ACS fundraising targets virtual community users

ATLANTA: The American Cancer Society (ACS) used the burgeoning 3-D community Second Life to hold its second online Relay for Life this upcoming weekend.

ATLANTA: The American Cancer Society (ACS) used the burgeoning 3-D community Second Life to hold its second online Relay for Life this upcoming weekend.

Somewhat similar to popular social networking Web sites like MySpace and Plaxo, Linden Lab's Second Life essentially lets users construct virtual second lives, complete with jobs, homes, and friends. Users can exchange real-world currency for Linden dollars to be used online.

The ACS' massive Relay for Life fundraiser takes place in more than 4,000 communities in the US, as well as among 23 other countries around the world.

Randal Moss, manager of futuring and innovation-based strategies for the ACS' Futuring and Innovation Center (FIC), said this year's event has already proven successful, with $25,000 being raised thus far. That vastly exceeds the event organizers' original goal of doubling last year's total of $5,869.

While it is only a drop in the bucket of the $1.5 billion that the ACS has raised in Relay for Life activities since its founding in 1985, Mike Mitchell, national VP and executive director of the FIC, said the online component was an important part of constituent outreach.

"You can't look at it as one or the other," Mitchell explained. "We do them in communities all over the country; this is another community."

From approximately 5pm CST on July 22 until noon the following day, event participants were able to walk laps around Second Life's virtual track, as well as camp out, dance, and donate money, all while in cyberspace.

ACS is not working with a PR agency on the event, but is leveraging the community of marketing and advertising occurring in the Second Life community. One user created an in-depth video PSA for the relay, and others have built items to donate to the cause. One digital car sold for $2,000.

Mitchell said that the idea for Relay for Life in Second Life came about when a relay participant in the real world became interested in bringing the event to the Second Life community.

This year's fundraiser has introduced new elements, including virtual pledge cards, sponsorships, and teams, which has helped to spur more donations. Mitchell attributes part of the events growing complexity to increased participation and understanding of the event.

"First time community events tend to be basic and simple," Mitchell said. "As people get excited, more get involved, bring their ideas, and make it better."

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