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This post is Development Director Ryan Ginard's first impression of seeing how powerful a virtual reality video is in putting the viewer in the middle of a compelling story at the most recent meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.
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 firsthand about the impact of the foundation's work in East Africa. Truth be told, my eyes had to adjust at first and I found myself unashamedly spinning around in my chair and 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 foundation's Vice-Chair (and esteemed daughter) Chelsea, to see upfront 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 can't take that away from me), and yes, I was in the same building as the Clintons at this year's 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 that's 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 person's life — and see it from their eyes. From this moment on, I truly felt an emotional connection to the foundation's 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 one. My gut reaction to that experience was that the future of virtual reality (VR) does not lie in the hands of Hollywood production houses or video game enthusiasts, but in those of documentarians and storytellers worldwide.
The VR revolution has already begun in earnest. Earlier this year, the United Nations launched its first VR video at the World Economic Forum; it provides insight into the world of a young Syrian girl named Sidra as she shows you through Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp, home to more than 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. Its video takes viewers on a tour of the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo, less than 100 kilometers south of the Turkish border, to highlight the devastation caused by barrel bombs.
This technology is sure to pique the interest of younger donors. Let's face it, if the often-dismissed street canvassers of Amnesty International (I'm talking about the people who "strongly encourage you to give," not the organization) can see a increase in donations of 16 percent through their Aleppo experiment, then you can just imagine how effective it could be as a fundraising tool for the 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the U.S., especially those that are equipped with a focused narrative 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. It can provide stakeholders with a unique vantage point to understand and be emotionally moved by what you do and the communities you benefit.
In 10 years' time, you might be uploading a VR video online along with your grant application as one of the initial steps of an assessment of your suitability for operational and programmatic support.
"Tell 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.
Image: kevin / CC BY
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.