A New Form of Volunteering: How Social Gamers are Raising Funds for Nonprofits

Guest post by Ashley Tumson

How social gamers are creating a new form of online volunteeringOrganizations fundraise best when they can gain support from people doing the things that they love to do anyway, so it is no surprise that nonprofits have latched onto online gaming as a way to raise funds for their causes.

By partnering with online advertisers, online social gamers are raising massive amounts of money simply by playing computer games online. With no extra effort on their part except for playing games they enjoy, social gamers are creating new ways of fundraising and volunteering on the Web.

Test your vocabulary, give rice to the World Food Programme.

One of the biggest success stories for charities partnering with social gamers has been the UN World Food Programme’s Freerice.com, which allows people to play a simple vocabulary game either alone or in groups that donates 10 grains of rice for every correct answer. Funded by advertising, grains of rice have quickly accumulated to a donation of over 96 billion grains of rice since its inception, with an approximate average of 250,000 grains of rice donated each month.

Although originally a vocabulary game, Freerice.com has expanded into quiz games for a variety of subjects such as mathematics, geography, literature and SAT prep. The site’s integration with Twitter and Facebook has increased the social and viral nature of the game, further increasing its ability to raise money for a good cause. The website allows for people to form groups that work together to raise funds, effectively donating nothing but their time to raise as much money (and therefore rice) as possible for UNWFP.

Play a game you choose and give to a charity you choose.

Australian charities guru Adam Palmer, leader of nonprofit organization Gramble.com, has pioneered allowing gamers themselves to choose what nonprofits they support and how much of their money goes to said nonprofit. Gramble, which contains a variety of games to play while raising money for charity, has been a major success since its founding earlier this year. Many gaming start-ups are now following in Gramble’s footsteps by either dedicating their entire ethos to becoming a charity hub or by simply integrating ways that their players can selectively support ethical causes.

This choice not only reflects well on the gaming giants by letting them showcase their ethical credentials but also allows nonprofits to diversify their fundraising. The choice is also great for the new legions of social gaming volunteers as it allows them to choose what organizations they are volunteering their time for, giving more options to the people who want to give back.

Buy sugar for your virtual farm, pay for sugar for the world’s poor.

Although some games are originally created with charitable intent, some social games that were invented without any cause-focused purpose have found ways to contribute – especially in times of crisis. Zynga, the design company behind gaming hits Farmville and Mafia Wars, partnered with Save The Children to have the proceeds of some of its virtual purchases donated to the Japanese Earthquake disaster relief.

By making volunteers out of those who would not usually donate or spend their time on a cause, Zynga has become just one of the many gaming companies that are turning casual gamers into social activists. The results are telling: continued links between Zynga and different charities have led to Zynga game players raising over $10 million for good causes.

So are social gaming volunteers really making a difference?

Although no figures are available on the total amount that social gaming has raised for causes, case-by-case analysis has shown that the partnership can be profitable for both the gaming company and the nonprofit. Although organizations working with established gaming giants tend to fundraise more money than start-ups, the increasingly profitable channels available to charitable gaming start-ups through social media such as Facebook and App Stores mean that both forms of gaming-nonprofit partnerships can be very successful indeed.

Ashley Tumson is a nonprofit advocate with a keen interest in giving back through social media. She is an occasional guest blogger and freelance writer, working for nonprofit organizations such as Pro Bono Australia. You can follow her rants on Twitter.

(Photo by Suzanne Tucker)