VR for fundraising: creating personal connections

Third Sector Promotion Inition

VR is a powerful medium and because it is new, people are eager to try it, 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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Life is challenging in the third sector – with income from face-to-face giving at its lowest for almost a decade. Millennials want engaging content in return for support. That’s why fundraisers and marketers are increasingly turning to immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) to push their message home. VR has a profound effect on other donors, too.

VR is a powerful medium and because it is new, people are eager to try it – including a swathe of young, potential first-time donors. When well executed, VR content promises both positive press and rapid word-of-mouth exposure. And while commercial offerings remain limited in their attempts at story-telling, there are opportunities for the third sector. All while, the "art of immersive storytelling" is evolving.

It’s a technology that allows the viewer to live out a situation alongside those involved and relate to them one-on-one. The content is filmed in 360-degree/ 3D format – you see what they see – and such is the intensity of the experience that pictures are (truly) worth a thousand words. Fully immersive in nature, VR leads to greater emotional engagement and heightened feelings of compassion, according to Adrian Leu of INITION.

"With VR you can show how someone’s donation will be used to help a child on the other side of the world, or plant a tree, or help cancer research," he says. "Once people see the impact they can make they are more inclined to take greater steps to help.

"So I think that there are two strands here – helping NGOs and charities raise awareness and then providing immersive, video proof for the actions that the money of the donors have triggered."

Already the genre is making an impact on behalf of the third sector. Amnesty International plans to extend its ground-breaking virtual reality fundraising campaign after positive feedback from a piece that used 360-degree imagery to pitch people into the chaotic barrel-bombed locations of Syria.

Reuben Steains, the organisation’s UK innovations manager, says: "We always thought seeing these immensely affecting images would have a genuinely transformative effect on the person on the street, but the early results have surpassed our expectations."

Amnesty International recruited 1,935 regular givers because of the campaign, which equates to a yearly income of £170,000. Within a week, it saw a 16 per cent increase in people signing up to donate.

Unicef has worked with VR since 2015, recognising that immersive experience can be a powerful advocacy tool. INITION produced a film for the organisation, You Are There: On The Road To Making Polio History.

Goodwill ambassador Ewan McGregor narrates the five-minute film. It takes us to a Kenyan village to meet a nine-year-old boy, Job, infected with polio, and Sabina, a dedicated vaccinator, who will do whatever it takes to spare other children his fate.

Unicef said: "Through VR we are now able to demonstrate global development challenges by bringing the most marginalised and vulnerable children into the conversation."

However, there are obstacles for the third sector to overcome, not least of which are the technology costs associated with VR – something that can be difficult to justify at a time when financial scrutiny is intense. Content is also expensive to produce and the measurement of ROI far from straightforward.

Yet as innovations from the mobile phone to flat-screen TV prove, such costs will inevitably fall as worldwide take-up increases and the technology evolves. Even so, headsets, VR applications, future-proofing and troubleshooting are all investments that need to be carefully considered and planned for. Having a production company or technology partner on side can ensure the idea has long-term viability. From content creation, to the medium for showcasing it and distribution.

INITION is one such specialist, experienced in the development and use of immersive technologies and a trusted adviser to organisations on how best to use VR and develop content. Read more about third-sector fundraising and marketing opportunities here.

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