5 Real-Life Awareness and Fundraising Campaigns in Virtual Worlds

second_life_relayWhile the uninitiated may think of virtual worlds as an escape from real-life, the effects that virtual worlds have on our selves and the world around us beg to differ. There are many ways that virtual worlds impact the real world, but one of the most profound is through awareness and fundraising campaigns. Charities and non-profits have a growing presence in virtual worlds, often teaming up with the creators to run world-wide events to raise real money for a good cause. The reach that a charity can have on a virtual network as opposed to real-world is wide, and often results in more impact for less money. Here are five successful examples of non-profits that have made a real-life difference while raising awareness and money on virtual worlds.

WeeWorld: Partnership for a Drug Free America

The Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA) has just announced the successful completion of its WeeWorld campaign to educate children about substance abuse prevention and the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. The campaign generated 47 million viral impressions of the PDFA brand CheckYourself.com through downloaded virtual goods and shared WeeMees across Facebook, MySpace and other social networks.

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WeeWorld is a virtual world for teens with 36 million registered users. The PDFA tapped into this large user base by giving users a variety of creative ways to engage with their brand. The centerpiece of this initiative was the real-life recovering teen JT whose WeeMee avatar reached 20,000 friends by the end of the campaign. Users could visit his home page and room, discuss drug and alcohol abuse, and watch drug abuse prevention videos that JT screened through his WeeMee. There were also a number of virtual goods, such as clothing and skateboards, that could be downloaded by WeeWorld users which was a significant contributor to the successful awareness-raising that resulted from the campaign.

Gaia Online: Gulf Clean-Up

Gaia Online has just launched a fundraising charity initiative aimed at supporting the Gulf Coast clean-up efforts. The team integrates virtual goods, exclusivity and a dash of cuteness to entice users to support the cause. Users can purchase a “Toxic Blob” virtual item with a portion of the sale going towards cleaning up the Gulf. They can then clean it up to reveal one of several limited edition sea creatures that will then follow their avatar around the virtual world.

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Who wouldn’t want this adorable Gerard the Otter as their virtual pet? The Toxic Blobs can only be purchased from now until July 26th, which will spur power users to pick up more than one to try to get the whole collection of Gulf critters. And the fact that this is a limited run means more value will be placed on the items after the fundraiser has finished. Gaia Online ran a similar fundraiser for the Red Cross to support the response to the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, raising over $10,000.

Second Life: American Cancer Society Relay For Life

Second Life has been hosting the American Cancer Society Relay For Life for several years, and has raised over $650,000 since the first virtual relay in 2005. Each year, users click and keystroke their avatars – which represent cancer survivors, friends and family – around a track individually or in teams to raise money for the cause. This year, the goal is an ambitious $250,000. New events have been added to the Relay for Life under the umbrella of “For Life” fundraising, including a sailing and boating contest and an art auction.

Second Life includes a virtual American Cancer Society headquarters where volunteers have been working throughout the year to ensure that this year’s fundraiser is a success. They are very active in the Second Life community, and have reached out to more than 100 cancer survivors on the virtual network to pledge their support for the relay. This is one of the most ambitious, in-depth and longest-running charity events in a virtual world that we have come across.

Wizard101: Child’s Play and the Austin Children’s Shelter

Wizard101 is a virtual world for kids ages 10 and up that plays like a cross between Harry Potter and World of Warcraft. It boasts over 10 million users and relies on subscription and microtransactions as a business model. These microtransactions were at the heart of a charity campaign run by Wizard101 itself in December and January of this past year.

During the charity event, Wizard101 users could purchase a mount called Meowmodon using in-game virtual currency. The proceeds of these purchases were split between two charities for children, Child’s Play and the Austin Children’s Shelter. In total, the effort raised $126,000 in just three weeks, and Wizard101 is exploring the possibility of running similar events in the future.

Second Life: Operation Squeegee

Being the largest and one of the oldest virtual worlds on the net, Second Life is home to dozens of fundraising and charity initiatives each year. The latest fundraiser to run on Second Life was Operation Squeegee, a grassroots organized 2-week fundraiser to clean up the Gulf. It ran from July 1st to the 15th and featured daily concerts, dance parties, poetry readings, trivia games, and other collaborative events that Second Life users could join.

While it was organized by a small number of Second Lifers, they did manage to raise over 1 million Lindens, the Second Life in-game currency, which translates to about $4,000 USD. All of the proceeds were donated the National Wildlife Federation’s Oilspill Recovery Fund.