A pop up shop in Bryant Park had few tangible goods to sell on Tuesday, Nov. 27. Instead, visitors could take selfies with live goats, donkeys and sheep, pose in an 180° photo booth or explore an African village through a virtual reality tour. These were just some of the ways a nonprofit tried to connect with potential donors on Giving Tuesday at what was called a “give-back gift shop.”
With the Tuesday after Thanksgiving now dedicated to charitable giving and volunteering in the U.S., nonprofits have been seeking creative approaches to reach and inspire people. The aim of the give-back shop’s sponsor, the nonprofit World Vision, was to immerse visitors in fun and engaging experiences and introduce them to World Vision’s work. If they were inspired to donate, even better.
The pop up “gives holiday shoppers the chance to touch and feel the impact of their generosity first-hand,” said World Vision’s public relations manager Holly Frew via email.
It was the second year that World Vision, a $1 billion international Christian humanitarian organization, held an interactive pop up in Bryant Park for Giving Tuesday.
Dozens of families on holiday, employees on their lunch break and teens visiting nearby colleges stopped in at the bright orange pop-up shop filled with engaging stations offering different experiences. In addition to the live farm animals and virtual reality, a “water walk” offered a glimpse of what it’s like to have to walk hours a day to retrieve drinking water and use a water pump. At another station, visitors could fill up a “hope bag” with necessities like deodorant, shampoo and a toothbrush for women in need in the U.S. They could write a personal note to put in the bag as well.
The virtual reality station was one of the most popular stops, and hundreds of visitors donned the VR headset and headphones, said Megan Pratt, 36, who manages a team of volunteers. “Here at the VR station we are taking a three-minute trip to Kenya to meet a little girl named Cheru,” Pratt said about the “trip,” that aims to immerse visitors in Cheru’s village and demonstrate the hours she and other children have to spend walking every day in order to get drinking water.
A family of four visiting from Ithaca, New York tried out the virtual reality experience – and their reactions seemed to be just what World Vision intended.
“It’s kind of like a mixed emotion,” said Noah Johnson, 35, who was in the city with his wife and two kids, James, 6 and Hank, 5. “It’s really cool that our sons get to see this, but it’s also kind of a reality shock to the gut knowing how good we have it growing up and stuff we take for granted every single day.”
His wife Jordan agreed. “It sort of feels like you’re right there with them” she said. “It’s very disheartening to see how these kids have to go through these undertakings just to get, you know, life’s necessities, to get water and who even knows if it’s going to be clean.”
Johnson said as a result of the experience, he plans to donate to World Vision. “We got all the information, because I know it’s Giving Tuesday today,” he said.
Two young brothers from Lincoln, Nebraska, at the shop with their parents, also put on the headset and headphones and visited Cheru’s village in Kenya. Jacob Dodge, 12, said he liked the camera angles. Did the virtual reality experience make him feel connected to the young girl Cheru? “Not really,” he said.
His younger brother Sam, 10, was more engaged.
“The premise was very interesting and captivating,” said Sam Dodge. “The story was empowering, and the way it was put together, like the VR, them using VR to describe that. It was very cool.”
Giving Tuesday was launched in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City and the United Nations Foundation. In 2017, nonprofits and charities around the world raised almost $300 million on the dedicated donation day, according to GivingTuesday.org. Like World Vision, many nonprofits and charities have been utilizing virtual reality experiences to try and connect to potential donors. In March, UNICEF released a new virtual reality film experience, called “The Journey,” connecting people to the lives of three people in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Chad. It’s just one of numerous VR films supported by United Nations Virtual Reality, a project that uses immersive storytelling to inspire empathy and create positive social change, according to the UNVR website.
The International Rescue Committee has also utilized virtual reality featuring celebrity supporter Rashida Jones to connect people to Syrian refugees, according to rescue.org.
A recent study by Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab on virtual reality experiences found they can elicit more empathetic feelings than other mediums like articles or videos.
“There is no doubt that VR experiences have been a useful tool for charities, by connecting people more viscerally with causes, as well as inspiring donors by giving them an experience they couldn’t have otherwise,” Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and co-author of the study, said via email.