Inition

Virtual reality and fundraising: bringing people closer

How can third sector organisations best use VR to raise funds and awareness, writes Adrian Leu, chief executive of INITION

INITION worked with Unicef on a VR project in Kenya
INITION worked with Unicef on a VR project in Kenya

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The third sector is a crowded place and increasingly prone to disruption. There are many voices. For the fundraiser or marketer, cutting through that noise is essential. Immersive technologies – virtual reality or augmented reality – could be the answer.

There are already great success stories. The online version of Inside Impact: East Africa, made for the Clinton Foundation, received 1.15 million views. Unicef’s Clouds Over Sidra helped to raise $3.8bn (£3.05bn) and has been used for direct fundraising in 30 countries. One-in-six people donated to Unicef New Zealand after watching the film – twice the normal rate secured on the street.

How immersive technologies can best be harnessed for fundraising is the subject of much debate, a debate that's just started. To help third sector marketers understand the many opportunities, INITION held a panel discussion at its London studio on 2 February, which I chaired.

Virtual reality allows the viewer to experience a situation through the eyes of those involved. It tells the story as it unfolds around the camera – literally, because the content is filmed in 360 format.

It brings the potential donor closer to the situation. It makes the donor part of the situation. It moves things from watching to actually experiencing.

I explained that people are more emotionally engaged and thus more compassionate thanks to this ability. VR, I argued, can help to overcome three main marketing challenges: signal – the ability to make your voice unique; distance – getting people closer to you; and time – how long you keep them engaged.

Cost and getting buy-in from management emerged as a big concern. Panellist Jess Crombie of Save the Children said she believed return on investment was relatively simple to demonstrate: "We go to an event and show people the film and they donate money, or we show them on a private site. We have had good return on investment."

It isn’t just a question of meeting short-term needs, though. Marisol Grandon of Unfold Stories said: "I would urge people to think more long term about this technology and think about education in a broader sense and getting the next generation really involved in the issues you work in." This technology can be effective in terms of tapping into the consciousness of the younger generation.

Immersive technology is no longer a novelty. VR content needs to be relevant and carry narrative as any film would. Authenticity is everything, said Vincent Vernet of Rotary International, who made a VR film with INITION: "It was important to us that we used real voices. Nothing is scripted; everything is purely editorial in nature."

INITION was founded to discover and utilise new immersive technologies and to educate and advise organisations on how best to use them.

Find out more about using immersive technologies for fundraising and awareness-raising here

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