New Report! Nonprofits in Second Life: Promoting Causes Inside Second Life for Real World Impact has just published the latest study on the benefits, impact, challenges and opportunities of nonprofits in Second Life at:

Written by Anika Pastorelli (Sandy Bettger) of GCN, this report represents a collaborative effort among 12 nonprofits, TechSoup and NPC volunteers in capturing, analyzing and presenting the benefits and impact of nonprofits in a virtual world. We hope the study will help all nonprofits in SL to strengthen their rationale and strategy, promote their causes and achieve greater impact.

Below is the abstract:

Nonprofits across the globe have successfully established a virtual community in Second Life (SL) via Nonprofit Commons (NPC), a two-island community managed by TechSoup and populated with almost 80 nonprofits. While NPC is but one of 11 identified “nodes” or centers of nonprofits operating in SL, it is the largest and most prominent in SL, so it is the focus of this study. A recurring concern of nonprofit boards, members and other stakeholders is to determine the benefit of participating in a virtual community environment and the ultimate impact of that participation on their real-world missions and causes. Based on interviews with NPC nonprofit representatives, this study examines the benefits and impact of operating in just such a virtual nonprofit community. The findings are that benefits exist for nonprofits, and that the impact of participation spans more than 10 areas of relevance to nonprofit real-world missions. The results include quantitative data that ranks the relative value of different impact areas on real-life missions and that captures fundraising achievements to date as well as qualitative outcomes and anecdotal examples of impact. The author takes one step beyond the study findings and explores the challenges and future opportunities for nonprofits in SL positioning themselves with respect to technological trends and their new audience (the younger “digital” generations), cost savings and environmental benefits. These research results and future considerations provide a strong rationale for the participation of nonprofits in a virtual community.

Comments/Questions: IM Anika Pastorelli in-world or email

Written by: GCN

Why Second Life?

Today I attended the Avatar on Duty session at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership office on Aloft Nonprofit Commons. 2020Vision (Ashima Saigal) moderated the session and she was joined by several other Johnson Center staff, along with a sizeable crowd of interested avatars. We were all there to discuss a key question for those involved with working with nonprofits in Second Life: How can nonprofits find long-term sustainability in Second Life and better translate into real-world action towards achieving their missions?

The session gave us opportunity to brainstorm and discuss this topic in an open forum. One of the first issues we discussed was what nonprofits hoped to gain by having a presence in Second Life. Many avatars saw Second Life as a way to engage a wider audience and bring awareness of their organization’s work. Others mentioned the benefit of having a common meeting space and a way to network and collaborate with other nonprofits doing similar work, as well as connecting with organizations they might never have had the opportunity to meet. Jarhead Euler of Uptown Shelter gave the example of how his organization only heard about Community Voicemail through Second Life and now is meeting with several other organizations to discuss implementing this tool for their real-life work.

However, we wondered what’s advantageous about using Second Life versus other Web 2.0 tools (i.e. Facebook, instant messaging, web conferencing, etc.)? Some said they treated Second Life just like any other online community, but one that served a different purposes, reaching a different audience that though smaller creates greater affinity among its members. Others felt the 3D, immersive experience of a virtual world creates a more powerful and personal interaction. There’s definitely an added layer of fun that potentially makes it an appealing medium for users to engage. Another point raised was that Second Life reaches an early adopter audience, and can propagate experiential learning in a way that other web-based applications cannot. Virtual worlds are seen by many as being the future of the Web, which puts organizations already in Second Life ahead of the curve for future expansion into virtual worlds as they become more prevalent.

This raised the question of what audience nonprofits are trying to reach in Second Life? Although there are many newcomers interested in learning more about the platform, it’s important to keep in mind that nonprofits are not necessarily trying to bring people into Second Life, but rather, seeking to tap into an already established audience in Second Life, who is looking to find ways to use the tool for social benefit. The audience is likely to vary depending on the organization, but determining the demographics is important when it comes to thinking about approach and gaining support for funding Second Life work.

