Thursday, September 27, 2007

Virtual Land Rush - Nonprofits, Stake Your Claim

The International Conservation Association formerly known as World Wildlife Fund, now WWF, launched the new Conservation Island in the virtual space Second Life (SL) this past August. With its size and notoriety, WWf in Washington, D.C., has the resources to stand on its own in the SL Meta-verse. But what about smaller nonprofits with less money, branding and support?

Offering an answer to the technological divide suffered by many in the third sector, nonprofit technology service provider TechSoup embarked on its own Second Life Venture - a nonprofits-only space called the Nonprofit Commons (NC).

"Larger organizations...don't need our help, because they have a huge staff and they've been in-world for a long time," said Susan Tenby, online community manager at San Francisco-based TechSoup. "Our goal... is to create a lower barrier of entry... into Second Life, and to create a kind of community for nonprofits." The NC, currently at capacity with 32 resident nonprofits, provides space free to qualifying organization.

According to Tenby, known in SL as the avatar "Glitteractica Cookie," the space provides a virtual venue for nonprofits to meet and collaborate, and foster outreach, education and fundraising. "This is more to help organizations get a foot in the door, figure out what they can do in Second Life, and have an already-existing community to step into and to get help."

Despite being situated on its own island, the American Cancer Society and other big-name nonprofits frequently partner with Techsoup, maintain satellite offices on the NC, and attend the weekly Friday meetings to discuss nonprofit-focused topics. Tenby said she wxpects the space to house 300 organizations within a couple of years.

The NC has a management team of seven people, and requires residents to sign an agreement committing at least three hours each week to SL.

"It's not only a great way to increase awareness for your organization, but also to enlist volunteers," said Tenby. "A lot of these (younger) people are so steeped in Myspace and social networking applications, that expecting them to read a newspaper to find a volunteer center, or even go (online) to volunteer match, those kind of days... they're getting fewer and farther between." - Marla E. Nobles

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