Nonprofit's Fundraising Gets Major Boost With Augmented Reality
When it comes to fundraising, emotional connection is everything. The more connected people feel to your mission, the more likely they are to invest in it. This is where augmented reality (AR) can be a game changer.
While a growing number of nonprofits are using AR to increase awareness and empathy surrounding their missions (i.e., virtual blood donations, posting selfies with endangered animals on social media), much less is being done in the realm of direct fundraising. New AR approaches, however, are designed specifically to drive direct fundraising efforts, and they are highly effective. For one nonprofit, Sister Schools, it has resulted in a 44% open rate and a host of new donors — and the campaign is just getting started.
Sister Schools — a Seattle nonprofit run by Terry McGill and his daughter, Ella — teaches compassion, service and social responsibility by partnering local students with children in need. One of the ways it does this is by providing school supplies for partner schools in Uganda.
“Our first-year program is designed to empower local elementary school students to change the world,” Terry McGill, founder and program director at Sister Schools, said. “After learning about life and school in Uganda, students are given the opportunity to provide school supplies to Ugandan children through a two-week supply drive. We return to our schools every spring to show students firsthand how they are transforming communities.”
Introducing Augmented Reality
This year, Sister Schools has added a new component to its marketing and fundraising: augmented reality.
“I have friends who work in large, national nonprofits who also use AR in their development and marketing campaigns,” Ella McGill, the nonprofit’s executive director, said. “Not only are we at the forefront of AR adoption, but it serves as a leveler between small and large organizations. It allows us to be on mission with existing and potential donors right inside their homes.”
Sister Schools is deploying augmented reality in two ways:
- Holotwins. These holographic images appear to be standing in donors’ real-world environments as viewed through their mobile phones
- Portals. These virtual doorways lead the viewer into another location
Using a program Sister Schools calls “Track the Container,” donors can walk right into the transportation stops as the container of school supplies makes its way across the ocean and, ultimately, into the hands of the children. Because these experiences are browser-based, no app is required. This makes AR experiences readily accessible by anyone with a mobile phone.
Before formally introducing the program, Sister Schools teased the news in its email newsletter via an image of Terry McGill standing in front of a green screen, and encouraged friends and donors to keep an eye on their inboxes, social media and mailboxes to learn about a new way to stay up to date with the container shipment throughout the year. One week later, Sister Schools blasted the email campaign formally announcing the AR-fueled Track the Container program:
With your $10 donation, you'll receive a magnet that will allow you to follow the program from beginning to end. Throughout the year, you'll get a firsthand look at all the steps along the way: the container's loading and shipment, the distribution to our Ugandan partners, and so much more!
This announcement included a QR Code that launched an AR experience with a holotwin called “Tabletop Terry,” a virtual image of Terry McGill explaining the program via an AR scene. To access the experience, donors could scan the code and follow the prompts to place Tabletop Terry in their homes or offices. By pinching or expanding the holotwin, donors can view the holotwin as a “living image” as small as a salt shaker or in life size. As Terry McGill speaks, a link to make a donation appears on the screen, allowing donors to take action immediately, while the emotional experience is still fresh.
With a minimum $10 donation, donors receive a second AR experience: a magnet with an AR code that allows them to follow the packing, shipping and delivery of the school supplies from the United States to Uganda in an interactive way. When donors scan the AR Code, it launches a portal visible through the screen of their mobile phone. As they physically walk toward the on-screen door, the portal opens. Through the power of 360-degree video, they can walk right into the stop, hear the sights and sounds, and explore each location as the package travels as if they were actually there.
Once the supplies reach the schools in Uganda, Sister Schools will capture 360-degree video of the children receiving the packages, allowing donors to experience the joy and life-changing transformation in a way far more engaging and impactful than still images or 2D video.
In late December, Sister Schools blasted its first AR-enhanced email campaign. Within a few days, the email had an open rate of 34% and that jumped to 44% just 24 hours later.
“Excluding targeted emails to event attendees, that's the highest email open rate we've ever had,” Ella McGill said.
In late December, Sister Schools launched an AR-enhanced 3,000-piece direct mail campaign to residents around the Sister Schools. Within one week, it had reached a 33% scan rate on those mailers — and that rate continues to rise.
“What is particularly exciting is that, by tying the Track the Container magnet to a minimum donation, we are using AR to drive fundraising in a new and more direct way,” Ella McGill said. “Because the donations that come through Tabletop Terry are trackable, we know the contribution that the AR component is making to our fundraising goal.”
Terry and Ella McGill are also excited about the long-term impact of augmented reality to engage with the parents of these students and keep them engaged in the mission beyond the date of donation.
“Sister Schools has always struggled with remaining connected to our participants just by virtue of working in elementary schools,” Terry McGill said. “Even parents who are highly involved in the school tend to shift their attentions to the next school when their kids are old enough.”
Using AR, Sister Schools’ goal is to get more parents involved with its board of directors, travel opportunities or other long-term aspects of its program.
“Track the Container allows us to speak directly to parents and form that connection,” Terry McGill said. “Thanks to AR, in the coming years, I believe we will see more parents engage with Sister Schools directly instead of through their children.”