Empathy in VR: Transforming the Future of Fundraising

Empathy in VR: Transforming the Future of Fundraising

Nowadays, there are so many worthy causes competing for our attention it’s quite easy to fall into a kind of compassion-fatigue which, at worst, can result in apathy and inaction. Empathy is a muscle like any other and it needs to be exercised with care and mindfulness.  A common obstacle in getting people to understand and champion causes often arises when the issues underpinning said cause are complex and challenging. Simply put, if people can’t feel your cause, they often shy away from engaging with it.

“Charities could be using VR experiences to create a more emotive and real appeal.”

The advent of virtual reality allows a new way to connect with an audience and a  fresh medium for charities to communicate the vital work they do.

VR allows a viewer to understand a cause from the inside, the closest thing to literally seeing through someone else’s eyes. It is this ability to go beyond an appeal film and create a far more immersive experience that helps organisations highlight injustice in a more directly emotive way.

There are already a couple of forward-thinking organisations who are exploring the applications VR technology has in fundraising – let’s take a look at why some have started calling the VR headset “an empathy machine.”

Virtually Giving

The art of giving is something we’ve talked about before, when we delved a little into the craft of brand storytelling in virtual reality.

To recap, ethical shoe company TOMS enabled those who support their cause the chance to see the results of their generosity first-hand. Through the power of VR, viewers saw what it’s like to go on a Giving Trip and met some of the recipients of their support. Since then, TOMS have continued to experiment with VR, finding new ways of reaching their supporters and enabling them to make a connection with those they help.

“Enabling customers to fully appreciate the tangible impact they’re having”

In their most recent film, they encouraged people to take a “Walk in Their Shoes” and see the story from the perspective of someone who’s been touched directly by the cause. In full 360 degree surrounds, you watch a customer travel from California to Colombia, to meet the very child who benefitted from the pair of shoes they bought on that sunny day back in Cali. Taking their experience to the next level, TOMS also gave away 100,000 Google Cardboard headsets with their shoes, to enable their customers to fully appreciate the tangible impact they’re having. It’s this sense of connection and reality, that sets Virtual Reality production up for an exciting future in fundraising.

Virtual Reality Empathy

The United Nation’s “Clouds Over Sidra” project is a virtual reality experience which shows exactly how useful VR can be in creating a sense of empathy. Teaming up with charity giants UNICEF, directors Gabo Arora and Chris Milk created an experience to raise money for those affected by the crisis in Syria and achieved remarkable results.

“Clouds Over Sidra” is a mini-documentary that follows Sidra, a 12-year-old Syrian girl as she guides us through a day in the life of the Za’Atari refugee camp where she and her family live. Experiencing the reality of refugees’ lives helped fundraisers across the world understand the issues at stake in an urgent, visceral way. The UN’s foray into VR filmmaking was a measurable success –  it boosted philanthropy by raising a staggering $3.8 billion in fundraising, directly from those who watched the ‘Clouds Over Sidra’ experience – achieving 70% more than was projected.

 “One in six people who viewed the VR experience have made a donation to UNICEF”

In fact, to this date, one in six people who viewed the VR experience have made a donation to UNICEF – more than twice the standard rate of giving. Whereas an average of 8.3% of people usually donate after an UNICEF appeal film or campaign, after VR, that figure rose considerably to 16.6%. This VR project was judged such a success that twelve subsequent VR films have been released, covering issues that include conflict in Gaza and the Liberian Ebola epidemic, the 2015 Nepalese earthquake and climate change. If you’re looking to drive real donations and create that sense of empathy, as in the case of UNICEF’s groundbreaking experience, VR content could be the way to connect.

Fundraising for Education

Last but not least, is a VR film crafted by for-purpose education organisation, Pencils of Promise. The VR experience premiered at a star-studded New York gala where attendees entered a purpose-built wooden classroom installation, donned Oculus Rift headsets and witnessed the impact of Pencils of Promise’s  charitable work.  The VR film brought potential donors directly into the lives of the Ghanian schoolchildren they had pledged to help.

Through the magic of VR, donors were able to observe the children of Toklokpo as they learned and played. They also had the opportunity to explore the dilapidated structures where the children are taught. The impact of Pencils of Promise’s work was tangible and reduced much of its audience to tears inside their headsets. This installation not only increased donor empathy it resulted in significantly increased donations from existing supporters, garnering $1.9 million in a single night.  The virtual reality ‘empathy machine’ enabled PoP to connect fundraisers with the cause they were championing on a far more personal level.

“It’s a perfect example of how technology can actually make us more human and provide real connections to issues”

Pencils For Promise’s VR installation is a perfect example of how technology can actually make us more connected to our humanity and help us understand issues that we might otherwise never experience.

With all this in mind, virtual reality is perfectly positioned to enhance any fundraising endeavour. Helping viewers witness the real impact of their donation is an incredibly important part of charity’s future. If organisations keep developing engaging experiences such as these, which tell real, relevant stories, we can all expect a much deeper understanding of these truly important causes in years to come.

Pebble Studios
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