBDO’s team met multiple times with Dar and leveraged his company’s data to pick three launch categories: homelessness, wildlife and refugee crises. "Idealist found these areas had the greatest traction and involvement with their current user base," said Lauren Cohen, a senior creative director at BBDO. 

Future versions will feature expanded options, informed by the usage data for this beta round—as Ida gets smarter, she’ll also get better at matching people with exactly the right organization. And the launch campaign for the bot is already targeted at Facebook users who engage with causes and issues, particularly people who comment often on videos and other content.

It’s translating those engagements into action that’s the core of Ida’s mission. "People read things online and are inspired in the moment and make comments, but a comment doesn’t make a difference," Pedretti said. "People will say, ‘What do I do?’ but then stop there, and we want to help people move beyond that."

And help them keep going, too: the bot is built to encourage ongoing engagement. "We’re not just asking people to make a one-time donation and walk away. We’re asking them to make a tangible difference and get involved on a local level," said Cohen.

Eventually, the team hopes, Ida will become the default method online for doing good. It’s built to be adaptable and quick, so that priorities can shift along with world events. "When there’s something going on in the world that touches you, how are you going to react?" Pedretti posited. "Anything can happen in a moment’s notice, and we want to give people the opportunity to respond."

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