Being only a small recurring donor to the Clinton Foundation I was excited to find myself sitting across the desk of the former President at his New York office and hearing first hand about the impact of the Foundations work in East Africa. Truth be told, my eyes had to adjust at first and I found myself unashamedly spinning around in my chair soaking up this truly unique experience.
I don’t think I said much; in fact I was a mere passenger in the conversation as I found myself hanging on his every word. But hey, I must have made quite the impression given that I was then invited to Nairobi to join 42 and the Foundations Vice-Chair (and esteemed daughter) Chelsea, to see first hand their work with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. I don’t think I’ll ever forget witnessing the unforgettable moment when Bill and Chelsea attached and switched on hearing aids to the ears of a young Kenyan girl so she could hear for the very first time. I turned around 180 degrees and saw the joy of her family, it truly radiated through the screen.
The screen you ask? Indeed. While the reality and plight of this Kenyan family was indeed real, this whole experience was not, well not in the traditional sense. Yes, I was spinning in my chair (you cant take that away from me), and yes, I was in the same building as the Clinton’s at this years Clinton Global Initiative, but from a physical standpoint I was fully immersed in the virtual reality (VR) presentation Inside Impact: East Africa which showcased this first generation technology set to take the world by storm.
It is one thing to read and contextualize impact but quite another when you can see the real difference it makes to a persons life and see it from their eyes without sugar coating the world around them. From this moment I truly felt an emotional connection to the Foundations work in Kenya and Tanzania and appreciated the reality of these everyday problems that are so often looked over in favor of more dramatic conflict. I don’t think I have been more blown away by a technological advance than this and my gut reaction to that experience was that the future of VR does not lie in the hands of Hollywood production houses or video game enthusiasts but in those of documentarians and storytellers world wide.
The VR revolution has already begun in earnest. Earlier this year the United Nations launched its first VR video at the World Economic Forum, which provide insight into the world of a young Syrian girl named Sidra as she showed you through Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, home to over 80,000 displaced Syrians since 2012. This technology was then taken to the streets of Britain when Amnesty International launched its “virtual reality Aleppo” campaign that took viewers on a tour of the war ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo, 100 kilometers south of the Turkish border to highlight the devastation caused by barrel-bombs.
This campaign and no doubt that of any future solicitations via the world of virtual reality is sure to pique the interest of younger donors who will flock to the technology rather than show a shallow skepticism of it. Lets face it, if the often dismissed street canvassers of Amnesty International (I’m talking the people who ‘strongly encourage you to give’, not the organization) can see a bounce in daily donations of 16% through their Aleppo experiment then you can just imagine how effective it could be as a genuine fundraising tool for the 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the U.S. equipped with a focused narratives and established donor base.
With many nonprofits desperate to break through the clutter of a sector aggressively clamoring for new sources of funding, virtual reality may be the key to increasing the amount of donations flowing through to our key service providers by providing stakeholders with a unique vantage point to understand and be emotionally moved by what you do and the communities you benefit. From individual giving through to corporate and foundation grantors who are now prioritizing site visits as one of the final steps in assessing a grant proposal, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that in 10 years time you might be uploading a VR video online along with your application as one of the initial steps in an organization assessing your suitability for operational and programmatic support.
‘Telling your story’ has always been at the forefront of advice given to nonprofits and now they have a revolutionary new (and surprisingly affordable) tool to assist in their ongoing narrative. With the technology due to roll out in a big way over the coming months, the quality and ‘feel’ of VR will continue to improve, become more mainstream and truly become a genuine vehicle for the philanthropic sector and the way it articulates its ongoing impact. So grab your headsets and watch this space.
This guest post was contributed by Ryan Ginard.
Ryan Ginard is the Development Director for Access Youth Academy, an academic enrichment program that helps underserved kids become first generation college students. Ryan is also the fund advisor for the non-endowment Emerging Leaders Fund and has spoken this year on civic technology at South by South West.