Greater interaction and connection kept commonly coming up as an argument for the value of Second Life. Yet these two aspects are challenging, if not impossible to measure, especially in comparison to the benefit of other tools. When thinking about sustainability, it’s important for nonprofits to think about pinpointing unique benefits that a virtual platform offers. Several people pointed out that Second Life can often save time and money, but so can other less technology-intensive tools. Others pointed out the ability for Second Life to be used for mixed reality events provides a unique experiential way of interaction with multiple simultaneous communication channels (text, voice, chat, video, etc.). There have been some case studies how this is beneficial to some groups, such as people with disabilities or different learning styles. What’s needed, we all seemed to agree, is more such studies and ways to document impact of Second Life work in furthering the missions of organizations.

We discussed other challenges of the virtual world, including the high learning curve. Second Life is not accessible for many with its technical requirements. Nonprofits will need to justify that in spite of such obstacles, the potential gains of Second Life are worth the time and resource investment.

Today’s discussion sparked more questions, but also got me thinking creatively about tangible ways nonprofits can articulate the “experience” of virtual worlds and the myriad of ways it can be used towards social change. While that challenge can be daunting it is exciting to think about nonprofits pioneering the virtual world for the benefit of the real one.

Written by: penguin kuhn

Purpose, Benefit, and Successes in Second Life for your organization

Anika Pastorelli gave a presentation at our weekly meeting last Friday about the need to help the Nonprofit Commons (NPC) better articulate the rationale and benefits of nonprofits participating in NPC. Measuring impact, both qualitative and quantitative is a crucial part of our development efforts, so please take a moment to add your input to help support NPC:

1) Add your nonprofit experience on The Case for Non Profits in SL wiki page.

2) Take a brief survey about your NP’s impact in Second Life.

Written by: penguin kuhn

Top 10 Reasons Why Second Life is Worthwhile for Nonprofits

This recent Second Life scandal has some nonprofit board members concerned about the value for nonprofits using Second Life. Much like the Web, Second Life also has some seedy people out there. But as many nonprofits can attest, the ever-growing community of amazing avatars working for good far outweighs the few “bad apples” or rather “bad avatars.”

Here’s a list of 10 reasons why Second Life is worthwhile for your nonprofit:

1. Over 2 million people use Second Life. That’s a large community of people–and potential folks that your organization can reach.

2. Second Life offers new ways to collaborate and get work done. Through in-world meetings, people from disparate parts of the globe can chat (by text and voice), share documents and information, and work together on virtual projects.

3. It’s a carbon-friendly way to connect with people worldwide. Imagine the carbon (and cost savings) of participating in a global conference from the privacy of your own computer. OneClimate‘s OneWorld Island is offering just that with their Virtual Bali conference this fall, offering an alternative for people to participate virtually in the annual UN conference without the carbon cost of flying.

4. Low cost. The basic Second Life account is free, though there are additional costs for purchasing land. The Nonprofit Commons virtual space is donated land that allows nonprofits to set up virtual shop at no cost to the organization.

5. It gives your organization the opportunity to be thought leaders and innovators in your field of expertise. For example, Global Kids has run a series of virtual workshops on global issues and leadership to teens and are developing best practices for bringing this type of education into Second Life.

6. Second Life can provide a virtual sandbox for NPOs to experiment with different ways of building awareness and support for their cause. For Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York, developing a Second Life presence was a pilot project as a new program to contribute to their mission. Just as you have to try out a new fundraising or membership strategy, organizations can experiment with Second Life as another approach for meeting its goals.

7. Second Life awareness often translates into real-world donations. Consider the case of the Digital Campfires Foundation. Through connecting with others in Second Life, Digital Campfires received nearly a semi truck load of real-world donated monitors and computers.

8. Virtual worlds offer a level of interactivity that the Web can’t match. Take the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) developed the Gone Gitmo project. This Second Life representation of Guantanamo Bay gives avatars a temporary simulated experience of what it’s like to be imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay and to teach about issues of habeas corpus.

9. Second Life fosters innovation and creativity. Nonprofits are continually coming up with new ways to gain awareness and touch people. Whether that’s through in-world concerts, virtual political debates or art exhibits, Second Life offers endless possibilities for creatively combining visual, text, and audio technologies.

10. Second Life is continually evolving and becoming increasingly sophisticated as technologies are developed. The possibilities for technical and social innovations in virtual worlds abound!

Written by: penguin kuhn