The Future of Fundraising: Insights


VR for fundraising: experiment and engage but remember to keep it human

Virtual reality has been lauded as powerful, engaging tool to raise awareness and bring people closer to events.

The third sector has already made big strides in the use of such immersive technology. Several VR films have enjoyed huge impact, notably UNICEF’s ‘Clouds Over Sidra’, which has been used for direct fundraising in 30 countries.

How virtual reality and augmented reality are best used is the subject of much debate. The technology is expensive and still evolving. It is no longer a novelty. Now content is key.

To help third-sector marketers understand the many opportunities, INITION held a panel discussion at its London studio on February 2, chaired by CEO Adrian Leu.

Here are the main takeaways from the event.

How does VR work for fundraising?

Adrian Leu: Statistics show that people who view VR are more emotionally engaged. It makes a connection that traditional media like TV and press can’t.

We believe that technology has to have a higher purpose, that it must be courageous. We believe there is more to it than mere clicks and impressions; it should create value of the human kind.

Marisol Grandon, founder and CEO Unfold Stories: Immersive, first-person narratives are brilliant, but what is important for this community is to experiment. We need to see what is working in entertainment, film, gaming and education and apply that to fundraising, using it to raise awareness and provoke action.

we’re not quite there yet…

Vincent Vernet, director digital and publishing, Rotary International: Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding have already resulted in some disruption and we are now at a transition point with VR. One area we’ve been exploring is how to build bridges between the experience and the transaction in a way that gives people the opportunity to engage in a dialogue. Maybe there is a point at which technology and experience merge so that the giving process is much more fluid. If so, it would give tools to gift officers – people who have traditionally built relationships over time when it comes to major giving efforts – including the stories behind the VR experience.

Jess Crombie, director of creative content, Save the Children: We have made a couple of VR films now and use them mainly in face-to-face situations. That may be on the street, but also in meetings with politicians or high-value donors, philanthropists or potential new members of our board. One of the films is deliberately designed to be used sitting down with someone, so we can say: “Before we talk to you, we just want you to meet some of the kids we work with”. The film doesn’t end with an appeal for money because it is simply about creating a deeper engagement with that person.

Adrian Leu: Do you believe awareness is a problem at the moment? Do you think distribution is a problem?

Marisol Grandon: Yes, I do. It is utterly confusing even when you work in the sector. It is hard to keep up with new hardware and new content platforms. It’s hard to afford it, but I do think convergence is coming and it is important for the sector to be ready. We need to know what works in order to capitalise on the moment when every household has the ability to view content of this type.

But how do you use it?

Adrian Leu: We are on a slow curve towards the consolidation not only of hardware but also software and content. The same is true of applications that drive the technology forward and how it’s distributed to people. Where do you think we go from here?

Vincent Vernet: VR can be a very lonely experience, so I think it will evolve to become more social. We want the technology to be able to accommodate that.

Jess Crombie: Yes, I was going to say the same thing. We are always looking at what gamers are doing because they are early adopters. If you wonder what’s coming next, just spend some time with them. Shared experiences are massive and there are a couple of big platforms.

Vincent Vernet: One thing I would like to mention is testing. We are working on a project with Google and scoping a pilot in a way that is measurable not only from an execution standpoint, but also the effectiveness of the content. The question of novelty comes up a lot – whether it is the experience itself or the content. I think that if you can test with an audience that has had exposure to multiple pieces of VR content, you will get a much more accurate result.

Marisol Grandon: I think it is the ability to combine things that young people are naturally interested in – entertainment and causes. NGOs work brilliantly with celebrities, so how can you bring that into an immersive environment? How do you get those interested audiences to take action while in the environment? That is an important threshold to cross.


Adrian Leu: What’s your advice for those looking to get into this field?

Marisol Grandon: Don’t be afraid to experiment and get things wrong. We cannot afford to ignore this technology or see it as a trend that is going to end.

Vincent Vernet: Stay true to the narrative. The same elements that make traditional films popular – such as the cinematography – doing those things well will put you in a very good place to succeed.

Jess Crombie: Tell a good story. One of the great things about working in this sector is we have interesting stories, so don’t forget to tell them.


Marisol Grandon, CEO, Unfold Stories

Jess Crombie, Director of Creative Content, Save the Children

Vincent Vernet, Director Digital and Publishing, Rotary International

Adrian Leu, CEO, INITION


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