Virtual Goods For Good Causes

Farmville_freak_sweet_seeds_for_haiti At our Hacking Philanthropy event a few years back we talked about all kinds of new philanthropic models that were emerging online. One model that did not come up in our brainstorming sessions was the sale of virtual goods for philanthropy. And yet, based on the data I am seeing this weekend, this could be a very big one.

Our portfolio company Zynga's Farmville game is the most popular social game online ever with almost 20mm people playing the game every day. On Friday Zynga released a new kind of seed into the game called "Sweet Seeds for Haiti". Since Friday, they have sold about 100,000 of these seeds which cost 25 FV cash.

Here is how the offer is described in the game:

Salutations, y’all! Today, FarmVille is proud to release “Sweet Seeds
for Haiti”. In this event, y’all will be able to purchase Sweet
Potatoes that NEVER WITHER, yield XP and 125 COINS PER HARVEST! Even
better than that is the fact that 50% of the
proceeds will go to helpin’ children in Haiti. What could be sweeter
than lending a helping hand to children in need? You’ll also get a
SPECIAL GIFT with your purchase so hurry on over to FarmVille and check
it out!

And here are the details about where the money is going in Haiti:

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere
and the 7th poorest in the world. Zynga’s mission of connecting the
world through games is enhanced by our opportunity to support the
health and education of these children and their families. For
additional information on the recipient organizations, please see www.FATEM.org and www.FONKOZE.org.

FATEM is a non-profit organization based in Mirebalais, Haiti, and
originally organized to bring information technology to the people in
the region, thus helping with the economic advancement of the area.
More recently, however, FATEM recognized the need for a sustainable
means by which to support the general education of Haitian children and
to ensure that these children have the necessary meals that will permit
their young bodies and brains to learn and grow.

FONKOZE, based in Port-au-Prince, is an alternative bank for the
poor. It is Haiti’s largest micro-finance institution and is committed
to the economic and social improvement of the people and communities of
Haiti and to the reduction of poverty in the country.

It's a bit tricky to estimate how much money the Sweet Seeds For Haiti has raised to date because you can earn FV cash and you can buy FV cash. When purchased, 25 FV cash costs $5. So if everyone bought the FV cash that has been used to buy the roughly 100k of sweet seeds to date, then $500k will have been raised, $250k of it going to charitable organizations in Haiti.

Even though that is best case, it's a pretty big number for three days. The key to this is that the seeds have value in the game and are tied into the game play and game mechanic. So not only are players doing something good when they buy sweet seeds, they are also advancing their own interests in the game.

I can imagine this approach being adopted across a multitude of online social games. It's an exciting development and an area to keep an eye on.

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