Connecting supporters to the communities they’re helping

WaterAid’s bot, dubbed ‘Talk to Sellu’, is a tool for supporters to immerse themselves in a community deep in the Sierra Leone jungle where there’s no clean water. Sellu, a father, farmer and carpenter, offers users a chance to see life from his perspective through photos, videos, gifs and a nifty 360 tool.

Subscribers are sent updates on the progress of WaterAid’s project installing decent toilets and clean water in Sellu’s community, bringing them closer to the change that donations make happen.

The ability to continuously interact with large cohorts of engaged digital users makes the chatbot a powerful tool for awareness, activation and retention all in one.

Dan GrayDigital Engagement Manager, WaterAid

As part of their #Untapped fundraising appeal, which invited supporters into the world of villagers getting clean water for the first time in Tombohuaun, Sierra Leone, WaterAid wanted to create a Messenger bot that would connect supporters with the people they were helping.

In doing so WaterAid hoped donors could the see the impact of their donations and the progress being made, strengthen connections to the charity, and lead to repeat donations in future.


The bot uses an immersive, storytelling approach to introduce users to Sellu – a farmer, fisherman, and father of three – living in the remote village of Tombohuaun, the focus community for WaterAid‘s winter fundraising appeal, #Untapped.

Through a series of messages, photos and video content, Sellu takes users on a guided tour of his home, introduces them to his wife Fatu and daughter Nancy, his daily routine and lifestyle, and even teaches you how to say ‘hello’ in the local language, ‘Mende’.

Supporters can see how getting access to clean water is improving the lives of the villagers, get updates on the new water and sanitation infrastructures being built with help from WaterAid and, ultimately, donate towards WaterAid’s Untapped appeal to help bring clean water, decent toilets good hygiene to communities like Sellu’s.

Testament to the fact that giving donors a great experience motivates them to stay longer & give more.

Steph SiddallPolicy Manager, Inst. of Fundraising

By partnering with The Bot Platform, WaterAid were able to rapidly and successfully create a new direct engagement channel with their supporters.

Dan Gray, WaterAid’s digital engagement manager, said the chatbot was a “powerful tool for awareness” that could encourage donations.

“The Bot Platform offered capable project management to help us at every stage, from strategy, through content design and to reporting. We had regular support on optimising our bot and meeting our objectives for it. The platform itself is intuitive and nicely-designed, including a nifty analytics dashboard to help monitor performance easily.”

The Results

of users clicked to donate
More effective than landing pages

How They Did It

Step 1: Design the first version of the bot
We started off putting ourselves in the shoes of our supporters to determine what kind of questions they would have about Sellu’s life, and what kinds of stories would Sellu want to share? We created a long list of all the types of information we thought would be relevant to different audiences, which our content-gathering staff collected on a trip to Sellu’s community.

We then mapped out the various different journeys users could take through the bot, breaking it down into sections that we thought would feel like natural paths for the user to take.

Step 2: Source the content from real villagers
Sellu and his neighbours were trained to use cameras, which created a flow of new content that we continued to add to the bot, broadcasting to subscribers to keep them abreast of developments. We devised a schedule of updates that would progress the subscriber’s journey in as close to real time with Sellu’s as possible.

Step 3: Launch the bot to the world
We then promoted our bot through a variety of channels, including organic promotion across our social and eCRM communities as well as paid promotion online and offline. We also received a large amount of press coverage about the innovative channel we were using to connect with supporters which further aided awareness.

Step 4: Monitor how people use it and refine the experience
We kept a watchful eye on ‘ignored comments’, those messages that the bot couldn’t understand, and plugged in responses to make it more responsive over time. We found the bot a powerful tool for supporter engagement, and are exploring ways to use the same technology in a way that offers our donors even more direct involvement with our work on the ground.

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