Various detractors of VR have put forth the argument that virtual reality is an isolating technology. That it will cut us off from one another. The concern paints the picture of some bizarre dystopia where people walk around stuck within their headsets making no attempt to form or maintain personal relationships with real individuals.


Contrarily virtual reality has already proved an extremely effective tool for creating empathy in its viewers. VR isn’t just about being caught up in false worlds and fully crafted environments, rather, it is a technology that has the power to expand people’s perspective of the world they live in, giving them a greater appreciation for the joys and struggles of communities out of their physical reach.


VR filmmakers have been teaming up with non-profit organizations to bring about awareness of various social and cultural issues, hoping to drive public response.   


Chris Milk and Gabo Arora created a short VR film, Clouds Over Sidra, which documented a day in the life of a young Syrian girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The film helped UNICEF to raise an astounding $3.8 billion dollars due to its strong emotional impact.  


What is it about virtual reality that makes it so effective in creating compassion and empathy? Because of the immersive quality of VR, the visual experience of being dropped into an environment elicits more visceral reactions and emotions from the viewers. Greenfish CEO and cofounder Ben Duffey explains,

“VR has the power to elicit empathy from its viewers in an unprecedented way. No other media form has been able to so consummately immerse an audience in an environment, which is the key to evoking strong emotions in a way that demands a response.”

Feeling as though you are part of the physical space reinforces the reality of it. This makes it more difficult to ignore the struggles of others and the subsequent call to action.


The limitations of using VR as a motivator for philanthropy come from the public’s relative unfamiliarity with it. One challenge for non-profit organizations and VR filmmakers going forward will be to find a way to make VR experiences more accessible to potential donors.


360 video, while readily available on platforms like Facebook and Youtube, isn’t quite as impactful without the headset. Less expensive mobile headsets like the Samsung Gear VR and the recently released Google Daydream headset are helping virtual reality push its way into the public eye and into consumers’ homes.


This doesn’t mean that businesses should wait for VR to become more popular before they begin to seriously consider it as a marketing tool, however. The sheer novelty of VR carries its own advantages. As HOPE International’s Vice President of Marketing, Kevin Tordoff has expressed,

It’s always fun to share a VR experience with someone. In most cases, the individual’s first experience with VR is with our brand. In itself this is noteworthy and valuable. Beyond that, many people have cried at the emotion felt in the scene or responded that they finally understand what we do and how we do our work.”

On the benefits of VR for his company, Tordoff states,

The use of virtual reality by HOPE International has helped to position our brand as innovative in the methods we employ to share our stories with our various audiences. Nonprofit supporters are accustomed to traditional newsletters, emails and videos, but it is clearly a unique opportunity when we invite someone to step into the lives of our clients when they put on a headset and get immersed in VR.”


As VR gains ground it will prove a very powerful platform on which non-profits can raise awareness, and ultimately, garner more significant donations for their cause.  



Catherine Tershak

As Content Strategist, Cate is responsible for creating, delivering, and optimizing written content across Greenfish Labs’ digital channels. Her primary responsibilities are writing on the Greenfish blog and across our social media platforms. Her skills in research help to keep Greenfish Labs one of the top thought-leaders in virtual reality.


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