Just over twelve thousand Elementals served in the first month. Twelve thousand! It’s not even out of alpha development yet! Crazy. The flood of feature suggestions, a few bug reports and a bunch of donations have all been huge encouragements to continue development on this thing. Good times.
Ashley turned this chat into a very nice article over at SLNN. Read it here:
[11:16] You: Hi, it’s very nice to meet you finally!
[11:16] Ashley Gasser: hi nice to meet you happy new year
[11:16] You: Happy new year to you as well. =)
[11:17] You: What can I do for you?
[11:17] Ashley Gasser: thanks
[11:17] Ashley Gasser: i actually wanted to talk to you about charity and giving to charity in sl
[11:18] Ashley Gasser: i know you run a group that is about charity
[11:18] Ashley Gasser: could you tell me a bit about that
[11:18] You: Sure, no problem.
[11:19] You: I started the !Meta charity group after a lot of thinking about how SL could be more than just a fun diversion for (primarily) well-off Westerners.
[11:21] You: So I figured, why not make something fun like the Elemental vehicle, and if people enjoyed it, !Meta would provide a way for them to offer thanks in a way that helps a community in Africa.
[11:22] Ashley Gasser: can anyone set up a charity or giving to charity in sl
[11:23] You: Informally, yes. Formal nonprofit charities are a bit more work than that. !Meta’s in the process of becoming a U.S. 501(c)3 organization, which just means lots of paperwork and things to become gov’t-certified.
[11:24] You: For example, Jade Lily’s Relay for Life in SL was (if I understand it) informal, but donated thousands of dollars to a formal RL charity.
[11:24] Ashley Gasser: so your group is in rl as well, right
[11:25] You: It is in the process of being in RL as well, but we’re not *quite* there yet.
[11:25] Ashley Gasser: what are you doing to get there
[11:26] You: At this stage, working through how the RL nonprofit will be structured, according to the rules at http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/index.html
[11:26] You: This is a pretty new way of doing things, so there are a lot of question marks to get through.
[11:27] Ashley Gasser: so what exactly is your group and what does it do
[11:27] You: As you know, the government only just got started investigating taxation of online profits– they’re still getting used to the idea of virtual charities.
[11:29] You: Well, !Meta is the group and essentially it acts as a conduit for SL merchants to donate a portion of their profits to charity. We’re currently discussing with several merchants about them donating entire products to the effort, so to speak.
[11:30] You: On the RL side, !Meta cashes out those $L to $US, and then wires the funds to active charities, such as the Kibaale Community Center in Uganda. The last step is to provide documentation of all these transactions so that people know their donations are getting to the right places.
[11:31] Ashley Gasser: so people can go through you to get the money to the charity
[11:32] You: If they prefer to, yes, though I must stress we are not yet a 501(c)3, so we cannot provide tax breaks for donors. Still working on that part. =)
[11:33] Ashley Gasser: so do you as charity get a lower l/us dollar exchange than other residents of sl
[11:34] You: Not that I’m aware of, though that’s an excellent idea to bug Linden Lab about.
[11:34] Ashley Gasser: i think so
[11:35] Ashley Gasser:
[11:35] You: Of course, by aggregating lots of small donations together, we save a bunch of $L on transaction fees and get more to the destination charity.
[11:35] Ashley Gasser: so why should people donate to charity in sl instead of rl
[11:36] Ashley Gasser: how can residents know that people raising money for charity in sl will really give it and keep their word
[11:38] You: That’s a huge concern for us, and it’s exactly why !Meta’s moving in the direction of becoming certified by the US government. Also, it’s the reason for the documentation I mentioned earlier.
[11:38] You: As far as donating in SL versus RL,
[11:39] You: I guess we don’t recognize the distinction between the two– the SL money is destined for the RL charities anyway, so at the end of the day the only difference is where the donors are.
[11:40] You: If people are more comfortable donating in RL, then we support that 100%. The point is helping charities, not making !Meta be the big name in SL charity work.
[11:42] Ashley Gasser: i know there are probably a lot of charities set up in sl and residents trying to raise money for charity. what can those wishing to donate do to investigate and make sure the claims are letgit
[11:42] Ashley Gasser: legit
[11:43] You: Good question! I would always advise as much investigation as is possible. If *anything* seems suspect, simply walk away. As you said, there are plenty of other charities that could certainly use the money.
[11:44] Ashley Gasser: how can residents investigate
[11:45] You: Be certain that the charity has a clearly articulated mission and provides adequate evidence that they DO what they say. Residents can investigate by contacting officers of the charity, past recipients of the funds if any are provided, etc. It all comes down to doing one’s homework responsibly to ensure that the charity is being responsible as well. =)
[11:46] Ashley Gasser: what about charities in rl vs those in sl
[11:46] You: I’m not sure I understand your question?
