Improving charitable donations through virtual reality


1) Providing clean and affordable access to everyone in the world is a lofty goal, and one that an organization called Charity:Water is currently pursuing. Their goal is to “solve the water crisis and reinvent charity for a new generation.” However, while a worthy cause, it is often difficult to encourage donors to connect to a project that takes place hundreds of miles away.

2) Charity: Water has used virtual reality to help connect potential donors to the charity’s causes. In a recent fundraising event, the organization leveraged virtual reality headsets to allow attendees to get an intimate glimpse into how a recent project to provide clean water in Ethiopia changed a young girl’s life. The technology enabled guests to gain a better understanding of the issues the organization is looking to tackle and emotionally connect to the causes they were donating to. The Clinton Global Initiative used a similar technology to “drive collaborative action” as many other non-profits are looking to do the same in a meaningful and “transformational” way.

3) Stakeholders that would need to be involved include technology companies, potential donors, non-profits, digital media specialists, engineers.

4) The first step in deploying this technology would be to identify potential projects (based on success) to highlight as part of the initial VR filming process. Once the project(s) are identified, the organization would have to assembly a crew of VR specialists or a third party to manage the development of the short VR experience to test on an initial set of potential donors. The high potential or high loyalty users could be leveraged to test the approach and evaluate potential opportunity size and costs to implementing the technology more broadly. Once this is validated with the industry, technical and user experience experts, the VR program could begin to showcase additional projects.

mst2135 july 14, 2016


3 thoughts on “Improving charitable donations through virtual reality

  1. In the WSJ article, they noted that people’s empathy may be increased using VR, at least for now until the novelty wears off, but there are some drawbacks. One primary fear is that people from wealthier nations will turn this into “tragedy porn”, similar to the tour buses that ran through the 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina. Another risk is for the medium to become exploitative, which is a common issue with shady non-profits. Lastly, the smaller non-profits who cannot afford to produce their own video/VR content could be left further behind leaving the field to be dominated by the big players. The article noted that there was no increase in fund raising with or without VR.

    However, there are some excellent benefits. They noted that people watched the videos in tears, and felt impelled to do something; we often only are concerned about issues that are “in our back yard” and VR does a good job of getting us in touch with the real problems around the world, even if that is just to make us aware of the reality. The other is with the recent rush to VR, the technology is there but the content isn’t. If non-profits fill that void they might be best positioned to dominate the market and make origins of VR about helping others. I hope for the latter. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.


  2. I second Sean’s thoughts on this. I felt the same way about production costs for VR content, not only because of the inability of smaller players to keep up, but also because of the risk of “industrialisation” of this kind of experience, as Sean called it “tragedy porn”. Benefits should always outweigh the costs and, if costs are expensive, then I guess marketing and ads should start popping up, making awareness of serious issues a business.

    I would then hope that VR content can be easily produced with new-generation smartphones with 3d-cameras and broadcasted with free apps like YouTube or Periscope. Only then VR generation content would become ubiquitous and free from industrialisation.

    As a final note, VR is definitely the ultimate storytelling tool, at least from what I’ve seen people in the photography field working on recently. It’s definitely a path worth pursuing, even if it is mined with potential risks. Thank you very much for sharing this post!


  3. While I certainly agree that there are real and tangible risks that accompany the deployment of VR technology for this purpose, I definitely think there is likely more positive here than negative. Although, I think it is almost certain that people, countries, and/or organizations will attempt to commandeer this medium to serve their own agendas and benefits, I am intrigued by the potential for VR to transcend the news proximity barrier. Even with the constant feed of world news and content that people receive these days, I think it is still extremely difficult to tell stories that might encourage the reader or watcher to take action or advocate for a cause. Perhaps a simulation of an actual experience could actually push the audience into a level of global awareness.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s