Virtual Reality Could Be the Next Big Thing in Charitable Giving

Immersive storytelling brings a bit of sobering reality to would-be donors

Image Source/Corbis

Sometimes, all it takes to inspire more charitable giving is a visit to a place or person in need. But not every situation or location is accessible to the average donor. That could be changing, writes NPR’s Linda Poon, thanks to virtual reality experiences designed to increase empathy and charitable giving.

Poon reports that activists and filmmakers are experimenting with virtual reality technology with the goal of creating stronger connections between would-be donors and the communities they could help. With the help of state-of-the-art goggles and VR footage from areas with humanitarian crises, writes Poon, people can get a better sense of the devastation brought on by things like poverty, war and natural disasters.

The innovative way to inspire giving draws on preliminary results that suggest immersive storytelling can actually increase empathy, reports Poon. From trips to Syrian refugee camps to tours of Nepal’s devastating earthquake, virtual reality pioneers hope that more in-depth perspectives will inspire viewers to give more generously.

It’s a concept that was recently tested on the streets of London. According to Amnesty International, a recent test run of street fundraisers using Google Goggles and a tour of “virtual reality Aleppo” in Syria prompted a 16 percent increase in charitable giving.

Meanwhile, nonprofits are experimenting with a different kind of virtual reality: a “nonprofit archipelago” in Second Life. The four simulated locations in the popular 3D virtual world offer opportunities for nonprofits to train, educate, and reach out to avatars — and the real-life players who control them.

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