Virtual Reality Inspires Philanthropic Giving
Wed, 06/15/2016 - 08:33 — ericshainock
This week in our GW Sport Philanthropy class, we had a current event conversation focusing on virtual reality and its use in the sport philanthropy space. Towards the end of last year, a group of 400 individuals met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take a trip to Ethiopia through the use of virtual reality. Over the course of a nine minute video, attendees donned Samsung Gear VR Headsets and watched as 13 year-old Selam and her family received fresh water for the first time in their lives. It was a heartbreaking video that ended in happiness as they received a basic need in life. The event was a success - Charity: Water was able to raise $2.4 million by taking these donors to a place that would have otherwise been impossible to reach from a numbers perspective. This brings me to the the question of "what role does virtual reality play in the sport philanthropy space?"
There are a few issues to consider here. First, many non-profits don't have many tangible assets. Rather, these non-profits tap into emotions and use storytelling to reach the heart of a donor. Virtual reality would be a beneficial tool to hospitals and major organizations for this reason. If a donor is too old to visit a hospital or the distance is too great, why not bring the hospital to him or her? Through the use of virtual reality, videos can be created to show the ground breaking research and care that occurs on a hospital campus. This brings the emotions and story straight from the hospital walls to the home of a donor. Another way virtual reality can be used is to show what donations go to in times of crisis. Imagine if a non-profit could show what dollars went to during Hurricane Katrina. It provides transparency and creates additional assets that might otherwise not be in play.
However, virtual reality videos can be very expensive at the moment. The technology to produce them can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This brings into question the issue of fiscal responsibility. If a return on investment can't be proven yet, how can an organization justify spending donor dollars on virtual reality when there are more pressing needs in the moment. Typically, the non-profit sector moves together; that is, if something negative happens to one organization, it might impact all other non-profits, even if they are removed from that situation. As a result, non-profits need to be extremely weary of spending money on virtual reality until it becomes more cost efficient.
How would this work from a sports perspective? Community relations departments or team/athlete foundations have even fewer resources than some non-profits. While the technology is cool, virtual reality may not be targeted this same way. However, if a team partners with a creator of this technology to produce the content pro bono in exchange for becoming a team partner, this opens the doors to many possibilities. The first thought is that a community relations department can use this technology to bring a sick fan in a hospital "into the stadium." Children in a hospital can experience games, the Super Bowl, or training camp, and forget about his or her current issues. It can also be used behind the scenes to bring fans into locker rooms, meetings, or a draft war room as special footage. Granted, someone could film this and package it as is, but virtual reality adds an additional level of engagement here. Package this content, with the emotional pull that athletes provide, and give it all to the community relations department to break down the barriers between a team and its community.
I think virtual reality is still a bit new in the philanthropic space. If the time and money is available, it can absolutely bring donors to places unimaginable before. This creates a unique experience and will increase philanthropic donations; however, there are still challenges in its way. The same holds true within the sports industry - teams and leagues don't want to cannibalize the in-game experience and additional revenue streams. It will be the job of virtual reality to amplify the experience and increase revenue rather than take it away, before it really takes off within sports.
Eric Shainock works for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital as an Account Representative in the Strategic Partnerships division after previously working at Intersport, a sports marketing agency. Eric is a current student in the GW Sport Philanthropy Certificate program. He is a 2014 graduate of the Ohio University Sports Administration Graduate Program. Feel free to reach out via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @ericshainock.