VR and AR Fundraising case studies

Have you ever watched a charity program on television and wished you can reach out and touch the face of that little boy or girl that needs your help? 

Virtual reality fundraising is known as a game changer and considered the most revolutionary technology for charities since the television.  VR and AR will bring people beyond the screen and into the world they see on TV.  

Though very new to most people, some have experienced VR only in a 360 format.  360 is a basic limited VR experience using 360 cameras and though still a very cool experience, VR has evolved beyond just a still standing experience.  Today, the technology can now allow a more immersive experience where interaction is an element allowing the user to walk, look, move, pick up items, throw items, and more.  This is where living the experience becomes real.

Many organizations have been challenged to emotionally connect with potential donors through traditional video outreach campaigns

VR has opened a new frontier in fundraising by immersing potential donors in faraway worlds and situations that are often difficult to empathize with or imagine. The emotional impact of VR has proven to increase awareness, evoke empathy and elicit action. According to Facebook’s Shifts for 2020: Multisensory Multipliers report, 48% of virtual reality charity content viewers were likely to donate to the causes they experienced. These supporters were also likely to donate more than those engaged by other forms of media.

Studies in Peking University (China) VR’s ability to directly impact the neural substrates in the brain associated with pain and empathy. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), increasing activation in the ACC/paracingulate and the right middle frontal gyrus.  In essence, the total immersion of the medium stimulates human brains into actually feeling the virtual experience. 

Another study of VR’s empathetic powers by Stanford University showed that participants were twice as willing to help a color-blind person when they experienced seeing the world through reduced pigment vision. According to sociologist Roman Krznaric, empathy is produced two ways: through proximity and shared experience. VR technology provides an instantaneous vehicle for literally having people see the world from another person’s perspective.


A 2017 Nielsen study comparing the effectiveness of 14 pieces of charity VR content with traditional online videos found that 84% of VR viewers demonstrated brand recall of the charity, compared with only 53% of those who viewed embedded video advertising. The most affected metric in the study was recommendation intent, with over half (51%) increasing their likelihood to recommend the charity.

With VR having such a positive impact with potential donors, nonprofits have created a wide range of immersive experiences, from Oxfam’s 360 experience of searching for clean drinking water in Kenya to Conservation International’s exploration of the Amazon‘s fragile canopy.

how some charities are using vr

Case Study 1

United Nations to produce Clouds Over Sidra, a VR production that let’s Oculus Rift users share the experience of a 12-year-old girl living in a Syrian refugee camp. The VR film, which was shown at UNICEF’s annual fundraising conference helped to raise $3.8 billion; with one in six people donating after experiencing the virtual reality documentary—twice the charity’s normal rate. The critically acclaimed project worked because it instantly evokes a strong emotional response in viewers’ hearts and brains.

UNICEF has been extensively pilot testing Clouds Over Sidra to measure the effectiveness of Virtual Reality as a fundraising tool.

To date, initial results show the impact of VR has been significant on several different levels (particularly with face to face fundraising):

Increased propensity to stop and engage;
Increased inclination to donate after engagement;
Increased average donation value
Enabled access to better fundraising locations and venues.

Case Study 2

Smile Train, which provides free cleft surgery and care to hundreds of thousands of children in developing countries, created VR experiences that immerse viewers into the lives of children with clefts in India. By experiencing, even for a brief moment, the stares of others and the struggles faced by these children, donors gain a visceral understanding that the birth defect is more than a cosmetic issue. One VR production follows the journey of young Nisha as she leaves her remote village for surgery and the exuberant joy she experiences post-operation upon her return. The intimacy of being with the child in her home creates a one-on-one experience that culminates in Nisha sharing “When I walk down the street, strangers no longer stare.”

Case Study 3

With over 25% of veterans admitting to having suicidal thoughts, British Veteran’s charity SSFA created a VR experience highlighting the struggle of isolation service men and women experience after they transition back to civilian life. To help combat the growing homelessness crisis facing US cities. 

In each instance viewers experience a life different than their own and are shown how they can make a difference with their actions.