Monday, June 07, 2004


A few months after a couple third-party e-commerce sites began the buying and selling of Linden Dollars for actual money, and Linden Lab announced a strict laissez faire attitude on that exchange, several residents launched in-world charity groups that convert $L donations into $US contributions to real world charity and advocacy non-profits. This week, the stories behind their benevolence. -- WJA


When I arrive to interview her, last week, Bhodi is standing in front of a giant check to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for US$1,768.

"You can't have a fundraiser without a Big Giant Check," Bhodi explains. Bhodi's the founder and lead officer for VERTU, for Virtual Economies Realizing True Usefulness, a Second Life group which supports various real world non-profit groups. And on Thursday, Vertu hosted an event where she would announce the handing of said check to the EFF.

The lion's share of that contribution comes from a recent VERTU auction, in which residents put their time and talent on the bidding bloc. (A photo session with fasion maven Nephilaine Protagonist, for example, or a collection of statuettes from Koee Few.) VERTU officer Francis Chung put together the auction, and at the end, she found themselves with L$220,000-- which, in current exchange rates, totals to US$900. "It was definitely a long month for her," Bhodi says, of Francis' efforts, "and more work than I thought anyone would be willing to take on." In the end, over 150 residents donated to VERTU's EFF drive, with several throwing in donations in the tens of thousands, in Linden Dollars-- each of these converting to the hundreds of dollars, in US currency.

The idea for VERTU came to Bhodi after attending a fundraising drive, offline-- Bhodi works for a disability rights advocacy non-profit, in the Appalachians-- and attending a town hall meeting with Philip Linden, in-world. "I hadn't been on much, and I missed SL-- but I couldn't seem to find anything that I felt 'justified' my time here. Philip Linden spoke of his desire to merge Second Life with the real world, and for Bhodi, "Suddenly, the possibilities were staggering... It was when I really got the 'it's not a game' message. When I realized that one could do serious, meaningful things here." So she thought about fundraising for non-profits, "And I thought-- wow, we could do that here, and we could do it better, with less overhead, and reach a larger audience."

It was Vertu member Malachi Petunia's idea to select the Electronic Frontier Foundation as the first recipient of a donation drive, and last Friday, an EFF spokesperson came in-world, to accept VERTU's big symbolic check. (The actual, take-it-to-the-actual-bank check will be sent more or less concurrently.) "They 'got it' right away," Bhodi says of EFF, "and were tech savvy enough to come in-world for events." (A transcript from one such event, featuring the EFF's Ren Galatea speaking about the DMCA, electronic voting, and other issues, is available here.)

"Of course," she says, speaking of VERTU, "I just had a nascent little idea... it was the whole VERTU group that made it into something we could actually realize." And like any non-profit group, "There were a lot of boring process meetings before we launched!" VERTU worked out a deal with Zeppi Schlegel, the in-world representative of Gaming Open Market. "He gave us access to all the transaction data for VERTU, and a commission-free account, so we could make sure all the money goes directly to the non-profits... Zeppi writes the checks so that we never handle any actual cash-- the legal issues were very complex. I spent a lot of time on the phone with the Secretary of State's office and the IRS trying to figure out if we needed 501(c)3 status."

By "Secretary of State", she means the department in her state which deals with non-profit tax issues, not Colin Powell's office. "They were very nice, but clearly the whole Julian Dibbell thing had passed them by and they didn't quite get it... [I]t boiled down to - 'If you can arrange not to have to handle the actual money yourselves, and not to take out any operating expenses, you don't need to mess with this!' in a kind of relieved tone of voice. It turns out we don't even qualify for 501(c)3 status, and if we need to do so later, it makes their heads hurt to imagine how to do that, given the issues of game currency, barter, etc. However, they were pretty iffy on the whole idea of people claiming donations on their taxes!" Bhodi grins. "We could issue receipts, and they could try it, I guess... but the IRS agent I spoke to wasn't too enthusiastic about that part!"

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Thanks, Hamlet - that pretty much sums the whole thing up!

Posted by: Bhodi at Jun 7, 2004 10:59:55 AM

Great job, Bhodi! :D

Posted by: Jade Lily at Jun 9, 2004 9:44:28 AM

If you're coming on this from the archives, part 2 and 3 are after the next day's entry.

Posted by: Hamlet Linden at Jun 23, 2004 12:27:44 AM

The link to the VERTU site is an old one, the new one is:

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