One Life is Enough!

Anthony Sicola - 9.24.2008 Follow me on Twitter

So, your nonprofit is socially networked. You’re on MySpace, you use the FaceBook Causes application, you keep constituents informed on Twitter, you show your event pictures on Flickr, you share videos on YouTube, and you know the power of blogging tools like WordPress or Blogger. In short, you’re well invested in Web 2.0. Now what?

Well, for some of you, this could mean a foray into fundraising in a virtual world like Second Life (SL). It seems to be working for the American Cancer Society; they found a way to involve hundreds of volunteers holding a variety of events during the Relay for Life in Second Life (RFLinSL.) They raised close to $200,000 in real, U.S. currency over the course of 2008 alone. That’s pretty impressive, because most of it was done at the grassroots level. There’s some great stuff being done in Second Life by nonprofits such as; benefit concerts, donation stations, nonprofit technology workshops and discussion forums centered on advocacy, education, and community outreach. Here are a few examples;

By now you’re probably thinking, “Hey shouldn’t my nonprofit get in on this too? Well, before you rush over to SL to build your avatar and start trying to raise funds, there are three issues that you should consider before diving head-long in to the SL space.

  1. DONOR/ VOLUNTEER FATIGUE: As more nonprofits enter the Second Life space, advocating for their cause, educating the public and asking for donations and volunteers, people will begin to tire of these appeals. Nonprofits will run into the same problems they are facing in the real world around multiple asks, volunteer engagement and event overload.
  2. TECHNOLOGY LIMITATIONS: The technology barrier limits what nonprofits can do in Second Life at the moment. Issues such as heavy requirements of your computer system, problems with synchronous communication, server load and packet collision difficulties make the experience less than stellar. This will obviously change as technology changes, but it is an issue now.
  3. LOW RETURN ON INVESTMENT: According to a 2007 report by the nonprofit group Global Kids, typical one day events (12-14 hours) in Second Life bring in an average of $600- $1000. The amount of volunteer and staff time involved in pulling off an event in Second Life doesn’t begin to help alleviate the cost of event planning, volunteer management and implementation.

Generally, my advice for nonprofits is to forget about SL for the time being unless your primary constituents are the tech-savvy people that you could target by being in SL. For the others, go ahead and get your feet wet with this technology…if it interests you. Spend some time in SL, advocate your cause and spread your message, build community and find like minded people that you could possibly get to volunteer for you in the future. Have some fun; the technology is not where it needs to be to provide good ROI for many nonprofits, YET.

There will be a day sometime soon where synchronous communication will hit its stride and many people will be able to talk at once without a bogging down the server, the issue of how many people can congregate together in SL will be solved paving the way for large magnitude gatherings, and hardware technology will arrive at a point where your computer doesn’t crash while trying to navigate one of these events. You definitely want to be ready for SL when all cylinders are firing but for now, one life is enough.

Have more ideas, thoughts or an experience you think should be shared with everyone here? Please leave a comment … let’s chat.

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