Fundraising is and will always be a necessity for nonprofit organizations, but times have changed — and so has the technology. It’s not necessary to stand outside local grocery stores with a bell and a bucket anymore, though that is still effective. Some nonprofits have started utilizing AR and VR technology to assist their fundraising efforts. What are AR and VR, and how can you use these advances to help support your own organization?
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are new technologies that allow users to interact with a virtual environment. The difference is that with VR, the user is immersed within the virtual environment, while with AR, the virtual aspects are overlayed onto real-world places.
This technology has been around, in various incarnations, since the 1830s, but it wasn’t until recently that it started to emerge as a commercial option anyone could purchase for personal use.
Today, you can use a virtual reality headset to play games or explore the world. You can use your phone to project everything from Pokemon to characters from the Harry Potter universe onto the world around you, or achieve the same thing with wearable devices like the Microsoft Hololens. Both VR and AR are starting to make an appearance in nearly every industry, from medicine to aerospace technology.
While this is a phenomenal advancement in technology, what does it have to do with fundraising for nonprofit organizations?
Bringing Causes to Life
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is the bane of nonprofit fundraising. When you’re talking to potential donors in developed countries, it’s hard to bring some of the causes to life — to create that emotional reaction that will entice someone to donate. Pictures can be useful tools, but nothing is quite as effective as walking through a virtual war zone or experiencing what happens in late-stage dementia firsthand.
Virtual reality can do just that. By putting on a VR helmet, nonprofits can put their donors in the virtual shoes of the people that they’ll be helping.
The best thing about this tool is that you don’t even have to invest in expensive virtual reality headsets. Many, like “A Walk Through Dementia,” which allows you to experience what it’s like to have the disorder, run off a smartphone slipped into a Google Cardboard headset.
Think of your favorite cause. Now imagine walking into its office or logging into its website to donate. What will be more effective — a collage of photos, or being able to put on a headset and walk a mile in their shoes? Some case studies have found that an immersive VR experience can help make people more empathetic to the plight of others — something pictures and cold data can’t accomplish.
“Personally, I’m very excited that when we get very high-level VR that I won’t have to spend my time getting on airplanes to go and meet people, that I can actually have conversations with people as if I were in the same room,” said Greg Williams, editor of Wired magazine. “If you can communicate with anyone in any place in the world, and it’s like being with them, that opens up all kinds of incredible possibilities in terms of the communities that we’re going to build around VR.”
How Can a NonProfit Org Utilize VR and AR?
Nonprofits are already utilizing both virtual and augmented reality to bring in more donations for their causes. “Pokemon Go” took the world by storm when it launched in 2016, allowing users to project their favorite Pokemon onto the world using AR. An animal shelter in Muncie, Indiana, took advantage of that excitement by allowing players to walk dogs while getting their steps in. Six of its dogs ended up adopted, and it ended up with tons of free volunteer hours.
The Hydrous uses virtual reality to let people dive with marine wildlife without ever having to get their feet wet. It also has an AR reef setup that interacts with Twitter — tweeting things like conservation helps to heal the reef while tweeting things like sushi damages it.
Creating your own VR or AR experience might not be easy and will require some programming and photography skills. Start by figuring out the story you want to tell. What will get your message across effectively?
Next, figure out what platform will support your campaign the best. Will it work with an augmented reality program, overlayed on the real world, or will it be more effective in an immersive VR environment?
The next step is to write your story and work on photography and programming. This may require bringing in additional team members if you don’t have anyone who already possesses these skills on your team.
Finally, rent or purchase the equipment you’ll need to showcase your story. AR will likely be less expensive since it doesn’t cost anything to create an app, and most people have the smartphone that they’ll need to access the experience. You can also access virtual reality with something as simple as Google Cardboard and a smartphone.
The Future of Nonprofit Fundraising
Virtual and augmented reality isn’t just for entertainment anymore. Look into these new fundraising tools and see how much of a difference it makes. VR and AR can help make your donors more empathetic to your case, and they will be more willing to dig deep into their wallets.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a virtual reality experience can tell an entire story and put the user into the shoes of the people their donations will help.