Nonprofit Storytelling in the Age of Virtual Reality

Rachel Muney
December 12, 2016

Virtual reality is bringing an entirely new meaning to the phrase "show, don't tell."

Although the initial promise of virtual reality (VR) centered around entertainment value, nonprofits and news outlets have discovered how impactful it is for storytelling - and it's proving to be a game changer.

Experiences are the New Stories

Last December, Charity:Water held their annual fundraising gala. Attendees were issued VR headsets. They were transported to Ethiopia and introduced to Salem, a 13 year old girl from a northern village without access to clean water.
Guests teared up at Salem's story - her mother had died the previous year from waterborne illness, leaving her to care for her father in the desert. Charity:Water came and drilled a well in the area. Suddenly, guests watched water shoot up towards the sky. Benefit attendees experienced this moment with Salem, sharing her discovery of having access to clean water for the first time.  
That night, they raised $2.4 million dollars.

The Future of Nonprofit Fundraising 

In July, virtual reality giant Oculus kicked off the second wave of their VR for Good initiative. The program paired ten nonprofits with ten rising filmmakers and tasked them to work together to tell compelling stories through VR technology.
The 360 films, which will debut in January at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, highlight the selected nonprofits' social causes and bring their work to life in an unprecedented medium. The medium is the experience itself.
Nonprofit storytelling has always been at the forefront of nonprofit fundraising, and virtual reality isn't new - but it is becoming increasingly accessible and affordable. With this in mind, we asked our customers how the felt about VR - and how they would like to use it to share meaningful experiences with their donors.
 A virtual tour delivering meals to our clients would be very impactful!
Putting potential donors at our project site which is so much more effective than talking about it.
Our mission is about helping cancer survivors help themselves through better nutrition habits and exercise. I could see a film about a day in the life of a cancer survivor after treatments ends. Brilliant!
It's more of a maybe...while our programs are local; it would allow people to see [our clients + programs in action] without invading the privacy of the people we serve.
David T., Achieva
Right now it would still be cost prohibitive. Our services are all provided on site; but I can see that for global causes this has huge potential. I love the quote I read while following this link -- "There's a difference between empathy and pity," Arora said. "I think a lot of what we think about with seeing things in the news, it's more trying to get you to feel pity. And the difference between empathy and pity for me is that pity is done with a hierarchy—empathy is done with a shared experience." Very powerful for world causes especially!

"Being there" vs Being There

Pencils of Promise, a New York based nonprofit focused on providing accessible education in Ghana and Laos, teamed up with Ryot Media to share their organization's impact via virtual reality.
Tell us what you think about virtual reality being the medium of nonprofit storytelling. Would you use it? Would your board of directors back the purchase? In an ideal world, how would you showcase the impact of your organization using virtual reality?
Tell us in the comments section!

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