I-GIFTS – Philanthropy's next wave: virtual charity drives

- Jamin Warren
- The Wall Street Jounal.
- October 7, 2006

At a recent walk-a-thon for the American Cancer Society, more than 1,000 people traveled a total of about four million miles, raising more than $40,000. All were seated at their computers at the time.

The event took place in an online community called Second Life, and participants had their "avatars"—virtual depictions of themselves on the site—do the walking for them.

It's part of a rising trend in philanthropy: virtual fund raising. This summer, Sony Online Entertainment created a challenge for its online fantasy game EverQuest II, where every time a player won a fight against a virtual depiction of Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, the company donated $5 to a fund for Lou Gehrig's disease. Second Life has hosted a virtual boat race to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims.

Nonprofits are the latest groups to try to tap the hundreds of thousands of people who now take part in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, where players on the Web interact with each other in fantasy settings. People can buy products in these games with in-game currency that they purchase with real money, and companies have begun selling items such as virtual clothes. Some charities are asking players to donate money in the games. For the American Cancer Society fundraiser, players donated the game currency called "Linden dollars" ($1 buys about 280 Linden dollars) to the cause.

Next weekend, the United Nations Millennium Campaign will hold an event that asks people around the world to simultaneously stand up in a demonstration against poverty. Second Life users can have their avatars pick up free wristbands at virtual kiosks on the site, and then adopt a special "stand up" pose.

HOW TO FIND IT: For Second Life, go to secondlife.com; EverQuest II is at everquest2.station.sony.com.