If you've ever experienced someone interrupting your dinner conversation or even important work meeting with words like "oh no, I forgot to harvest my raspberries and they are going to wilt!", and then watched them run off in a frazzle to their computer, then you have first-hand knowledge of the virtual gaming phenomenon, even if you are not yourself a proud virtual farm, city, coffee shop, bakery, etc owner.
With over 300 million active participants, virtual games like FarmVille, and platform owners like Zynga, have a unique engagement platform that has been used in the past to raise funds, especially for disasters like the Haiti earthquake.
And just today, from TechCrunch,comes even more proof that if nonprofits are still not at least paying attention to the power of games to drive real $, they should be. In less than 36 hours, various Zynga properties have raised over $1 million for tsunami and earthquake relief efforts in Japan, through Save the Children's Disaster Relief Fund. Players use real cash to buy all sorts of "useful" items for their various virtual properties, and now, special items are being offered with revenues going to disaster relief efforts.
Now, as those of us working in the field of fundraising every day know, disasters are in their own special fundraising category--the need is obvious and great, the mission easy to communicate, and the potential impact easy to calculate, so it's no surprise that funds can be raised in all sorts of non-traditional ways and from non-traditional audiences.
And some may somewhat rightfully critique this way of fundraising: instead of donating through a virtual game and having a third party take some of the money donated, people should be donating directly to organizations so all the money can be used for relief efforts.
We all know, however, that inertia is a huge barrier to fundraising and convenience is key. Would I rather take $10 and give $2 as a fee to a partner rather than take no money at all because my organization's website doesn't happen to accept whatever form of payment is more convenient for my potential donor and/or they can't be bothered to navigate away from their "Ville" game to fill out my donation form? My personal answer would be a categorical "yes!, I'll take that donation!". The sheer volume of the audience should make us all think twice about discounting games as a potential source of revenue, in non-emergency times and for non-disaster missions. Has your organization dipped a toe in the virtual gaming space? Are you listed on Games that Give or other virtual gaming sites? We'd love to hear your experience.