Friday, January 30, 2009

Wishing I were in Berlin

Right now, as we speak, Chrome Underwood (SL name) and Rob Steenhorst (RL name but he is in SL) are showing their art in another show sponsored by Vision Planer and his company. At the Austrian Embassy in Berlin RIGHT NOW as I write this, my friends Chrome, Rob, Vision, Jaynine, Lunata, and KK are sipping champagne, laughing, enjoying each other's company, enjoying the art, enjoying that whole special feeling of being where you are meant to be.

I wish I were there, my dear friends. I am so glad to know all of you. Please come home to Avant Garde and Vanguard soon :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Charities in SL

It's time for me to reveal to you all what I think about charitable requests in SL: I think the way they are handled sucks. Not the charities themselves--the requests and the way donations in SL are managed at present. I see many people--some of them treasured friends--collecting monies on behalf of charities. I know these friends are good for their word, but if you don't know them personally, how do you know?

To be honest, I suspect I have been scammed out of more Lindens giving to "charitable" causes than I have to anything else in SL. I ignore the emails from Nigerian princes asking for me to lend them money. How come I am supposed to walk into SL and watch my brain (and Lindens) go out the door? Not anymore.

I think you all kind of got a whiff of that last month when I posted RFyre's official statement about charities. I have come to solidify some of those thoughts based on the many charitable requests that have come across my virtual desk recently. The American Cancer Society has been very successful on SL, due in part to the incredible volunteer work of several individuals. Now everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.

I have encountered "charitable" requests wherein a logo was used (easily ripped off the organization's website), a plea was made on behalf of someone's brother or dog or grandma, a personal avatar took the monies, content providers spent hours making one-of-a-kind things that sold for $5 USD when they were auctioned off, and events were staged that yielded less than my writing a check of $25 to the organization personally.

One special offender set up an "auction" for Relay for Life in SL wherein we put money in a box, but when our auction was exceeded, we did not get our bid returned to us. She could have said the item went to the highest donor. But no, she said it went to the highest bidder. And this was a high-profile SL personality (who always seems to have her hand out for one or another charitable thing--most of it amounting to keeping her sims open). I do not believe Relay for Life would have condoned how she went about her "auction"; however, she acted on behalf of them, using their kiosk and logo.

How come the content providers spend hours of time looking for others stealing their content have no problems handing over free content and time to potentially unscrupulous money handlers? Or even worse, bungling money handlers.

What it amounts to is this: I need to be assured that the monies being collected are being collected legitimately and sent legitimately. The onus is on the collector, not on me, to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they are handling the monies correctly.

In the "real world," non-profit organizations have to go through many iterations to prove this. We as donors should require the same accountability. A financial report should be presented. My alma maters do it for me every year. My charitable recipients do it. Those who ask us for money in SL should also be expected to do this. To pull out a .csv file and throw it in an Excel spreadsheet with a copy of a cashiers check or the receipt for the monies donated should not be hard to do. And it should not be a tax write-off for a recipient. In fact, if someone donates substantial monies for an auction here, I would expect them to get a receipt for THEIR write off.

What should be expected?

* Upon request, the address of the charitable organization can be provided and a means of contacting them so there is proof that they have approved of the charitable event and use of their logo for such.

* A separate avatar made solely for the purpose of gathering donations and accounting for those donations. The donations should NOT go to a private avatar.

* An accounting of the donated items that have been provided with an estimated value. This includes designs OR performances. This is so we ALL know that the content providers' time and efforts are being matched at least minimally with donated money.

* Information about how one can contact the organization for a receipt if the donation exceeds $25 USD.

I have yet to see a function operate like this. I honestly have not looked closely at the American Cancer Society thing, though people gathering money on behalf of Relay for Life have been, at times, suspicious. The closest I have seen was the Make-a-Wish promotion done at the Best of SL, run by RubyStarlight Writer. Ruby used a separate avatar for funds gathering (though she had a personal avatar gather money at the celebrity auction--tsk) and was able to prove that Make-a-Wish condoned her activities and had reviewed them. Am I *positive* that she will turn over all monies collected? No. But I am a lot more sure than if she hadn't done these things.

Finally, I wonder if it's ever been considered by anyone that if these charitable organizations are contacted for approval, they MIGHT have resources to help raise funds for them including better graphics, pre-written statements, photographs and web links? They might even *gasp* find Second Life interesting and send someone in to check it out.

We all complain about Linden Labs, their lack of professionalism, their lack of customer service, foresight, etc. Yet we don't demand the same of ourselves or our peers in Second Life in taking money from each other for charitable organizations.

In short, next time you have your hand out, expect me to ask questions. The next time someone else has their hand out, ask them questions. Let's bring Second Life back to the Real. You want my Real money, I think you should do it Really right.