A Case Study

The innovations mandate requires the American Cancer Society Futuring and Innovation Center to look into a lot of areas and social trends that are just emerging but are likely to have a significant future impact on our business. By definition many of the things we look at are far from mainstream, trends tend to originate on the fringe. The diverse area of social networking is certainly not new but technology has altered the field’s economics and made entirely new business models possible. Some of these models can revolutionize our business for the good if we are prepared. Conversely they could also provide negative disruption if we do not understand and plan. The emerging Social Software industry has been identified as an area that will have huge implications for ACS and all voluntary health organizations. In order to better understand and prepare for this emerging technology the FIC is developing and leading a multi-agency initiative in order to provide the context and essential understanding that will lead to appropriate and productive uses.

As part of this work we are in contact with a lot of industry leaders. One of the really creative people is Philip Rosedale the founder of Linden Labs whose product is 2nd Life a multi player persistent game. We have maintained a learning liaison with Rosedale and have followed the company and the development of 2nd Life since last April.

Electronic games are now a worldwide business with a larger gross income then the traditional film industry. 2nd Life is a unique game where the concept is to let a very large number of players use the Internet to create and be members of an ever-changing virtual society with its own virtual economy, institutions and social systems. One could not design a better learning lab to understand how philanthropic behavior and fund raising systems develop in a newly forming multi cultural society.

Last fall we were pleased to see that a fundraiser for a major charity was being organized inside the game, by one of the players. We were particularly interested that it was for ACS. We watched it emerge and happen and after it was over did track down the organizer to learn about him and the why of the event. He turned out to be a member of the Air Force who was also a team captain in a Relay For Life. He used his contacts in the 2nd Life game to raise $2,000 for the Relay. He wanted some recognition for his donors on the games cyber news show and wanted to present big check on the games virtual news. An ACS field office turned the money down because of its Internet connection and our understandable lack of knowledge about the individual or the nature of the 2nd Life game. On the surface the case looked to the field office to be complex and risky. The reality was a well meaning volunteer was simply raising money for ACS from people he met in a place where he spends some of his leisure time, nothing less nothing more. The only unique thing here is that he spends some of his leisure time in a cyber space game and he wanted some recognition for his donors in the game.

It was an unfortunate outcome but also a serendipitous occurrence that added to our understanding of Internet fund raising and our institutional lack of readiness for it. Our multi level and multi department assumptions and reactions to a well-intended and innovative Relay volunteer who was operating outside of our knowledge base and comfort zone was instructive. The emerging social network tools have great potential but to use them effectively we need to understand the area in all its dimensions. We need to be proactive.

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  1. That is a sad ending. As a major non-profit we should not turn our back on this fundraiser. I know at the Hi-Tex Division we would of been happy to take the funds raised and explore what we could do with the Volunteer in the future. Is the FIC encouraging this event again for 2005?

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