How charity: water are using VR to raise funds and awareness

How charity: water used VR and immersive storytelling to raise awareness and funds in their mission to bring clean water to those who need it.

Chrissy Chiu | 3rd Jan 20
charity: water and VR

For more than a decade, charity: water has been bringing clean and safe drinking water to over 10 million people across over 44,000 projects around the world. In 2016, the US-based charity began operations in the UK.

Once in the UK, Scott Harrison secured funding from businessman Michael Birch and his wife. The couple are social media experts, having created the social networking site, Bebo. With the Birch’s help, Mr Harrison developed, the digital fundraising platform enabling donors to start their own campaign. Since then, charity: water has been at the forefront of using digital to raise funds and awareness in the UK.

As one of the most impactful developments in technology over the past decade, VR brought powerful insight into charity activities and digital fundraising. The technology helps charities stand out from the crowd through immersive experience. Nonprofits have already used the technology to showcase impact, with one example being GOSH’s VR tour of new facilities. The technology has also extended into digital fundraising through the world of online gaming. Charities already involved in gaming tournaments include UK charity Mermaids – as celebrity gamer HBomberGuy raised $160,000 for the once beleaguered charity.

charity: water’s unique approach to VR has brought a different perspective to digital fundraising and awareness. Through immersive storytelling, the water charity charts Selam’s journey to clean water. A 13-year old girl, Selam tells audiences of her daily expedition to collect dirty water infested with leeches. She invites people into her life by describing how her mother died, and how she is now one of the main caregivers of her family. As the journey to water takes so long, Selam often misses school, despite knowing that education can bring her a better future.


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“I think we’ve tried to make it easy for people to engage in the issue, and give,” said Scott Harrison – charity:water’s founder and CEO.

“There are many layers of complexity, and our work looks different in each context around the world. But at its simplest, there are 800 million people who have been born in communities where there’s simply no clean water available.”

Looking ahead in the VR immersive experience, Selam wants to be a nurse. Audiences follow her to school and can look around her surroundings. Hope comes to the village with the sound of a truck. Workers arrive to drill for water – after some silence, a spurt of water hits the lens and audiences can see villagers cheering. VR has been hailed an ‘empathy machine’ for its role in putting people directly in other situations.

VR is an extraordinary digital fundraiser – $2.4 million was raised from charity:water’s video debut night in New York. This year at the charity’s West Coast black-tie gala, donors were treated to a 360-degree video experience, a custom app, and personalised iPads to facilitate digital fundraising.


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“We crafted the imagery of a woman’s quest for drinking water into an impactful story that inspired guests to donate $7 million in support of clean water for over 100,000 people in Ethiopia and beyond,” said Elle Chan, co-founder and executive producer of the event.

Looking back on the charity’s impact, Mr Harrison is reflective: “For 10 years I lived selfishly and arrogantly, giving very little – if anything – back to anyone else. The fact that I’ve been able to redeem that lost decade and use some of those skills learned from nightlife to serve others is such an honour, and some days I just can’t believe that I actually get to do this for a living.”

Charity Digital are pleased to announce charity: water as one of next year’s guest speakers at the #BeMoreDigital in March 2020 at London’s Olympia Conference Centre.


>Read More: charity: water join us as speakers at our #BeMoreDigital 2020 conference