How Nonprofits Can Use Virtual Reality to Evoke Greater Empathy
Nonprofits leaders are constantly looking for new ways to raise funds and spread awareness about the causes they hold dear. While many nonprofits stick to traditional means of getting the word out about their organization and goals, some are turning to innovative technology to produce greater results and better stand out in the often-crowded nonprofit field.
Virtual reality (VR) is one way philanthropic organizations are using technology to reach new audiences in more impactful ways. While VR has been around for decades, in the philanthropic world, we are really just scratching the surface of its capabilities.
The Many Opportunities in VR
Put Yourself In Someone Else’s Shoes
VR allows nonprofit marketers to get creative and bring to life new, vivid experiences for donors, volunteers and staff. Through 360-degree video, people can step into a new world or an inaccessible place. In "Four Walls: Inside Syrian Lives,” the International Rescue Committee takes you into Syria, both a remote and sometimes dangerous location, to see what life is like first-hand.
Empathy and compassion can build from the ability to experience someone else’s story. Because of that, VR can be incredibly impactful for philanthropy efforts. For example, in Stanford’s "Becoming Homeless," participants sell their belongings, live in their car and ride public transportation for shelter as they navigate job loss and homelessness. A later study on the experience showed that participants were more compassionate after having actually experienced homelessness virtually versus learning about homelessness via other means.
Additionally, the Emmy-nominated "Traveling While Black" takes participants both back in time and into the lives of black Americans traveling across the country in the Jim Crow era. The combination of 360-degree video, visual effects and first-hand accounts shows what can be done at the high-end of building empathy through VR storytelling.
Access the Inaccessible
VR isn’t limited to depicting far away, remote locations. It can take participants to places people simply cannot go, or on journeys a person could never take. Experiences like The Body VR transport you inside the human body. Imagine a similar experience that takes the participant into the human bloodstream to explain how research is leading to new leukemia treatments or an experience that showcases a tour through drainage pipes and streams to show the path a piece of plastic takes from human hands to the ocean (and how it can be stopped along the way).
VR has the ability to help bring complicated concepts at the core of philanthropic causes to life.
Education and Training to Remember
The ability to recreate worlds and put people in them makes VR a very effective tool for training. Volunteers can be prepared for deployment in far-away places by viewing 360-degree videos shot on location or trained on tasks that can’t easily be replicated from the comfort of their home.
VR can also be used to teach people how to handle tough interpersonal situations like Talespin’s virtual human technology, which allows business leaders to go through firing scenarios again and again to better equip themselves to handle the tough conversations.
Imagining Something New
VR doesn’t have to be limited to what already exists. It’s been used heavily in the architecture and automotive industries for pre-visualization (visualizing something complex before it exists) of new buildings and cars. This same approach can be used to help donors imagine what a new hospital wing might look like or what a cleaner waterway will mean to a community.
By putting on a headset and being able to see what something would look like or feel like can get people excited about the possibility of something a nonprofit is hoping to create.
Visualizing Philanthropic Impact
It can be difficult to explain the scale of an issue or the rippling impact of a single donation. A medium like VR allows participants to visualize data in ways not possible before. Do you want to show how many people are helped by doctors at your hospital each year? Why not virtually drop a potential donor into the middle of a full football stadium to show them the physical scale of how many thousands of people are treated each year?
A visualization like this can help convey the magnitude of an organization’s impact or the importance of every dollar.
Getting Started With VR
The power of VR is best experienced, not just described, so nonprofit leaders interested in utilizing it should put on a headset and give it a try. Reaching out to trusted partners familiar with VR is a good first step toward implementing VR into a philanthropic marketing campaign. Companies that have experience with VR concept creation and development can help organizations determine if VR is a good fit for them, determine what kind of experience would best fit the need and explore execution paths that fit budgets and goals.
Laurie Schneider is EVP and COO at Bradley and Montgomery, an independent creative agency that has provided marketing services for brands including JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Xbox and more. The agency recently worked with Riley Hospital for Children to develop a virtual reality experience to assist in fundraising efforts.