Saturday, January 23, 2021
Virtual RealityApplicationSocial Good

Using Virtual Reality for Increased Charity Donor Outreach and Funding

The International Day of Charity is a day of giving, but charities often find it hard to stand out. By using virtual reality, organizations are starting to see a new medium that is helping boost donations, and truly reach potential donors in broadening their knowledge and deepening understanding of real world issues.

Americans donate over $258 billion per year to charitable causes according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, with the most giving occurring between the months of October-December. However, many organizations have been challenged to emotionally connect with potential donors through traditional video outreach campaigns, and continue the trend in giving throughout the year.

Virtual reality has opened a new frontier in giving by being able to immerse potential donors all over the world into situations that are often difficult to empathize with. The impact of virtual reality has proven to increase awareness, evoke empathy, and elicit action.

Activists and filmmakers are experimenting with virtual reality technology with the goal of creating stronger connections between potential donors and the people and communities they can help. From Syrian refugee camps to experiencing the complexities of autism first-hand, virtual reality pioneers hope that more in-depth perspectives will inspire users to give more generously.

The truth of today’s charity work is that it’s extremely difficult to get people to truly care. In a busy world, it’s harder to communicate causes, and even harder to connect people with these particular causes. Now is the time for organizations and social enterprises to leverage the true benefit of virtual reality.

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“Virtual reality is a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected. And ultimately, we become more human,” says VR filmmaker, Chris Milk. Adding,“VR connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.”


International Day of Charity Agenda

Concerned with challenging issues such as poverty, natural disasters, and even civil violence, which persists in all countries ‎regardless of their economic, social, and cultural situation, the United Nations called for countries to recognize and contribute towards charitable organizations and individuals.On December 17th, 2012, September 5th was officially designated as the International Day of Charity. This date is significant because it also happens to be the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who devoted her entire life to selfless charity work. On this day of observance, people around the world are encouraged to contribute to charity, and become a part of the change that is needed to improve the lives of others for future generations.


How Charities are Using Virtual Reality to Reach Donors and Raise Awareness

Clouds Over Sidra virtual reality
Source: UNVR – United Nations Virtual Reality

At UNICEF’s annual fundraising conference, the virtual reality film, “Clouds Over Sidra,” was shown in order to help raise money. In total, they raised $3.8 billion in donor pledges to aid people affected by the Syria crisis. This surpassed the projected amount of $2.2 billion, proving the effectiveness of virtual reality as a fundraising tool.

Alzheimer’s Research UK, in collaboration with a virtual reality company VISYON, designed a virtual reality application called “A Walk Through Dementia,” to help deepen people’s understanding of dementia. Viewers can experience life through the eyes of a person with dementia, exploring the emotional and psychological challenges they face daily.

Similarly, the National Autistic Society created a virtual reality experience of a shopping mall visit from the perspective of an autistic child. Created to help increase public awareness of the complexities of autism, “Too Much Information” replicates the sensory overload often experienced by people with autism.

Too Much Information virtual reality
Source: The National Autistic Society


Allowing People to See the Impact of Giving

Through the power of virtual reality, people are no longer just helping strangers. Instead, they are now helping friends. The global shoe company, TOMS, is well-known for being a leading social enterprise through their One for One program®.

Partnering with AT&T, TOMS created the compelling “A Walk in Their Shoes” film, which chronicles the journey of one TOMS customer from California as he travels to Colombia to meet a child that benefits directly from his purchase.

Additionally, through their four-minute 360º film, “Virtual Giving Trip”, viewers can see for themselves their year-round giving trips that allow employees and partners to place new shoes on kids, and see first-hand the work that TOMS shoes are doing.

TOMS Virtual Giving Trip
TOMS Virtual Giving Trip

The international organization, Smile Train, which provides free cleft repair surgery to hundreds of thousands of children in developing countries, created virtual reality experiences that immerses viewers into the lives of these children with clefts.

In one film, viewers follow the journey of Nisha as she leaves her village for surgery, and the joy she experiences post-operation and her return. By being able to witness this story first-hand, as well as the positive impact being made on these children’s lives, supporters may be more inclined to financially support Smile Train on their journey.

Smile Train virtual reality
The VR production by Smile Train follows the journey of young Nisha and Vikas (pictured); Source: Smile Train


Another organization, Charity:Water, took 400 people on a virtual reality trip to East Africa at an annual black tie fundraising banquet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The film, “The Source”, documents the life of a 13-year-old girl whose family receives access to clean water for the first time. Having emotionally moved donors so much, commitments were over $2.4 million that night.


The Future of Virtual Reality Technology and Charity

A 2017 Nielsen study comparing the effectiveness of 14 pieces of charity virtual reality content with traditional online videos, found that 84% of virtual reality viewers demonstrated brand recall of the charity, compared with only 53% of those who viewed embedded video advertising. The most affected metric in the study was recommendation intent, with over half (51%) increasing their likelihood to recommend the charity.

As you can see, virtual reality as a tool in the charity sector has proven powerful, as new ways to leverage immersive content in storytelling experiences are continuously being explored. When done right, these memorable experiences can deeply personalize an issue, and help bring a charity’s work closer to home and much more impactful, thus helping the world, one experience at a time.

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Patricia Chang
the authorPatricia Chang
Patricia Chang is a South Florida-based freelance Digital Project Manager and XR Strategist. She is also a U.S. Navy veteran born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has also resided in the states of California, Hawaii, and New York. With her B.S. in Computer Information Systems and Master’s in Project Management, Patricia has a decade of experience working with businesses at strategic and operational levels from technology start-ups to major corporations. When not doing project-based initiatives, you can find Patricia obsessing over anything VR/AR related, including attending a VR development academy, in hopes to fine tune her future digital consultancy business.