Nonprofits and associations within the sector are beginning to use virtual reality, augmented reality, 360 video, and other innovative storytelling vehicles to help advance their missions with some encouraging (if not, exceptional) results. So how far away is the charitable sector from using VR as a legitimate communications and fundraising tool? We take a look at what’s in store for this medium in 2022 and make 5 bold predictions for its usage as it seeks to become more mainstream.

The use of VR in the nonprofit sector is still in its infancy and predominantly used right now by large international charities and higher education institutions due to the costs, skills and capacity  required in creating original content. These costs have come down considerably in the past 5 years from (in some cases) six figures down to $5-10k, so I’m optimistic that it might be more viable now as we can see both a return of investment and the magic that comes from a return on immersion. 

However, for it to really permeate the sector, it will require the foresight (and goodwill) of first movers in this space to continue to increase awareness of VR in marketing and fundraising, and ultimately share its results to help more organizations become more comfortable in utilizing these lived experiences for the common good.

So with increased awareness of VR still top of our list, here are our top 5 nonprofit VR predictions for the year…

Conferences: With the probable return of conferences to an in-person model, at least half of all large nonprofit conferences (250+ attendees) will have some form of VR component for use by attendees. This will range from simple VR booths for people to be exposed to these computer simulated realities or breakout sessions discussing the possibilities of its future use amongst other new technologies. Content shown will be largely replicated (not original), yet will drive important conversations around the potential of the medium and also see attendees begin to purchase VR hardware for their own private use.

Gala Events/One-Off Fundraising Events: Given that VR is still relatively new, creating special events around these unique virtual experiences are allowing charities to reap rewards in real-time and drive new levels of empathy to highlight stories of impact and combat major donor fatigue. Event managers that can successfully execute the use of VR and weave it into the experience rather than simply adding it on because it’s a cool trend are going to see their organizations reap significant benefits.

The leading example of this experiential approach is Pencils of Promise who created a 16ft replica of a Ghanaian classroom to set the scene for on of their Wall St Gala’s. They ended up raising $1.9m at this star studded event with just a 90 second video. We predict that a number of events this year will become even more innovative with their use of VR with the possibility of a single event or multi-day conference able to raise $5m+.

Major Gifts: Examples of major gift projections being surpassed by up to 70% have been reported by UN backed conferences using VR for refugee donors to highlight the devastation in Syria. It was also found that 1 in 6 people pledged donations after participating in that same experience, double the normal rate. Higher education is also beginning to use it too with the University of San Francisco’s  facilities department currently providing VR resources to new capital campaigns, which includes their new basketball gym. The VR content is currently being used to showcase interactive architectural renderings of the completed new gym.

One of the best stories I have read about was when a donor visited Charity:Water’s office. He had already committed to giving $60,000, yet watched a VR film on their work in Africa and was so moved by the story that he gave $400,000 instead. This example is in many ways an outlier for the moment, but should also be seen as an example of its unbridled potential with VR revenue predicted to grow to $12.19 billion in 2024.

I would also not be surprised if the sector or academia embark on significant research projects to help fundraisers understand the empathy triggers, motivations, and power of immersive experiences of major donors.

Activism: With the 2022 U.S. midterms this year, we can imagine a VR campaign video will be released to highlight key policy issues and drive donations towards engagement efforts. While you’re probably thinking of parties and/or specific campaigns, it’s just as likely that advocacy groups like the International Rescue Committee and Amnesty International will continue linking virtual content that communicates their missions and current work both locally and globally.

It’s already being taken to the streets through innovative grassroots engagement tactics. A great example of this was Amnesty International who launched its ‘Virtual Reality Aleppo’ campaign in three major UK cities to amplify the effectiveness of their traditional street fundraisers’ messages. This campaign used refurbished smartphones and basic VR headgear and took viewers on a tour of the war ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo, 100 kilometers south of the Turkish border to highlight the impact caused by barrel-bombs.

Industry & Foundational Support: There are huge equity disparities within nonprofits that are just being exacerbated by access to this technology. The top 10% of charities have large teams of communications and fundraising staff and also the budgets to execute. Smaller nonprofits that often are doing the hard work on the ground and have truly inspiring stories to share are more concerned with raising enough money to keep the lights on, let alone taking on the risk and costs associated with creating a VR experience for its limited donor base.

To help close this gap I believe some major national foundations will either expand or create grant opportunities that will allow for smaller organizations to create VR content. This may also come in the form of partnerships with major companies and platforms such as Oculus VR  to help partner VR production companies with impactful nonprofits.

‘Telling your story’ has always been at the forefront of advice given to nonprofits and now the sector has a new tool to add to its fundraising arsenal and assist in their ongoing narrative. It is one thing to read and contextualize impact but quite another when you can see the real difference your donation makes to a person’s life, through their eyes and devoid of the harsh realities of which it’s all too easy to ignore. The VR industry understands that adoption and conversion is going to be driven from the outside in and that VR won’t flourish in this sector without its intervention and ongoing commitment.

In summary, 2022 will be an exciting year for VR exploration and awareness in the nonprofit world with some truly impactful and innovative uses of the medium sure to dominate some of the sectors online conversations. 

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