The virtual world is your oyster

Ever fancied adopting a homeless person?  Well now you can!  iHobo, a recently launched iPhone app, offers you the opportunity to adopt your very own iHobo who will come and live in your iPhone for 3 days.  Following an initiative in 2006 where a Spanish charity used a homeless avatar in Second Life to raise money, the aim of iHobo is that after 3 days of dealing with all the problems thrown up, you’ll understand a little more about homelessness, and feel compelled to donate to the charity behind it.  And apparently the idea has grabbed the public’s attention, with the iHobo topping the itunes download chart last week.

The iHobo is just the latest of innovations using new forms of media and technology to raise both awareness and money.  In trying new platforms of communication, the VCS is not only embracing the changes, but is also shaping them and society is responding.  So, what else has been tried, and how successful was it?   


Twestival: Launched in 2009, and initially a link up between Twitter and charity: water, Twestival became one of the largest social media fundraising initiatives globally, raising over $1.2million within 14 months.  Using Twitter and other social media, over 1,000 volunteers and 202 cities were involved in the initiative to organise and advertise offline events supporting 137 organisations around the world. 


Giant Snail Racing:  The American Cancer Society were quick to grab on to the increasingly popular Second Life, and in 2004, paralleling real life ‘Relay for Life’ events, Giant Snail Races across the virtual landscapes of Second Life took place.  The Snail Races have become so popular, that this year races are taking place every month, and the campaign has so far raised $650,000 for the organisation.


Cyber-TV:  The expansion of internet TV has enabled a host of VCOs (for example WWF) and individuals to launch their own TV channels, allowing them to raise awareness of their organisations and campaigns or raise money for a number of causes (such as jumbafund). Youtube has long provided a broadcasting platform for VCOs, and with its viewing figures remaining high, is likely to remain popular.


Virtual Advice:  Following research indicating that Mums of disabled children were increasingly using online fora and social media to access support, Contact a Family set up a virtual advice centre on Second Life, staffed by avatars Advisor Somerflek and Seamus Holliday.  Although the number of people accessing it has been small, those that have have accessed vital information and support from the charity that they otherwise might not have been able to access.


Of course using social media doesn’t have to be on the scale of those above to be successful.  Many organisations have embraced sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, and MySpace to share information and gather donors.  Blogging remains a popular way for organisations and individuals alike to raise awareness and funds; Blog Action Day last year saw 31,000+ blogs posted on various issues.  Embedding widgets on your own site or social networking site is a cheap and easy way for you to raise awareness of the issues that matter to you, and Donate As You Shop (DAYS) sites are popular ways of fundraising for many organisations.

The lesson is that no matter how big or small, using new technology and social media allows you to access the public in a way they find interesting, easy, and modern.  If for no other reason than the reduction of the irritation factor of some of the more ‘traditional’ methods of raising awareness and funding such as chugging, surely it is worth having a look at how your organisation can exploit this vast arena and follow some of the examples above?  The virtual world is your oyster…

Last updated at 10:09 Wed 02/Jun/10.
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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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