How Virtual Reality is Influencing Charities.
Posted by Will Shadbolt
We live in an age of statistics. This many people suffered from this disease last year, that many died from hunger. It's easy to get desensitized to stories from the third world, which is unfortunate, because some of these impoverished people require others to rise into action to help them. But as technology improves, efficient ways off cutting through the numbers and getting dedicated volunteers up close and personal is becoming possible.
Last December, a large group of men and women went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to visit rural Ethiopia. No planes or tickets were involved, just headsets and earphones. They were all there for an annual black-tie fundraising event for Charity: Water, a nonprofit that gives access to drinkable water to thousands each year. After dinner but before the fundraiser, everyone put on their devices. A nine-minute-long virtual reality video began to play. It follows a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl named Selam for a week and opens on her gathering water that could be full of diseases and leeches. It concludes with workers arriving in the village and drilling a well. Water gushes forth on to the baked desert landscape, much to the relief of its people.
As the movie played, spouses grabbed each other's hands for comfort, tears were flowing, and applause resounded when the team hit water. The fundraising event was a huge success, with donors giving $2.4 million. The film has had similar success elsewhere. When one donor visited the charity's office and saw the video, he increased the amount he was giving from $60,000 to $400,000. Since being released to the public, it's garnered over a million views on Facebook and is viewable on Youtube.
Although production was pricey, with the budget clocking in at $100,000, the effort clearly paid off. Many other charities agree that despite the costs involved, VR is worth it. Education nonprofit Pencils of Promise used VR to show the effect of proper education in Ghana. A 90-second video illustrates what it's like to learn while huddled under a tree before revealing a new building that the organization had erected. The VR clip helped Pencils of Promise raise $1.9 million.
Even Oculus VR is throwing itself into the fray. It is setting up a program entitled "360 Bootcamp for Nonprofits," which will begin this summer and put 10 young filmmakers together with 10 nonprofits to make short VR films. These will then be presented at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
No matter the cause—be it famine, poverty, the environment, refugees, or education—VR videos have had major success in generating money. As donors view these causes in the first person, they are brought that much closer into the stories, which suddenly are not just numbers and text on a page but a way real people live everyday.
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