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Lancaster Science Factory

Thank you so much for the First Nonprofit Foundation’s support of the Lancaster Science Factory. Since your last gift in late 2017, the Science Factory has significantly expanded our footprint and educational offerings, and a great deal of our success can be attributed to your support.

On November 20th, 2017, the First Nonprofit Foundation granted $11,500 to the Lancaster Science Factory for a virtual reality experience and pop-up exhibit. This would have two purposes, to help raise money for our ongoing capital campaign, and then to serve as a pop-up exhibit at the Science Factory during large field trips, events, and science festivals.
Back in 2017 we were in the early stages of a capital campaign to raise $3.0M to expand our science center. One innovative technique we imagined to help get donors excited about our project was to create a virtual reality experience that would allow donors to see a 3D rendering of our newly expanded space. When this equipment was not being used to help recruit donors to our campaign, it could then also be used as a pop-up exhibit on the Science Factory floor to expose visitors to virtual reality.

With help from our VR equipment, we have to date raised over $3.2M of our initial campaign goal of $3.0M. Last February we reopened after being closed for a month to complete the first phase of our expansion, and even with the closure we had a record-breaking year in 2019, welcoming over 51,000 visitors for the first time ever.
Many of these visitors had the chance to try out our new VR equipment as well during various pop-up events. Several thousand kids and families have now experienced VR for the first time ever at the Science Factory thanks to your donation, and we continue to use the equipment during large field trips or at events and science fairs here at LSF. Thanks to our incredible volunteer core of over 250 active volunteers, we are able to facilitate the VR experience ongoing at no additional cost to LSF.

As we purchased equipment for the VR experience, we started small and realized as we rolled it out that a smaller purchase of equipment was necessary than originally expected. $3,959 of your grant was spent on the initial purchase of virtual reality equipment for our capital campaign and ongoing pop-up activities. The remainder of the grant, with the approval of First Nonprofit, was spent as follows…

  • $2,026.99 was spent on new computers for our Executive Director, Development Director, and Front Desk Manager. All three of these positions had been using machines that were donated at the founding of the Science Factory, more than 12 years ago. These old machines were remarkably slow, and the level of productivity from all staff since the purchase of new machines has been incredible. Tasks are being accomplished in a fraction of the time it would take all of these critical staff members before.
  • $706.23 was spent on a new Epson projector and screen for our classroom. Our instructors had again been using a 12-year old Promethean board that was constantly giving us problems and interrupting classroom activity. This has greatly affected the productiveness of our camps, workshops, homeschool classes, coding clubs, and more.
  • The remaining $4,807.78 was dedicated to the purchase of a laser cutter in our brand new Maker Space classroom. The Maker Space is full of tools and materials so kids can learn cutting edge technology like 3-D printing and robotics while also learning skills like woodworking, electronics, and basic engineering. This tool will be used in a number of workshops, camps, and for drop-in activities.

We cannot thank you enough for your gift to the Science Factory, and for your flexibility in redirecting unspent funds. With our ongoing expansion our staff has been juggling multiple projects, and you cannot imagine the impact that the new computers have made on productivity.

The virtual reality equipment continues to be a huge hit at the Science Factory, but there are a few factors to consider if ever this is to be replicated. When using the VR equipment as a fundraising tool, the age of the donor seemed to play a role on its effectiveness. Younger donors interested in the technology seemed to be much more impressed with the experience, while some older donors seemed to think “well if they can afford this, why do they need my money?” If replicated at other non-profits, this would definitely be a factor to keep in mind. With that said, while using the VR tools, we have to date well surpassed our original capital campaign goal.

Another factor to consider with using the VR equipment as a pop-up tool is that it requires heavy volunteer facilitation. Not only that, but it requires a fairly technically savvy facilitator. With over 250 active volunteers, the Science Factory has ample resources for this, but it takes a special volunteer to make it effective. Many of our donors are retirees, and in some cases struggled to grasp the technology, or it actively made them nauseous. However, we have many volunteers from local high schools and colleges who were actively interested in exploring the technology and made terrific facilitators. For other science centers interested in replicating this experience, this is something to keep in mind.
One thing that has been universal has been how much kids absolutely love using the VR equipment. For more than 90% of these children it has been the first time they’ve ever used it, and every time we bring it out for a field trip group we have a long line of kids waiting to try it out. Kids have used this equipment to virtually explore the International Space Station, prehistoric forests populated with dinosaurs, and even inside the human body.

We cannot thank the First Nonprofit Foundation enough for your incredible support of this project, and for the impact it has made on the Science Factory and the kids we serve. If you have any additional questions on the project or the redirected funds, please do not hesitate to let me know.

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