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The Power of Virtual Reality in Philanthropy

Virtual Reality (“VR”) and Augmented Reality (“AR”) are relatively new forms of experiential content, and have the potential to appeal to a mass market. There is a tremendous opportunity for those who have the ability to create VR and AR content and entertainment to drive value through storytelling and creating immersive experiences.

VR storytelling and experiences can create a tangible and visceral account of events, giving the viewer the experience of actually being in the shoes of others and seeing the world from their perspective. These experiences can be exciting, emotional, educational, and inspire a call to action.

VR content can also drive donor behavior and act as a powerful marketing and branding tool wrapped in an entertainment or educational wrapping.

For example, in 2016, the VR film Francis premiered to five hundred health and finance ministers from around the world in conjunction with the 2016 Spring Meeting of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.

This seven ­minute, highly impactful, virtual reality film about the effects and breadth of the need for global mental health care featured Francis Pii Kugbila, a husband, father and teacher in northern Ghana. The film showed that Francis, like so many who suffer from mental illness around the world, are valuable members of society who can lead full, productive lives and contribute to their families and communities if they receive science ­based mental health treatment.

Is VR good for Philanthropy? The anecdotal data seems to indicate it is. When Clouds Over Sidra, a VR experience about a Syrian refugee in Jordan, was shown to donors as part of a fundraising conference in Kuwait, UNICEF found that showing of the film resulted in approximately a doubling of the number of people willing to donate to help Syrian refugees than expected.

If Francis and Clouds over Sidra teach us anything, it is that compelling VR content, coupled with philanthropic events and global conferences, can create a powerful call to action.

Creating VR Content: From Ideation to Execution

Working with a studio and creative team with expertise in the VR space is important, but having accomplished and talented creative teams that have been telling compelling stories through film is more important. While VR can be an incredible machine for creating empathy, there is no substitute for the underlying story, and the experienced team who tells it. True collaboration with the philanthropy having their story told is also key. Without it, it is easy to veer off message. A granular understanding of the core audience, as well as the organization’s goals, is necessary to bring the right team together to move hearts and minds.  

As more philanthropies use their resources to create VR storytelling experiences, more donors and decision makers will not just experience these narratives, but have a higher probability of being moved to a call to action as the result of these moving interactive experiences. 

Compliments of Adelson Strategies – a member of the EACCNY