Storytelling in fundraising and the use of immersive technology

Oct 17, 2019 | By

by David Johnson

Virtual Reality (VR) and immersive technology can be a powerful tool for fundraisers to tell stories that stand out in people’s minds and encourage potential donors to engage. The arts and cultural sector is beginning to embrace these new areas to create distinctive, memorable work that captures audiences’ imaginations. Our role as fundraisers is to harness this creativity and to build it into the stories we tell.

Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s partners, the University of Leeds, manage their centre for immersive technologies working with more than 80 researchers from a range of university subjects focusing on five priority areas of health, transport, education, productivity and culture. The Centre is being coordinated through six academic leads and has a poet and two artists in residence. In partnership with the Cultural Institute, the Centre is working on a range of programmes including using immersive technologies to give people access to the nation’s cultural and heritage resources, many that are not yet open to the public. They are also the leading multidisciplinary multi-partner research programme investigating how immersive tech can shape the ways that members of the public engage with Nazi concentration camp memorial sites, telling different sorts of powerful stories.

The impact of immersive technology on the arts is fast growing. In an article for the Guardian, Sarah Ellis, Director of Digital Engagement at the Royal Shakespeare Company talks about digital tech changing our workforce, relationships, maps, economies and priorities and that artists can invert this so the technology itself becomes change – digital is the live conversation of the day and the arts is the crucible where we come together to shape, evolve and make sense of what is before us. In a sector where we are fast developing how we work with digital advances, what does this mean for attracting funding to support our causes?

In November 2018 I attended the Generosity Festival in the North East. I attended a brilliant session with Rhodri Davies from the Charities Aid Foundation talking about the impact of technology on philanthropy. He cited the mainstream charity sector and how organisations were using all sorts of tech to develop philanthropic giving – such as the National Autistic Society creating a VR allowing potential donors to feel the perspective of an autistic child and the dizzying experience of sensory overload, through to Cancer Research’s beautiful digital memorial garden.

VR and immersive technology allow us to enhance our storytelling abilities, allowing us new ways to convey the complexity of our work in a more simplistic way. Head of Museums and Galleries at the University of Liverpool, Nicola Euston, wrote a blog for Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy recently in her capacity as a Fundraising Fellow talking about an augmented reality app that the university developed to support visitors to the museum to learn more about their exhibitions. Getting passionate people to further engage with an organisation’s work is a key opportunity to also embed fundraising messages.

Collaboration and partnership working can be key to developing immersive experiences where budgets are tighter. Working with digital artists and sharing the risk through joint fundraising activity to support digital work is a real opportunity. On a more basic level, simplistic fundraising campaigns could be enhanced with a Snapchat Geofilter – a custom made filter based on a smartphone user’s geographic location.

They are relatively inexpensive and offer something fun for audiences to engage with. In an increasingly competitive fundraising world, immersive technology enables us to reinvent how we talk about our work and retain our donor’s interests. The joy of working in the arts and cultural sector is that we’re surrounded by highly imaginative creatives on a daily basis and the challenge for fundraising teams is to bring this creativity into the next fundraising planning meeting. Digital doesn’t need to be solely for marketing or programming departments and the rewards are there for those prepared to give it some time, resource and development.