New Methods of Engagement: Virtual Reality in Philanthropic Placemaking

We are curious about the emerging Virtual Reality (VR) platforms and the opportunities they bring to Philanthropic Placemaking. To learn more, we stalked the latest VR news. Heurista's New York team has had the opportunity to strap on a headset, leave the real world and experience a creative VR team’s virtual place. 

We're not the only one's thinking this way. At the Association of Donor Relations New York regional conference on March 10th, Debbie Meyers presented details on how the University of Maryland is engaging donors with Virtual Reality (VR). They reinvented the traditional shovel donor experience at a ground breaking event by using VR to explore the upcoming facility.  If you're using VR or other innovative technologies to think more broadly about place, we'd love to hear more about your project.


We've seen other excellent examples in the philanthropic sector.  This past summer Charity Water created a VR experience at one of New York's finest shopping malls, Brookfield Place. A single anonymous donor contributed made a significant gift to Charity Water and requested a creative solution using VR to bring the impact of generosity directly into the minds of viewers. The VR film, The Sourcewas created in a real-life community where clean water changes lives and futures using live-footage video and not digitally animation. For a few minutes viewers were able to experience 360 degree VR content that told the story of one family’s struggles to survive and struggle created for their futures. Corporate sponsors also supported the community-engagement campaign. It was wildly popular. The campaign combined Brookfield's marketing opportunities and piqued the public's interest in trying out the latest technology gadgets.

Best Use of VR in Philanthropic Placemaking

Three components of the experience stand out to make it our choice for the best use of VR in philanthropic placemaking we've experienced to date.

1) Participatory Giving – Each viewing of the The Source ‘unlocks’ a $30 gift and gives one person clean water. No one was asked to give anything more than their email address and a few minutes of their time. The film and the experience transformed casual consumers into immediate donors just by experiencing VR technology in a design led environment. Recognition was immediate via large digital screens that also showed the progress towards the giving goal.

2) Using Place to Drive a Culture Of Giving – Charity Water chose lower Manhattan’s Brookfield Place Shopping Mall in New York City’s Financial District to stage the event which was available to the public for several days. A leading scenic shop in Brooklyn created a visually engaging environment in a luxury consumer space that contrasted the basic urgency of reliable access to water with the shopping enviroment. Brightly colored water jugs were used in combination with the sleekest of new VR gadgets. Tourists, the Financial District workforce, and New Yorkers from across the city participated in the experience making it the largest event to date for Charity Water.

3) User Experience – Layered on top of the visually compelling design and the power of being in the virtual place was a commitment and process for individualizing each giving experience. Youthful, hip staffers greeted each curious visitor, explained the event’s purpose and how to participate.  Participants were directed to an individual viewing station and stewarded through the whole experience by a single attendant. Following the event the option of ongoing giving came through well timed and non-abusive email follow-up.


Keep an eye on our blog for ongoing news about what we discover with VR and how it can be leveraged for recognition, stewardship and a culture of giving.