[11:47] Ashley Gasser: sorry should residents stick to charities they have heard about in rl
[11:47] You: Oooooh! Ok
[11:49] You: That is a safe, conservative strategy, yes. For people who decide that SL/virtual charities are worth the investment, it’s a pretty good idea to spread out donation over time, to give the donor a chance to track what the charity does with the money.
[11:50] Ashley Gasser: how can people track what is done with the money
[11:50] You: In !Meta’s case, most of the donations fall within the $L 10 – 2000 range, which is less than a nice cheeseburger in RL, so people can safely make small donations and see what happens.
[11:52] You: A good way to track donations is to check the charity’s website for scanned receipts / wire transfer slips, or once you know where the money ends up (for example, the Red Cross, though !Meta does not work with them currently), just contact the Red Cross and ask if they got the donation that the charity SAID they did.
[11:52] You: Always, always ask questions, yeah?
[11:53] Ashley Gasser: definitely
[11:53] Ashley Gasser: i guess you can’t say approx how many charities have set up in sl
[11:54] You: I sure don’t know, no. Hamlet Au would have a much better sense of that, as he is the ‘reporter’.
[11:54] You: But as SL grows rapidly, I would expect the number of charities to grow alongside that.
[11:54] Ashley Gasser: are more coming to sl is this a big sector of the economy
[11:56] You: Human nature being what it is, I would always expect the weapons and sex economic sectors to be much larger than charity work. However, the Relay for Life and the Katrina Relief charities were huge successes.
[11:56] You: I won three Linden Labbers for an hour each during one of the Katrina celebrity auctions. =) Great fun!
[11:57] Ashley Gasser: what was that
[11:57] You: A bit after hurricane Katrina, folks got together and hosted a number of charity events. Let me see if I can dig up a URL for your further research.
[11:58] Ashley Gasser: thanks that would be great
[11:59] Ashley Gasser: anything else
[11:59] You: As featured on MSNBC:
[11:59] You: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9338984/
[12:00] Ashley Gasser: thanks
[12:01] You: Nothing else comes to mind. !Meta’s still getting set up, so I’d urge folks to hold off on donating for now if they have any reservations or doubts. Organizations like the Red Cross can always use the help, though. =)
[12:01] Ashley Gasser: so what will your organization donate to or is it more of a go between
[12:03] You: !Meta is designed as a go-between, yes, in the sense that we don’t spend the donations. Instead, we are the means to transfer lots of small donations to the folks on the ground doing the work, (in our case, at the Kibaale Community Center, http://iccf-holland.org/kcc.html ).
[12:04] You: If SL is 2 million-plus strong, imagine all the good stuff to be done if each person passed on $L 100 to their favorite charity. Good stuff.
[12:05] Ashley Gasser: if someone raised money and get your organizaton to handle it and give it to the organizatin of their choice
[12:06] You: We figure if someone can afford a powerful SL-ready computer and broadband, then $L 100 won’t hurt them too much. =)
[12:07] You: Eventually, yes. The initial plan, however, is to concentrate donations into the Kibaale charity, so that transaction and wire-transfer fees are held to the absolute minimum. As we grow, however, we’d *love* to be able to help additional charities that donors are interested in.
[12:07] Ashley Gasser: what is that charity
[12:08] Ashley Gasser: are u the only ones in sl doing it this way
[12:09] You: Given SL’s rapidly growing and already large size, I’d be surprised if we were the only one doing it this way, but I’m not aware of any others yet.
[12:10] Ashley Gasser: so do most charity supporters in sl just exchange the money and write a cheque to the charity
[12:12] You: It is difficut for me to speak for other charity supporters, but I supect you are correct. Especially given that LL exchanges currency out to Paypal, which is a pretty liquid (and therefore easily donated) format. Good question.
[12:12] Ashley Gasser: anything else
[12:12] You: The only other thing is that I’m honored to be interviewed by SLNN. =D
[12:13] Ashley Gasser: thanks for your time
[12:13] Ashley Gasser: best wishes with your organization and work: 0
[12:14] You: Thanks! It’s exciting stuff!!
[12:14] Ashley Gasser: c u
[12:14] You: Nice to meet ya! See ya!
[12:14] Ashley Gasser: u 2
[12:14] Ashley Gasser: thanks
[12:14] You: /wa
[12:16] Ashley Gasser: btw if you have any pics of yourself or the org could u send them to me
[12:16] Ashley Gasser: thanks
[12:16] You: Sure, will do!
[12:17] You: would you like them as textures or emailed as jpgs?
[12:17] Ashley Gasser: jpegs email is email@example.com
[12:18] You: Excellent
[12:18] You: I’l take care of that today
[12:18] Ashley Gasser: have fun with the wings
[12:18] You: =)
[12:18] Ashley Gasser: thanks
[12:18] Ashley Gasser: c u
[12:18] You: Later!