Who really uses Second Life is one of the first questions I am asked whenever I bring up the virtual reality world. I do not have a concrete answer, either does Linden Labs, but they do have a rough demographic estimate, and that seems to be all that businesses and non-profit organizations need. In the latest issue of The NonProfit Times, the cover story is about just that: “Nonprofits Getting A Lease in Second Life.” [NPTIMES]
In my real world business, I do some fundraising for nonprofit organizations primarily through direct mail appeals, so I was intrigued when I read the headline. How do you raise money in Second Life? Is it a better environment for giving? What are the cost barriers?
In world, several of the largest nonprofit organizations such as the American Cancer Society have island, but many smaller organization are part of the Nonprofit Commons Space, which launched this past August by TechSoup, a technology resource organization for nonprofits.
One of the most compelling arguments for setting up a non-profit in-world is the user demographic. According the piece, the average user age is between 30-40 years old, where several of the non-profit organizations reach an audience with a mean age of 55-65. I know that this is true about many of the organizations I work with as well.
In addition to reaching a younger audience, the smaller nonprofit can now reach an international audience. Users login to Second Life every continent, and real-time translation technology allows the message to be delivered in a native tongue. For a small nonprofit organization, it is almost impossible to mail direct appeals to anyone outside of the United States. Postal regulations and rates would make it logistically unrealistic and far too expensive.
It is estimated that there is roughly 30,000 users on line at any given moment in Second life, and millions of dollars change hands every day in-world. There are still barriers to entry for Second Life, however through groups such as TechSoup and their nonprofit commons space the costs are much lower. If these barriers can be lowered below the cost of mailing, which are fairly high themselves, and people respond, this could be a real opportunity for the little organization.
The question that remains to be answered is who is online, and will they give?