Great use of VR to draw in donors. #techforgood

For the guests attending the 10th annual Charity: Water gala in New York City, there will be the usual canapés, cocktails and close-up view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur.

But new this year, in a bid to encourage donations and set a new benchmark in the use of cool technology at swanky fundraisers, guests will take a trip to an Ethiopian village—virtually.

Sometime after dinner ends but before the part of the evening when guests commit to a donation, organizers of the Dec. 7 event are planning to show an eight-minute documentary made using virtual-reality technology. The film is about the charity’s recent drilling of a well in northern Ethiopia and how clean water affects the life of a teenage girl named Selam.

Scott Harrison, the 40-year-old founder of Charity: Water, says that it will be no easy feat to get some 400 guests synchronized to watch the film simultaneously and without any equipment failures. And some guests, the majority of whom will have never donned a virtual-reality headset, might become disoriented by the technology or just geeked-out to the point of distraction.

But the potential payoff with the film, which cost roughly $100,000 and was made in-house, is that guests will have a “more concrete” understanding of the dangers of dirty drinking water, said Mr. Harrison, and may then feel a greater urgency about the organization’s work.

“For us to be their first virtual-reality experience—in a moving, true, redemptive story about a 13-year-old girl who gets her life changed over six days because of the generosity of donors—is a big win for the organization,” he said.