VR And A Donor’s 360-Degree View

Virtual Reality (VR) might sound as if it’s a super high-tech futuristic concept only for those who can afford it. In reality, VR can be a simple concept, even for nonprofits. And it doesn’t have to be saved like your good china either, only taken out of its bubble wrap for special occasions or high-production galas and events.

Sue Citro, chief experience officer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and Dave Walsh, founder and CEO of Emerge Studios, explained how VR has been used by nonprofits to tell their stories during a session at the recent 40th annual Fundraising Day New York (#FRDNY2019), sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) New York City chapter, at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

VR headsets have been used at the Kanab, Utah-based sanctuary in unexpected ways. “I figured the sanctuary is all around us, why would we need it,” she said. VR has helped with elderly visitors who might have difficulty with a van tour, on rainy days, or when there are too many people on a particular tour.

VR is a tool for those who made a bequest but aren’t able to go to the sanctuary to feel like they’ve had the experience. One planned giving officer said she has a date with a donor on their birthday each year who requests the virtual reality headset, Citro said. “There’s something really special about being able to see it and talk about the impact of their gift,” she said. “There’s a level of immersion for donors.”
“It helps our major gift donors share their passion and why they’re committed to the cause. It’s transformational on an organic level,” she said.

While Best Friends uses VR headsets, it also can be a simple concept. A smartphone can be transformed into a simple VR headset with Google Cardboard, which can be bought at $2 to $3 at volume and branded for your organization, according to Dave Walsh, founder and CEO of emergeStudios, which partnered with Best Friends. Since headsets can come flat in an envelope, VR could perhaps revamp direct mail, he added.

“We see this as an investment that will continue to pay new dividends going forward,” Citro said. In addition to their gala, Best Friends uses the headsets at other donor events, such as Strut Your Mutt, which takes place in 14 cities. “It’s so awesome when see that donor light up and feel like you connect with that passion,” she said. “You know they’re committed but you see that little light bulb go on and hear them talk about your cause even more passionately than before; that’s where we’ve gotten excited.”